I have conflicted feelings about XBlaze Code: Embryo. I really enjoyed reading this story, and feel much more informed about the world of BlazBlue after all of these hours spent reading. Yet, I also can’t find myself ready to tell every visual novel or BlazBlue fan I know to rush out and purchase this now.
Any fan of BlazBlue will undoubtedly benefit from the wealth of knowledge XBlaze provides. The thing is, XBlaze requires a lot of patience and dedication. As enjoyable as this tale is, it’s really a kinectic novel in disguise and thus is even more of a niche product than a general visual novel.
That’s because Arc System Works already knows the way the story is going to go. In fact, the first time through, every player is probably going to get the character ending that involves reading every single TOi article. It’s only after a second playthrough, when characters’ faces start appearing on TOi articles from chapter 6 onwards, that different results become possible.
Which isn’t bad, per-say, just that someone should know going into XBlaze that they’re going to probably be told one specific tale. It’s the story of one young man named Toya Kagari, who happened to be the sole survivor of a devastating and mysterious event known as the Wadatsumi Incident. He came away from it with no memory of his past, except the sound of his mother’s voice saying “Protect” as he looked at a little girl with glowing, blue eyes.
The city, and Toya, haven’t been the same since. The area where the incident happen has remained devastated and unchanged. Gangs fight within the ruins. Strange murders have been happening. Not to mention, some people have been exhibiting strange abilities.
Toya runs right into one of these people. The ringing of a bell lures him to the ruins after school and work one day, and one of these super-powered people immediately declares him an enemy and decides to attack. Fortunately, a young girl named Es steps in and saves him. Yet, Es’ intervention leads to more trouble. She’s a soldier from the Mitsurugi Agency and her boss, Soichiro Unomaro, tasks her and Mei Amanohokosaka with keeping an eye on Toya. Because his hearing the bell is not a good thing, as only Unions, super powered people infected with Crystals, are supposed to be able to hear that sound.
You all just squealed with delight, didn’t you? You recognized the name Amanohokosaka. XBlaze is full of moments where things are suddenly familiar or make sense. I’m both proud and embarassed to admit that there was audible squeaking and squealing whenever I noticed one of these callbacks. (Be glad you weren’t in the same room when Izayoi was mentioned.) These moments were often accompanied by Google searches, as I’d attempt to see how XBlaze‘s incarnation of something tied in to BlazBlue‘s. It was satisfying every single time, not to mention enlightening.
The craftmanship in XBlaze in general was wonderful. The character portraits aren’t like general visual novel designs. They’re far more dynamic. Characters appear to be in motion, constantly moving or ready to move. Yet, at the same time, they’re all totally natural. I wish more visual novels took this approach to character art. (It’s much more appealing than, say, those creepy character portraits that appear to breathe.)
Not that I appreciated all of the character art. Now, I consider myself fairly desensitized to fanservice. I enjoy Idea Factory and Compile Heart games on a regular basis, so I thought I was used to over-sexualized characters. Yet, XBlaze managed to stun me. I think it’s because here, I didn’t really expect all of the female characters to be DD or higher. Yet there they are, and many of the storylines feature half-naked or naked-but-with-strategically-placed-bubble scenes.
The fanservice is one of the things that I think may keep people away from XBlaze. The other is, as I mentioned earlier, it’s kinetic nature. As I said earlier, Arc System Works doesn’t really offer people traditional visual novel choices. Instead, there is the TOi system. Think of TOi as a aggregator device. It collects articles of interest to Toya. Whether or not the player reads said stories influences the course of the story. Avoiding important articles early on can lead to an early, “bad” ending. Reading specific articles that other characters have read will put you on course to an alternate storylines and endings. Basically, knowledge is power, and if Toya knows about certain things, there will be different endings as a result.
I appreciated the creative decisions Arc System Works made with XBlaze Code: Embyro. The dynamic character designs really made it feel like a more active and dramatic affair. The implementation of TOi was a unique idea as well, as it really exemplified the idea that knowledge is power. Yet, there were times when I felt like I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I do with more traditional visual novels. It really feels more like a kinetic novel with the illusion of choice, and after my first play through I didn’t feel compelled to immediately play again and see a different side. XBlaze Code: Embryo is an intriguing tale for sure, and one any BlazBlue fan should read to keep up with lore, but a part of me thinks an anime would have been a better choice than a game for this story.
Food for Thought:
1. If you turn on the “auto play” option, XBlaze actually does turn into an anime. Just remember to check TOi often.
2. There is a way to die early and get a “bad” end if you miss an early TOi article, so I’d recommend reading every TOi article initially, getting what’s probably the “best” general ending, then going back and going for character specific endings.