Friday, October 10, 2014

Games for Everyone Halloween: Xblaze Code Embryo

Xblaze Code: Embryo Review

                For our next Halloween review we’ll be taking a departure from PC and make a move to consoles as we look at spinoff/prequel to the BlazBlue fighting game series, Xblaze Code: Embryo. Released for PS3 and Vita in Japan on July 25, 2013 by Arc System Works and in the US June 24, 2014 by Aksys, Xblaze stands out a bit from the main series by being a pure visual novel rather than a VN/Fighting game hybrid. At the time of its Japanese release there was some debate over whether we would see this localized, but considering Aksys had released VN games for consoles before (and still do) and BlazBlue is one of its most well known series the general consensus was it would only be a matter of time till a western release. Obviously that was proven right, but the question is whether or not we got a good spinoff worthy of its connection to BlazBlue yet able to stand on its own. I’d say pretty much, but that will require some explaining…

Pros: Interesting story, likable characters, TOi is an interesting way of unlocking scenes and routes, good artwork, decent music.
Cons: True ending kind of sequel baits, Kuon and Mei’s routes suffer a little bit by being obviously not canon, glitches make the omake route unplayable, some translation issues.
WTF?!: Maybe it’s just because of Es’ dress style and ahoge, but at a lot of points she and Touya bear an uncanny resemblance to…

                Set 150 years before the events of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, you play as mild mannered average Japanese high school student, Touya Kagari. On the way home from his part time job Touya passes by a part of town that was cordoned off from the public after a mysterious disaster occurred there ten years ago. After hearing a strange sound he decides to investigate and comes across an injured man who he immediately moves to help. However the man suddenly attacks Touya, calling him an enemy and then begins to use a strange power with intent to kill. Touya’s life ends up saved by a small sword wielding girl in a blue frilly dress named Es, an agent of the Mitsurugi Agency. This begins Touya’s involvement in a series of events with magic, super powered psychopaths, secret organizations and a mysterious object called the “Grimoire” that everyone seems to be searching for.

                Okay I know this seems like an odd choice for Halloween as I will admit this is more of an action/fantasy than anything else but there are some nice little horror-ish segments including the dark atmosphere during the scenes at night when Toya and Es are patrolling the city, the concept of the Unions slowly losing their humanity as they advance in stages, and the insane killer Ripper. 

                One good thing you can say about Xblaze’s story is it takes full advantage of being a prequel set a good while before the BlazBlue games. It basically tells a story that ties in well with main series but can stand well enough on its own. I say “well enough” because having at least some knowledge of the BlazBlue series makes the story more enjoyable, especially when you start hearing names of characters, places and things that match with stuff from said series or even see some story related things that look very similar to something you saw from BB and wonder if there’s a connection or not. Bear in mind I am speaking as a fan, but regardless of whether it can fully stand alone or not Xblaze’s story is a good one as the plot does at least manage to stay interesting as it moves from episode to episode (which is how the story is formatted) thanks to its overarching mystery and its likable cast of main characters (click here for profiles).

                I should note this about the characters, if you’re not into anime archetypes then this game might not be for you. The main cast is pretty standard for an anime from our main character Touya as your average guy being thrust into an unbelievable and dangerous situation that somehow comes with being put into what’s practically the start of a harem anime to one of our heroines, Mei, fitting the tsundere heroine role to a T. Thankfully Xblaze does a good job at writing the characters  as what they lack in originality they make up for in being distinct from one another, memorable enough that you at least can remember their motivations and quirks, and likable enough that you want to keep reading about them. I will admit some might not like that Touya isn’t really much of a “tough guy” kind of character, especially because advertisements kind of portray him as Ragna’s predecessor (which they’re not wrong in, but…), but if you can look past that the character’s still likable and several of the heroines have their share of awesome moments.

                In the area of flaws I will admit Xblaze has some apparent ones. For starters while the true route has a good conclusion, the sequel baiting it leaves on is a tad annoying. I realize a sequel has recently been announced, but since there isn’t a solid release date yet or a guarantee of localization it’s still a tad irksome. Another story flaw is one that usually comes with VNs with a true ending route: of the four routes of the main game (Hinata, Es, Kuon and Mei) two of them, the routes for Kuon and Mei, aren’t (Hinata’s is tied to Es’ which is the true ending) and it shows. While Kuon’s route doesn’t suffer from this as much as Mei’s since her route’s story has some more apparent fan service (I’m talking about the story kind…though Xblaze certainly does have the other kind too) for BlazBlue fans both routes have story moments that pretty much indicate the route’s events aren’t canon. I can say though that neither or the routes are bad though and they, like Es' and Hinata's do a good job at the very least of forming a bond between Touya and the chosen heroine (will admit I like Kuon's better than Mei's). Finally, while not exactly story related, Xblaze does suffer from some…translation issues. Bear in mind I’m not usually the nitpicky sort when it comes to translations, for me as long as the translation isn’t engrish I can let it slide and while I can do this for the most part with Xblaze I can’t help but get a bit annoyed at lines that have me say or think “That’s not what ________ said!”. This happens mostly with Touya where at times the translation of what he says either doesn’t match the tone of voice or comes off as barely matching translation-wise. I’ll admit this probably isn’t going to be much of a flaw to any who aren’t familiar with Japanese (I should point out all spoken dialogue is in Japanese, there’s no dub) but still…
                In the system area, Xblaze has an interesting way of implementing plot diversity through use of the TOi (Technology of Interest) application. It’s basically an app Touya accesses in the game that’s somewhat similar to the cell phone in Steins;Gate except in this case you’re just viewing news articles and blog posts that update at certain points in the game. Depending on what articles you look at or don’t look at determines what scenes you see and ultimately what route you start. It’s an interesting way of doing things different from the standard “make a choice” system of your typical VN and it also helps in getting the player a bit more immersed in the game’s universe too. Also for anyone worried the function skip already read text stops the moment TOi updates with new articles even if you have read them in a previous playthrough so you don’t have to worry about potentially missing important articles.

                Before we move on from the system aspect of the game, Xblaze has one problem on that front: glitches. Fortunately this doesn’t happen in the main story but there’s an omake story that you can unlock using a code and from what I’ve played it’s actually pretty funny. I say “from what I’ve played” because the omake route is very crash prone and somewhere around the third chapter you can’t go any further because no matter how many times you reset, no matter where you save, the game will crash. It’s a real shame because like I said the route is a funny one, especially since it does a good job turning key traits of each character into a hilarious joke trait like how effectively Es’ deadpan voice is utilized to convey some really silly sounding lines but doesn’t sound out of character for her.

                In the area of presentation Xblaze does a good job. The artwork is good both for the character design and background, the voice acting is all good and the music does a good job setting the mood for each scene, though I will admit it isn’t particularly memorable.

In Conclusion:

                Xblaze Code: Embryo is an overall excellent tie in to the BlazBlue games that manages to tell a story that’s at least good enough on its own. While I admit it doesn’t break any new ground its story is still a good read supported by a likable cast, even enough to make up for its flaws, though it would be nice if the omake route were fully playable. If you have either a PS3 or Vita then this is definitely worth picking up.

Final Score: 7/10 Great

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

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