XBlaze Code: Embryo review for PS Vita, PS3

Xblaze Code Embryo 2
Platform: PS Vita
Also on: PS3
Publisher: Aksys
Developer: Arc System Works
Medium: Digital, Blu-ray, Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded gamer. I mean, I’m no Japanophile, but at the same time I have no probably raving about games like Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection or Monster Monpiece (though I’ll rave about the latter much more quietly). Likewise, I’m a huge fan of artsier games like Journey, Entwined and Flower; just because they may not have totally traditional goals and mechanics, it doesn’t make them any less identifiably games, as far as I’m concerned.

I say all this as prelude to the following: the appeal of Xblaze Code: Embryo as a game kind of baffles me. I totally get what you’re supposed to do in it — you follow characters in a prequel to later events in the BlazBlue universe — but I don’t get what exactly differentiates it from straight-up anime. Sure, you have to press X every time you want the dialogue to advance, but if you’re that desperate for stop-start dialogue in your cartoons, you could always just watch Attack on Titan with one finger constantly hovering over the Pause/Play button, couldn’t you?

XBlaze Code: Embryo 1

Technically, I guess, there’s also the fact that you change the ending of the game depending on how many TOi articles you read (that’s Technology Of interest, in case you were wondering), but that’s kind of like the difference between a traditional novel and a Choose Your Own Adventure story, isn’t it? I mean, the game is set up so that you get one ending if you read along with Path X, one ending with Path Y, and so on. If that’s not a Choose Your Own Adventure novel description, I don’t know what is. (Note: unlike those novels, Xblaze Code: Embryo won’t kill you off almost no matter what you choose.)

Of course, in writing all this, I’m kind of missing the point. Xblaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel, so expecting it to be more action-packed than it is would be like going into Football Manager and wondering why the management sim is so lacking in on-the-field soccer action. In my defense, we are talking about a story based on a fighting game universe, so hoping for a tiny bit of action isn’t the craziest thing ever, but still: this is a game that’s literally all about the story, so it should be judged as such.

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And by those standards, it’s actually pretty interesting. Even if, like me, you’ve barely played any of the BlazBlue games, there’s enough exposition here that you’re never wondering who the characters are or what their relationships to each other might be. It’s all established through the text, and it never requires you to have played through every character’s storyline in Calamity Trigger or Continuum Shift. Xblaze Code: Embryo stands on its own as far as character and plot development, and for that it should be commended. In fact, it’s even got a pretty decent sense of humour; I chuckled quite a few times, and I’m not someone who usually goes for gaming humour. Couple that with a good understanding of when to be funny and when to be serious, and you can actually see how the game lives up to the “novel” part of “visual novel”.

That’s not to say it’s not without its problems. Most notably, there’s the issue with how females are portrayed. Like, I get that these games need to include some amount of fanservice, and by general game standards the female characters are even dressed pretty reasonably. Having said that, however, I don’t get why Arc System Works felt the need to include a scene of two underage girls (okay, technically one underage girl and one immortal[?] girl who looks like she’s twelve) bathing together, with dialogue centred around the enormity of their breasts. While that technically means the game passes the Bechdel Test (thanks to a pretty massive loophole in said Test), it doesn’t make that aspect of Xblaze Code: Embryo any less squicky.

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As for any other problems…basically, it really all comes down to what you’re expecting to do with the game. Again, Xblaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel, and it takes that descriptor very seriously. You won’t get to influence the story all that much, and you will be expected to read (and read, and read). If you go in expecting to do more than that you’ll be sorely disappointed, but if you just want to experience an interesting story, it will definitely fill that niche.

Grade: B