XBlaze: Code Embryo

After several hit fighting games, Arc System Works has seen fit to grace American gamers with XBlaze: Code Embryo. And what do we get for patiently waiting for this game to be localised?

Not so much a game as a fancy manga for Vita, which is exactly what die-hard fans have been expecting.

Taking place 150 years before the events of the BlazBlue series, XBlaze: Code Embryo sees Kagari Touya, a mild-mannered high school student with a hero complex, teaming up with myriad maidens in order to understand his past and save the world from an untimely demise.

We have Es, the stalwart girl looking to learn what it means to feel; stubborn mage Kuon; the bubbly and naive Hinata; and a slew of other archetypal characters. It all sounds cookie-cutter, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

What you see...

Less enjoyable are the static characters and minimal interaction. After a vibrant animated opening backed by energetic music, you're sat down in front of pages upon pages of text, with a flashy picture or dramatic sound cue thrown in occasionally. And so you read. And read. And read.

And reading is all I really did. The game is structured to be a halfway point between manga and animation, and that means you're just along for the ride. A great soundtrack sets the tone as scenarios unfold, and you watch as the story goes through the typical exposition, climax, etc.

And if XBlaze: Code Embryo were just a visual novel, then I would consider it above average with its brilliant voice acting, beautifully drawn visuals, and its interesting, if fairly standard, plot.

But it tries to be more. And that's where problems start to arise.

For one thing, it tries to incorporate interactive mechanics to give you a sense of agency, but falls short of actually allowing you to feel as though you can steer the course of events through meaningful actions.

This all happens through the TOi system. It works like an in-game Facebook, where news articles populate your feed, and you can see what everyone else has been reading.

The system is very conscious of its target audience, with several references to alternative pop culture. As the game progresses, notifications will pop up and you have the option to read new articles or check the dossiers of characters you meet.

...isn't quite what you get

The outcome of the game changes depending on which articles you read. And that's where the problem lies: reading isn't playing, and so the all important sense of challenge and accomplishment is absent.

The TOi system is an innovative idea, but in practice it's too frequent and too tedious. Stopping to check your TOi only serves to disrupt your immersion.

After your first playthrough, you'll probably go back and choose different articles to bring about a different ending, skipping over the ones you've already read. This is a creative attempt at conjuring up replay value, but it's not a natural way to play and the process ends up feeling like a chore.

First and foremost, XBlaze: Code Embryo is a visual novel, with interactive elements tacked on to broaden its appeal. These aren't entirely successful.

While this attempt at gamification may make finding certain endings frustrating, it doesn't detract from the beautiful and stylistic presentation we've come to expect from Arc System Works Games.

XBlaze: Code Embryo

If you’re a fan off the BlazBlue series, pick up a copy. If not, then you may want to avoid it unless a visual novel is exactly the experience you’re looking for