I am absolutely terrible at fighting games which is why I was intrigued when Arc System Works announced that they were making a Visual Novel in the BlazBlue universe. Always having had interesting stories and characters between this and the older running series of Guilty Gear, being able to experience the narrative elements without having to literally fight for it was a treat in and of itself.
XBlaze Code: Embryo follows the story for a sixteen year old male by the name of Touya Kagari around one-hundred and fifty years prior to the first entry of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. I’ll be honest in the fact that this is the first Visual Novel that I’ve ever had my hands on so it was quite an interesting experience. Essentially flowing like anime episodes between the sub chapters each with their own highlights and climaxes, the hands off approach was definitely something new in which was hard to think at times that I was not watching something but still required to have my hands on a controller as it could be important.
One thing that was immediately noticeable is that the upscale from the Vita’s screen is not as smooth as it could have been. Unfortunately having moved up from the much smaller screen has left enough jagged lines at times to get in the way of what could have been an otherwise visually smooth experience. These issues lie in more than than simply the visual presentation of the characters but also in the subtitled text making it hard to read along at times. This wouldn’t be an issue for those fluent however as they wouldn’t need to read unless they of course wanted to. Because the text is formatted in the same fashion across the board, the menus that are provided for articles and character bios later on are in the same boat. This held true from reasonable small screens all the way up to ridiculously sized ones such as a projector’s. The bonus however is that the increase in size never made things worse, just a lot more apparent.
While not being visually the most incredible because of the upscaling, the voice acting while being purely Japanese with no dubbed versions was amazing. The tones that the characters carried easily conveyed emotions that suited each situation regardless of the gravity. Every voice is unique offering a stellar audible experience as there was never any questioning who was who or how pissed off they may be. Combining these voices with the great soundtrack that permeates the background and everything came together amazingly in which nothing in this respect ever felt out of place.
Code: Embryo is more than simply watching scenes play out however. There are many times in which you, the player, can pause a scene in order to view more details about introduced characters or possibly news articles that have been sent to what is known as your TOi. The TOi which is basically a smart phone, has algorithms that will basically Google search anything of interest to you as long as they fall within your personal preferences parameters and load them up in chronological order. Reading these or not is very much your choice but it can add more to how the experience plays out as a character may have something more to interject on a subject as they've read it in an article and now contain that knowledge. Sometimes these are small little extras but it's worth checking now and then to make sure that nothing is being passed up on as the articles will become archived when no longer relevant to the current time in the story.
The story itself is very well paced and never feels rushed. Unlike a good anime however, as that’s really the only basis I have for comparison as this is much more than a manga, there are no restrictions to time slots. This can sometimes lead to occasions in which you could expect something to end, yet it doesn’t because it has no need to follow that particular ruleset allowing for a much more engrossing scene. Characters’ personalities are easy to “define” through the use of stereotypes though they aren’t purely confined by said ruleset making them more than two dimensional from a personality point of view as there’s much more to them than being a tsundere. This in itself only helps to enhance the overall package over the many hours that encompass this story.
For the first time experiencing a Visual Novel I must say that I’m rather impressed. While the quality of the image could have been better, the voice acting and the soundtracks more than make up for this as the story itself is interesting and does not give itself away very easily. XBlaze Code: Embryo is a worthwhile investment of time on the PC and while I could go out and find its sequel on the Vita, I’m going to anxiously await it on the PC to see if things have been fixed from a visual standpoint.
Arc System Works
Article by Pierre-Yves