I’m going to preface this the fact that I’ve never played a BlazBlue game before, and simply played this one for my love of visual novels and a good story. I went in with no prior knowledge and didn’t have any issues with understanding.
In the interest of honesty however, I’m also going to add that I played through the entire demo of the game… and found it to be lacking something – thankfully the game itself is a much more complete experience, and didn’t seem to be lacking anything at all. This might just be that the demo didn’t get far enough into the story to introduce that “hook”, or maybe it’s just me.
XBlaze starts 150 years before the events of BlazBlue in the year 2050, the world very much a changed place from what it appears today. The protagonist of this story is Touya Kagami; a fairly average, slightly soft (read: he’s a wuss) teen male who lives with his best friend Hinata and their older responsible friend Yuki (who is actually more like the head of the house).
One day, he’s walking home from his part time job when he hears something that calls to him – beckoning him to come closer with something other than words. Touya follows this “call” into the restricted ward – the site of a great disaster which occurred ten years prior – and comes face to face with a magic-tainted human referred to as a “Union”.
It all goes downhill from there as Touya is pulled into a world of danger, mystery, the ties that bind, and even a bit of love. I won’t spoil the story for you, but there were more than a few moments which made me “ou” and “ah” – and I found it quite enjoyable overall (despite a few awkward fanservice scenes).
As for the way the story plays out, well I guess that’s kind of up to you – isn’t it? The game’s path to the end (and the end itself) change based on the articles you read through an in-game news feed system called TOi.
TOi (or Technology Of interest) is a content aggregator similar to the “you might also like” feature on sites such as Amazon or EBay, and is designed to give you news and topics based on what previous news and topics you’ve read. It also has the added “feature” of being the determining factor in what paths and extra scenes you see, as reading (or not reading) articles pushed to your TOi will change the course of the story.
Accessing your TOi will bring up a menu which has a content feed on the right (with appropriate tags such as new, read, unread, etc) and a character list on the left (including a special block for Touya). Accessing the content feed will allow you to read articles and comments to the articles, which actually ended up being quite true to life and funny – they’re definitely worth a read. Accessing a character from the icon list (or Touya’s special block) will bring up a bio with all the known information about the character – but the cool bit is that as you learn more through interaction, these update to reflect new information.
Being a fairly pure visual novel, XBlaze is not about physical gameplay as much as story, and thus it doesn’t have any user-controlled real time events. Instead, you’re treated to a constant flow of story progression, which (as stated before) can be altered by the TOi articles you read. There’s no quick time events, user movement or puzzles (like Danganronpa), and no control over the characters – you simply watch as the story unfolds, and change it with your TOi. In this respect, it’s much different than other visual novels which have appeared on the Vita, and therefore seems to stand on its own.
Another important bit (especially if you’re trying to keep track of what’s going on in the story) is the tips menu, which can show you information about relevant learned topics. For example, if you wanted to know what a “Union” is, this is where you’d look once that information has become available. If you ever need a refresher on a term or topic (or even want to learn a bit more) this is the place to go.
As for the controls, there isn’t much to know. The left trigger is auto-play, “x” is accept/continue, circle is back, triangle opens the tips menu and square opens the TOi menu. It’s very basic, and nobody should have issues “playing” the game.
Visually, XBlaze is a treat for the eyes – offering crisp and colourful visuals which are obviously produced at or near the Vita’s native resolution. Character models are all very unique, and the animations are all clean and smooth. It’s simply lovely to look at on the Vita, despite the fact that a lot of the visuals are pretty static.
Speaking of static, one thing that’s not static in any area is the lip-sync, which is done quite well. The only caveat (depending on your preference/outlook) is that the audio is in Japanese, and the game only includes English via subtitles. If you’re a purist/(poor) Japanese speaker like me that’s not a problem, but I know some would prefer completely static images and English voices to the way this one’s been localized.
As for the audio as a whole, it offered a high quality track which never once sounded bad to the ear; through the Vita’s speakers or headphones. That said, the spoken Japanese doesn’t always exactly match the subtitles – but it’s a fair approximation from what I can tell.
In the end, XBlaze didn’t leave me wanting…. anything other than a sequel. The story was well thought out, the endings I achieved were both satisfying (even though one was supposedly a “bad” end) and the journey was fun and a little different both times through. I found the controls easy to master (’cause really, you barely use them), the visuals and audio to be superb and the subtitles a decent English approximation – if spelled wrong here and there (I counted two errors). I’m also happy to say that I encountered no bugs or glitches while playing the game; which is quite unusual, but welcome none-the-less.
In the end, I’d recommend XBlaze Code: Embryo to anyone who likes a good story, visual novel, or just needs a BlazBlue fix sans all that messy manual fighting. It may not be an overly interactive game, but it’s definitely an enjoyable one.