I like visual novels. I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur or anything, but every once in a while I’ll play a visual novel and I always end up enjoying my time with it. When Aksys Games announced that XBlaze Code: Embryo was coming to Vita and PS3 in the west I was excited to finally get a visual novel on my favorite handheld system. I’ve always felt that the Vita is the perfect system for visual novels, and my hope was that this game would prove my prediction correct.
The game takes place 150 years before the events of the BlazBlue series, but those of us who aren’t familiar with the series, don’t need any previous knowledge of the series to play XBlaze. The protagonist of the game is Toya Kagari, a sophomore at Hakuo North Academy. Toya is ordinary in every way, except that he has the unique skill of being able to hear “Union” discovery calls from a distance of 300 meters away. This is a valuable skill to have, as no one else can hear these calls from a distance greater than ten meters. Since Unions are becoming more common as of late, Toya becomes the interest of various organizations around the world, and quickly finds himself surrounded by a group of beautiful young ladies who wish to ensure his safety while they hunt down Unions together.
The characters are what draws me to visual novels, and the characters in this game don’t disappoint. I grew attached to characters like Kuon, a blond, foreign girl with magical powers. Then there were characters like Es, a small, cute girl who wields a giant sword and talks like an android, that kept me guessing about their origins. They are the real stars of this game, and they make the game a worthwhile experience. Even if you could care less about the plot, they are a good enough reason to keep playing. The only complaint I have about the characters is that I wish I got to spend more time getting to know them instead of running around trying to track down Unions.
The story itself is where this game sometimes falls apart. It’s not a bad story per se, but at times it’s hard to follow. New characters are constantly being introduced with new motives that only complicate the plot, and action scenes, which are always hard to get right in a game like this, are done poorly. The plot is decent, and does a good job of facilitating its characters, but if you are looking for a game with a great story, look elsewhere.
As with most games in this genre, XBlaze has multiple paths, and multiple endings. In most visual novels you make certain choices, usually dialog choices, which determine what path you will go on. This game though introduces an alternative way to choose your path that is very different and very confusing. In this game you have something called TOi, an application which aggregates articles for you based on your interests. Reading certain articles in the TOi application sets your path in motion. The problem with this method is that there is absolutely no way of knowing which path you will take by reading any of the TOi articles. There is no indication anywhere and no hints to guide you in reading the articles that will yield the endings you want to see. The only way to know for certain is to look it up online, where fans of the series have written out extensive guides on how to get each ending.
Speaking of endings, this game has over ten of them, so if that is your kind of thing, you are in luck. To me it was just a hassle, manipulating save files in order to ensure I saw every ending. The game will run you around twenty to thirty hours if you seek out all the endings; I think I was right at the twenty-four hour mark. If you only see one of the endings you’re looking at around seven hours, which is typical for a visual novel.
Finally we come to the art and sound design, which are both quite good in this game. The characters are all really well drawn with smooth lines and great color. Backgrounds aren’t bad either, with a large variety to minimize repeating backgrounds. The music is also impressive with a large list of tracks that never get annoying over the twenty hours of play. There’s also voice acting in the game and, although it’s all in Japanese, I found the performances to be very well done with lots of emotion. The sound and art are definitely a high point of the game with their large amount of polish.
When all is said and done, this is a solid visual novel that fans of the genre will enjoy; however, if you aren’t a fan of visual novels and are looking to try them out, this is a poor starting choice. There are many better visual novels out there and many of them are free, so paying full retail price for this one seems a bit odd. As Vita’s first visual novel, it’s a step in the right direction, but a small step nonetheless. The story might not be the greatest, but it does have some memorable characters that make the whole experience worthwhile. The bar has been set for visual novels on the Vita and I hope to see someone raise that bar soon.
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