Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pocket Review - XBlaze Code: Embryo

XBlaze Code: Embryo is a visual novel set in the world of BlazBlue. Aksys Games has been all about diving into the story-driven realm with games like 999 and Virtue's Last Reward, but XBlaze leans more toward the Hakuoki side of things. Though it is very text heavy, it often felt like watching an anime due to the fantastic visuals and portraits that animate just enough to not be boring, static pictures.

Along with a great visual style, XBlaze offers an interesting and well-localized story as players take the role of "normal high school student" Touya Kagari. His adventures have him trying to discover the secrets of his past, uncover the truth behind a series of murders, and to learn more about mysterious area of town where strange things have been going on. Touya quickly finds himself surrounded by a number of female characters, each of which has a slightly different reason for trying to watch over and protect him. The plot itself has a few twists, but most of the reveals are rather predictable. Thankfully, the game does have a lot of personality from its characters and the writing that supports them.

Though the story is pretty much on point most of the game, there are a few scenes where things stray into fan service, drifting into the realm of showing off breasts, butts, and bikinis. It's like the developers said, "hey, let's show two girls bathing together" or "maybe now would be a good time for the group to go swimming for now reason." I'm not opposed to this kind of content, but it would have been better if it didn't feel completely out of place.

Unlike the Zero Escape games, XBlaze offers no adventure game elements, but still gives players control over the outcome of the story through the TOi system. This system is used to read news stories, and based on which of these the player takes the time to go through, the story path may vary. It's not a very deep system, but it adds a little bit of interaction to the process.

The problem with this comes from the fact that the storytelling can easily get cut short by using the TOi incorrectly. It's like reading a book and not getting to read the last chapter because you missed one paragraph early on, and in order to get the full story you have to read the entire book again. Even though previously read text can be skipped, players still have to stop, check, and read the TOi entries all over again. And on top of that, to get certain endings players have to only read specific stories, and there is no way to know this outside of trial and error. It made the whole process of getting a "less good" ending in XBlaze the first time feel cheap and the option of going back through again less appealing.

In Virtue's Last Reward, players were able to jump around to the areas on a timeline without having to go through the entire game multiple times. XBlaze needed something like that. The story and characters have a charming appeal to them, and I really wanted to see where things went, but not enough to do what the game was going to force me to do. Reading a summary of the true ending online would be much easier, which is a shame because it would have been more enjoyable to do in-game.

Had XBlaze simply given a better option for replaying prior sections other than just fast-forwarding text, it would have improved things greatly. It's not like the first half of the game changes much at all during these replays, so there was no reason not to offer a way to quickly skip at least the first half. Even though I avoided the bad ending easily, XBlaze still ended on a dull thud and then expected me to start over. To that I said, "thanks, but no thanks."

Recommended? Interesting story & characters, but plot paths are too trial and error-y.
Enjoyed By? Great anime style. If you don't mind replaying the first half of the game over and over to get the full story, give it a shot.

This game was played on Vita via a PSN code supplied by the publisher.

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