Early on in the game, your character Touya walks in on two young, attractive ladies with their boobs out taking a shower. They are busy comparing eachother’s magnificently sized breasts whilst washing eachother with sunflower-scented soap. Welcome to the wacky world of XBLAZE Code: Embryo, Arc System Works’ prequel visual novel of the fighting game series Blazblue. Let me be abundantly clear, this is very much a visual novel and not a fighting game. If you are looking for something to scratch that fighting itch, I’d politely suggest that you look elsewhere. With that caveat out-of-the-way, let’s begin.
Before I get to the problems I had with XBLAZE Code: Embryo I do want to touch on the things that did impress me about the title. Most notably, the presentation and production values in XBLAZE Code: Embryo are fantastic. It really does look the part. The anime art is superb and a real visual treat and there are some lovely, little touches here and there that really breathes life into the characters – blinking eyes, changes of expression, solid voice acting and some good lip-syncing all help to hammer home the fact that this is a very polished and shiny new visual novel. However, it’s when you begin to delve beyond it’s flashy and seductive surface is when XBLAZE Code: Embryo begins to fall apart at the seams.
The main protagonist, Touya, is a high-school student with a dark, mysterious past. On his way home one day he hears strange sounds coming from a restricted, fenced area where no-one is allowed to enter. Concerned that someone may be in danger, Touya jumps over the fence and tries to help a man who appears to be hurt. However, before Touya can help him, the man goes crazy and begins to attack Touya for no apparent reason.
From here, things get even more bizarre. You see, it turns out the man who attacked Touya was a Union, a sort of infected zombie-like monster. It also becomes clear that Touya has a unique gift – he can sense the location of infected Unions from a great distance. A secret organization called the Mitsurugi Agency, who wish to protect Touya and his gift, are trying their best to stop the Union infection from spreading. There is also a sinister, secretive organization called the Ten Sages, made up of super powerful mages, who are keen to get their hands on Touya for some strange reason.
As you can see, the story is all a bit of a mess to be honest. It’s bland, forgettable and when it does threaten to get interesting it shoots itself it the foot and needlessly gets its proverbial boobs out for the boys to have a good giggle at. Maybe if you are steeped in the Blazblue lore it all might mean alot more to you, but for the most part the story just didn’t do it for me. And for a visual novel to have a crummy story must surely be a cardinal sin, because you know, you spend the majority of your time reading it.
XBLAZE Code: Embryo’s other big problem is its lack of clear player choice or meaningful interaction. The game introduces a new Toi system which is supposed to change parts of the story depending on the emails you read as you play through the game. But the game doesn’t make it clear when a choice you’ve made makes a difference on the story. It’s a shame, because on paper it sounds like an intriguing idea but it’s unfortunately a cool idea that is not very well executed. It never feels like you’re making a difference to the story, and I question how much of an impact the Toi system really has on the overarching plot. The messages in the Toi system are mostly mind-numbingly boring, sometimes completely irrelevant and many consist of things like “Girl Talk! Sunflower-scented shampoo is all the rage!” I mean, really?! It all just feels like a chore rummaging through someone else’s virtual emails. Which is as tedious as it sounds
The more traditional approach that Amnesia: Memories took with meaningful player choices is much better in my opinion. Amnesia: Memories’ system has clear options and feedback when making your choices and it also has many more branching paths and loads of different endings to boot. There are so many good visual novels out on Vita, such as the Danganronpa series, Steins;Gate and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, that it’s hard to recommend XBLAZE Code: Embryo to anyone but the most hard-core, dedicated visual novel nuts out there. And even then I’d warn you to temper your expectations – it’s a disappointing experience overall.
XBLAZE Code: Embryo is very much the epitome of style over substance. If you’re a visual novel fanatic then the polished visuals and strong presentation of XBLAZE Code: Embryo may be enough to warrant a purchase when it’s in a sale, but those looking for an unforgettable experience with a compelling, well-made story should seriously look elsewhere.
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