Let’s open with a personal note: I don’t watch anime or read manga all that much. That particular bug never got into my system as a kid, I guess, so it’s never really appealed to me; it’s probably closer to how I’m not a fan of episodic television rather than any issue with the content. This confounds friends who know about my gaming habits because I voraciously devour any JRPG or Japanese-styled fighting game that comes my way. I can’t explain it any better than they can.
So with that in mind: XBlaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel. I usually don’t play visual novels (in fact, I offered this review to Popzara’s own Brittany Vincent before claiming it!) If you, like me, are fairly new to the concept, it’s basically a manga presented as a game. Here you have a small degree of control over the direction of the plot but you definitely lack the sort of agency offered by other games. XBlaze isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally pick up, but as it’s related to the recent BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma (one near and dear to my heart) I decided to give it a shot. Much to my surprise, the format works; shock and horror, I may actually end up playing another visual novel one day!
XBlaze follows the story of Touya Kagari, a high school student who, as a child, was one of the few survivors of a mysterious cataclysmic incident. Years later, Touya’s life is turned upside down when he begins encountering Unions – individuals capable of manifesting supernatural powers known as Drives (the same technique used by the playable characters in BlazBlue, incidentally). Touya isn’t capable of defending himself against such forces, but does have the unusual ability to detect when their powers are being used. Because of this, the enigmatic and powerful Mitsurugi Agency assigns a bodyguard named Es, an emotionless girl wielding a powerful longsword, to look after Touya and keep him safe from hostile Unions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the arrangements are more than a little awkward and lead to plenty of comical situations between exciting battles against the Unions.
As mentioned, XBlaze is a visual novel, so you’re mostly going to be reading. The primary means by which you’ll influence the plot is the TOi system, a sort of RSS feed that delivers news to Touya’s PDA. Reading news articles can inspire Touya and influence his actions, which can adjust the plot significantly to the point where events change completely; there are multiple endings available and the writing is well done so it’s enjoyable to search for them all. The characters are all interesting and likeable; there’s definitely some of the standard Japanese plot clichés going on, as the “emotionless girl with a giant sword” might have tipped you off, but it’s hard to count this as a flaw when the writing’s solid and the plot is engaging.
Graphics and sound are as good as can be expected from a game that relies on them almost entirely. On the other hand, animation is fairly limited, which is an odd decision for a story that’s very heavy on action. Still, I imagine players will come into this game knowing what they’re in for so that won’t be much of a disappointment. An anime cutscene here and there wouldn’t have hurt, but I get the feeling we’re lucky this was made (or localized) at all and the budget might not have been too extensive.
Either way, that’s really the key here: those even considering playing XBlaze Code: Embryo know what they’re in for. It’s essentially a choose-your-own-adventure manga for the gaming age. That’s a pretty specific genre and XBlaze fills the niche well. Despite not having much familiarity with visual novels I definitely enjoyed myself, but I think a big part of that was my familiarity with the BlazBlue universe. Gamers who aren’t into visual novels or BlazBlue can skip this without a second thought…but they probably weren’t considering it to begin with!
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