By: Matthew Striplen
During my travels as a licensed full-time nerd, I’ve come across tons of genres, both popular and obscure: RPGs, FPS’s, platformers, along with a few other acronyms. After spending such a great amount of time in all gaming eras, I thought I had seen it all, but everything changed on that fated day when XBLAZE Code: Embryo appeared to me. This title belongs to a genre I thought to be a myth; something of which I had only heard whispers in the deepest reaches of the Internet: the visual novel.
All melodrama aside, the visual novel is an oft-overlooked medium. I can’t really call it a game because of the lack of user input. Instead, the visual novel is like a halfway point between an anime and a manga. That said, XBLAZE breaks with traditional visual novel conventions to allow a certain degree of control over the story.
Set in the distant past of the crazy BlazBlue franchise, Code: Embryo tells the story of an average high school student, Touya, who is suddenly thrust into the realm of the supernatural. The Union virus, which transforms normal humans into super-powered zombies, is running rampan,t and Touya unwittingly emerges as the key to solving its mystery.
Like many other BlazBlue titles, the story itself is quite convoluted. With its many opposing factions, various powers and seemingly made up words like “Seithr” and “Grimoire,” XBLAZE is difficult to follow at times. The usage of the word “Union” to describe the powerful zombies is especially confusing because of the discrepancy between the English language’s existing definition of the word and the game’s unique designation. The actual content of the story is mostly well written, with lots of silliness and innuendo. Some of the sexual content is so over the top that it becomes laughable, like when a few of the female characters bathe each other while comparing breast sizes. I’m not quite sure if the humor is intentional however…
The game’s only source of input comes in the form of the Technology of Interest (or TOi), a news aggregator. Articles are periodically published, and Touya may or may not choose to read them. Depending on which articles are read or ignored, certain elements of the story are altered. However, the changes are nearly impossible to anticipate, which lends an air of mystery but also can leave the audience perplexed.
That makes the TOi system less of a “choose your own adventure” and much more blind guesswork, since the mere act of reading an article will alter the story. This means all judgment must be based off the article’s title, leaving the audience will very little wiggle room.
XBLAZE‘s art style stays close to the rest of the BlazBlue installments. Most of the characters are ornately designed, although almost no animation is present. Unfortunately, the sparse animation looks cheap, like moving a paper cutout across a backdrop. In the realm of sounds, only Japanese voices are available, so be ready for lots of subtitle reading. The acting is pretty good overall.
Replay value comes in the form of choosing to read or ignore different articles, thought remembering each article can be difficult due the large number of them. Otherwise, the replay value is akin to re-watching a movie or re-reading a book.
There’s not a whole lot that can be said about XBLAZE without spoiling the plot. The art, writing and acting is all good but nothing extraordinary. The most interesting part of the experience is the influence of the TOi, but its execution is far from perfect. If you’re a fan of BlazBlue who is tired of the 2D fighting portions, XBLAZE Code: Embryo is the title for you.