Thursday, June 26, 2014

XBlaze Code: Embryo - Review


Every once in awhile, a video game company will take us by surprise, and release something we never thought would make it outside of Japan. It's no secret that there are different cultures in the world, and that sometimes these cultures influence what you like and what you don't like. Well, this goes for video games as well. When you look at Western or Japanese developed games, a lot of the time the differences are quite clear. A lot of Japanese games will use anime styled graphics, they'll be more focused on the story, feature young men and women as the lead characters, and sometimes feature "wacky" or over the top stories. Meanwhile a lot of western games tend to take a darker tone, you'll see more adults taking the lead, guns tend to be involved, and a lot of the games are more open.

Now sure, this isn't what every Japanese or Western game is like (there is a wide verity of games after all), but they are some of the standard design choices you'll see used in them, and a lot of these games tend to sell better in their country of origin. Shooters aren't as big in Japan, and JRPGs are a lot more popular in Japan. Of course there are niche crowed for each, but sometimes games never get released in other regions because of this. This is exactly what happens with most Visual Novels.

Visual Novels still are not that popular in the West. A lot of gamers prefer games with "gameplay," while Visual Novels tend to be nothing but watching. These types of games generally apply more to anime or manga fans than gamers, and despite the always expanding fan base in the West, it is still a very niche genre. The general population tends to stay away from these type of games, with only a select few series ever gaining much popularity outside of Japan. So, what's the chances XBlaze Code: Embryo, the visual novel prequel to the BlazBlue series would ever make its way outside of Japan? Pretty low, but it happened!


XBlaze, the Ps3 and Vita exclusive "BlazBlue Visual Novel" has finally been released out of Japan. While most other BlazBlue media still remains overseas, against all odds, XBlaze was translated and shipped to stores across the country. But, just what is this game? Is it worth buying if you are a BlazBlue fan? What if you've never played the games? Can a newcomer get into it without knowing much about the BlazBlue world? Well, how about we find out?

The Story of Another Azure:

XBlaze Code: Embryo is a Visual Novel in its purest form. The game is completely based on the story, and has little to no gameplay.If you don't like the story, then you have no reason to play, and if you love the story, then you'll be hooked from beginning to end.

The story of XBlaze picks up around 150 years before the events of BlazBlue. While BlazBlue takes place in a world which has been destroyed by a monster known as the "Black Beast," XBlaze is set in the world of today; more specifically, in Japan. Cities aren't built around mountains, seither isn't so thick that it becomes poisons, and magic isn't quite common place. While it does exist, only specific people can use it; many of which are not even allowed to leave their home island.


When the game opens, you will find yourself following the story of Touya Kagari, a normal high school student who goes to the wrong place, at the wrong time. When Touya was very young, he was involved with a strange incident in which thousands of people around the Wadatsumi research labs simply vanished over night. Touya was the only survivor, and he was also the son of the lead researcher. Knowing that his mother most likely was the cause of what happened, he can't help but feel guilty. Now 16 years old, he lives with two girls he met from the orphanage he grew up in. While Hinata is his age and goes to school with him, her sister Yuki (and Touya's legal guardian) is ten years his senior, and works a full time job as a nurse to help support them. Although Yuki considers all three of them to be family, Touya feels that he is a burden, and begins working part time himself to pay for rent and food. While everything seems to be going okay, one night as he was walking home, everything changed.

After hearing a strange bell sound, Touya tracks down its location to the old restricted ward. A hole had been blown through the fence, and a strange man was on the other side. Fearing the man was hurt, Touya rushes over to see if he could help, but things take a turn for the worst. The bell sound rings once again, a strange beam shoots out of the man, and the area behind Touya explodes. Unsure of what is happening, Touya stands in complete shock, and watches as a strange young girl with a sword shows up and saves him. She slashes through the man, knocks Touya out when he tries to stop her from killing him, and then vanishes. When Touya comes to, he makes his way back home, and once again is greeted by the same young girl.


Unsure of what is happening, Touya learns that the girl's name is Es, and that she has been assigned to protect him. She is a part of the Sector Seven research lab of some agency Touya had never heard of, and that the man who had attacked him was known as a "Union." It turns out, a Union is a human who is infected by a strange crystal which also gives them strange powers. For whatever reason Touya can hear the call Unions give out when using their powers, and they fear that he too may be infected. Although the tests do turn up negative, Es is ordered to stay with him.

As the story goes on, Touya finds himself caught up in a series of strange events. Since he can hear the "Discover Calls," he decides to help Es track down Unions, but they are not the only enemies out there. Just a few short days later Touya meets up with a girl from the magical guild who is sent to track down three of their "Ten Sages" who abandoned their homeland, and things start to get crazy. What originally starts out as a seemingly generic "school life" story, soon evolves into one filled with mystery.


Since XBlaze takes place long before the BlazBlue series, you do not need to know anything about the BlazBlue world to play this. It has its own set of characters, its own story arcs, and almost completely stand alone. While series fans will notice a lot more details (such as the fact that Takamagahara was the group running the project that caused people to vanish, or the fact that one of the characters has the Izayoi), you don't have to actually play the previous games. This is a background story which started it all, and playing it before BlazBlue may actually help you understand the series a lot more... Especially Chronophantasma...

The Gameplay:

Once again, XBlaze is a Visual Novel, and features little to no gameplay. From the moment you start it, you can simply set it to auto, and let it go. Character voices are in Japanese with sub titles at the bottom of the screen, and you get to watch them interact with other characters. Unlike BlazBlue (which is half visual novel), XBlaze features a much wider range of animation, and it almost feels like watching an anime because of that. While a lot of games feature static images, and generic area backgrounds, XBlaze has a wide verity of backgrounds for each scene, and character's faces, body movements, and actions are actually shown. There are also some special scenes which feature a still piece of artwork (similar to the special scenes in BlazBlue) which become a part of your art collection once you view them. Although XBlaze isn't fully animated, it still looks amazing, and at times you may even forget you aren't watching an anime. It is a "next gen" visual novel, and it really shows.


Besides just watching, there are some choices you can make, and extra scenes you can unlock. Just about every chapter in the game has six recap scenes which can be viewed by saving and reloading. Some of these scenes are just flat out recaps, but others will show another character's side of the events, or give you information you wouldn't normally know about. While it isn't much, saving and reloading does require action from you the player, so you can't simply just watch the game to unlock them.

Other choices you have in XBlaze come from the Toi system. The Toi is a device which gives people news articles based off of their interests, and the game allows you to read them at almost any time. On the Toi screen you can read information you've learned about the characters in the story, but by reading the actual news articles you can slightly change the story. It is up to you to decide if you want to read them or not, and by doing so you can go down different story paths. While some news articles will just unlock extra scenes (such as a scene where you go shopping for pudding after reading a news article about it), reading the same news article one of the girls read will actually make her like you more. It'll unlock scenes related to that girl, and as you build your relationship with them, a more "romantic" story route will be unlocked. For example, reading an article about a swim suit a girl has on will cause her to speak with you during the pool event early on in the game, and it will make her like you as well.


Besides the character paths, there are also joke paths to unlock in the story as well. The good news is, text can be skipped if you've already seen it, and the game keeps track of what you have or haven't seen across all save files. To see everything you do have to replay the game quite a few times, but in reality all you have to do is skip everything you've seen, and then read a few news articles to change the course of the story. It isn't as repetitive as some visual novels can be, and you don't actually have to make multiple saves for every choice if you don't want to.


When it comes to the game's extras, just like BlazBlue there is a gallery of sorts. Here you can replay any scene you've already watched, view the still images you've collected, watch any anime cutscene you've seen (such as the game's opening video), or listen to any of the songs you've heard during your time playing. There's also a checklist for the preview scenes and news articles you've read, or during the game, you can also read about different key events and terms brought up in the game. While these unlockables don't add too much to the game, they are nice extras, and fun to go back to every once in awhile.

The Good and the Bad:

XBlaze really isn't the type of game you can just judge. There are really no good or bad points about it; it all comes down to if you like this sort of thing or not. On the plus side for those who enjoy visual novels, it has a wide range of animations and backgrounds, it has nice music, multiple endings, a long main story, great characters, the translation stays faithful to the original, and it is a game that finally gives us an inside look at BlazBlue's past. It does everything it set out to do right, and it is a very enjoyable visual novel. The Vita version of the game has some glitches right out of the box, but it doesn't ruin the game, and can be fixed by downloading the patch. Even so, if you don't like visual novels, then none of this matters. If you rather play a game and not watch a story, then this game is not for you.


Overall, XBlaze is a great visual novel if you like this kind of thing. It is great for BlazBlue fans and newcomers alike, and is sure to provide you with hours of entertainment. While this game is most likely only the first in a series, it is a great starting point. That's why XBlaze deserves an almost perfect 9/10. We can't call it perfect, but it was well worth the wait.

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