Do you like the BlazBlue series? Are you intensely interested in the fighting game series' Story Modes, which are at least 20 hour long endeavors with a lot of text and little fighting in between? Do you want to learn more about BlazBlue's extensive lore, by looking into the world's past? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then XBlaze: Code Embryo is a visual novel for you. If not, then... while you can still garner some enjoyment out of the game's basic plot, it may not quite be worth the tedium you'll go through to get there.
Xblaze: Code Embryo stars one Touya Kagari, an average, somewhat boring high school student. One day, he hears an unusual noise from a decrepit area known as the Restricted Ward, abandoned due to an catastrophic accident that happened there ten years before. He is then attacked by a person with some rather unusual powers, and promptly saved by a young girl with a giant sword. From there, Touya becomes entangled with a plot involving these super-powerful, usually insane humans (called Unions), organizations with ulterior motives, and subjects obtuse and almost impossible to understand.
Of course, along to protect the decidedly "weak" Touya are a trope of females with a stable of battle prowess. They fight of Unions and powerful foes with magic and giant weapons without so much as batting an eye, and look adorable to boot. Interacting with them will provide most of the explanation of what is going on and why Touya is important to the grand scheme of things (being a survivor of said tragic incident ten years ago). These plot revelations, however, are slowly spoon fed over many hours and multiple playthroughs, and can leave players a bit confused as to what is going on.
That's not to say that the plot is poorly written; a few typos aside, Xblaze's writing is solid. In between BlazBlue name drops and completely new terms, though, it can be very difficult to follow along, especially if this is your first jump into the often complex series. Also, while having to work through the title multiple times to fully grasp the plot may seem off-putting, fans of the series will understand why this is a must, and those that stick with it to the True ending will also understand that the 'repeats' are an important plot element.
Unlike most visual novels, which will rely on dialogue options in order to place you on story paths, Xblaze instead uses the TOi system. In the game, TOi is an information aggregate system that grabs news articles based on the main character's interests, and reading articles will typically unlock scenes in the game talking about the articles you've read or some of the female cast's quirks. While during your first playthrough you'll very likely read every TOi article you come across (and will lead to an ending that just begs you to play more), in subsequent playthroughs you'll have to pick and choose which articles to read based on what the other characters are looking at. However, it can still be a bit difficult to figure out exactly what to do to get on a specific character path and and hit a disappointing bad end, as there are few clues to suggest how the story is split up. Without spoiling anything, it's not as simple as "read every article your chosen girl has read, and no other" and due to the length of the game, trying to figure out the right paths with trial and error, even with the skip function, is long-winded and tedious.
Worse yet, the Vita version of the title suffers from some unfortunate glitches that can make it difficult to play. Saves will sometimes freeze, making you have to reboot the game and start again from your last save... although, oddly enough, the system data itself will save and you can skip through the previously read text. The game will also crash at seemingly random intervals, requiring you to work through the unsaved scenes again. Thankfully, a recent patch seems to alleviate most of the issues, but take note that not all of them may have been solved.
Xblaze's graphics and sound also stand up pretty well. Most music tracks serve the plot well, though few are truly noteworthy. In terms of graphics, instead of most visual novels that take place from the main's character's perspective, Xblaze takes place in a third person perspective, giving the game a feeling as though it could have been an anime. This also helps the title be unique in its character animations, which gives Xblaze lots of action and movement to its battle scenes. It overall looks better than its comparable visual novel counterparts, although the animations themselves may not be on par with the average game of any genre.
Really, though, Xblaze: Code Embryo is difficult to recommend to anyone other than those interested in the BlazBlue canon. Those that are legitimately interested will still have to work through a somewhat obtuse TOi system and a gimmicky "harem anime" storyline, but will also garner a bit of the series' history in the process.
A portable gamer through and through, I tend to shun my poor consoles and PC to play the next mini-hit on the 3DS or Vita. I'm a particularly big fan of RPGs (of the Japanese variety) and fighting games... but don't tell anyone how terrible I am at the latter. When not obsessively gaming or writing about said gaming, I'm either learning how to account for other people's money or providing fresh-sliced lunch meat to the local populace.
Jimmy the Geek