It's more than a little self-centered to presume all media must cater to our specific tastes—regardless of how wonderful this world would be before the combined misery of surrounding billions suffocated any opportunities for enjoyment. That said, I only played a tiny amount of XBlaze Code: Embryo before I took a step back and said, "Yeah, this game really isn't for me."
That's not to say I don't possess the right set of tools to analyze XC:E, though. I'm a huge fan of visual novels, especially when they incorporate adventure game elements, and I've played and loved Snatcher, Policenauts, the Phoenix Wright Series, Hotel Dusk, Danganronpa, and others—all while being fully okay with the fact that there's not much "game" to be had in this genre. And it's not like the visual language of anime—something XC:E trafficks in—is an altogether foreign concept to me: I actually cut my teeth on anime reviews as a young freelancer, and watched countless series for years until the dark cloud of moe descended on the industry and made everything... icky. With some sort of mastery in each of these overlapping fields, I feel absolutely confident in stating the following: XBlaze Code: Embryo is a terrible anime, and even worse at its fumbling attempts to be a video game.
Code: Embyro takes the form of a prequel to the BlazBlue fighting game series, so fans of the latter may find the story more meaningful than I did. Despite its connection to this group of bizarre characters, XC:E finds itself squished into the most common anime mold, that of the Tenchi Muyo variety. In short, these stories typically involve a personality-free, milquetoast protagonist (with a mysterious past) who finds a series of beautiful, superpowered women throwing themselves at him, and can only react by screaming in abject terror. This "harem" setup, popularized and done to death within the past two decades, finds our hero coping with superpowered humanoids called "Unions," and a gaggle of equally superpowered girls who latch onto him like barnacles at every given opportunity. If you have any familiarity with this kind of premise, you can probably guess the specifics of the crazy, sexy situations that follow, and your subsequent boredom.
The plot in XBlaze Code: Embyro is just as dull and predictable as any C-tier anime, so Arc System Works resorts to familiar tactics to dress up this very basic storyline: Neologisms! Towards the mid-point of the game, it's not uncommon to see two to three newly invented words per sentence, even if these convoluted terms are just synonyms for "bad guys" and "special powers." Eventually, you get the feeling Code: Embryo is less interested in giving you a story than it is a vocabulary lesson—so much of Touya's conversations with his female companions involve overwritten discussions about these new terms. Given that XC:E is a visual novel, though, its story stands as the main attraction; but if I were watching this play out in fully animated form on Crunchyroll, I would've given up after just a few episodes. It also feels as if Arc System Works bit off a little more than they could chew by making a visual novel about superpowered warriors fighting to the death. XBlaze Code: Embryo makes clever use of its limited assets during dialogue scenes, but its attempt to simulate combat by sliding character portraits around comes off as unintentionally hilarious.
Xblaze Code: Embryo would be just another forgettable visual novel if not for its one "gamey" element, which pushes it from "mediocre" to "aggressively terrible." While you make absolutely no decisions in the story itself, Touya possesses a PDA called TOi that collects info from the world around him for you to read at your leisure. When XC:E introduces this element, it tells you "Depending on which articles you read, or don't read, the course of the story, or even its very outcome, can change!" Since Code: Embryo didn't tell me much more than this, I assumed TOi stood as a way to incentivize digging into all of the extra content—visual novels as a whole typically reward the player in some way for exploring the periphery. So, as I suffered through the story, I would visit TOi every time it updated, reading stories, character bios, and the like. My character would only remark "interesting" after each article read, so I really had no way of knowing how consuming these articles could possibly affect my progress.
I found out the hard way when, upon loading a save about halfway through the game, Touya was visited by one of the villains, who proceeded to murder him instantly after delivering the cryptic line, "Those who wish for nothing will ultimately receive it." Game over. Huh? I loaded the same save again, thinking there had to be some way out of this situation. Nope, still murdered after a few lines of dialogue. My next line of thinking was, "Surely I could jump back a few chapters and avoid this untimely death, right?" You can probably guess the answer to this question.
It turns out the TOi system had secretly railroaded me into an early death, with no way out of it but to restart the game entirely from the beginning. The "extras" screen—available from the main menu—provides information about what articles you have and haven't read, but, like in the game itself, says absolutely nothing about their significance. Did scrolling through all of those articles about swimsuits communicate that I had some sort of nihilistic streak? Whatever the case, I assume you're supposed to play through XBlaze Code: Embryo over and over until you can figure out which combination of its 100+ possible articles need to be read in order to achieve some satisfying ending. I can't remember the last time I've come across a game mechanic so preposterously hateful.
Above all, I'm just astounded that Arc System Works shoved such a downright evil mechanic into their game, because it only serves to rob players of their free time by forcing them to restart again and again (skipping all of that dialogue again and again) with absolutely no clue as to what went wrong. As I said before, this game definitely wasn't made for me, but really, I'm not sure who it's for. If you're a masochist who wants to fill your deathbed with regrets over time lost on a lousy visual novel, you might be in XBlaze's target demographic. If you value your free time and happiness, stay very far away—there are much more entertaining ways to waste your life.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Code Embryo does what it's asked to do, and makes the most of its limited 2D assets. When it tries to do anything more ambitious than dialogue, though, it isn't pretty.
- Sound: Ultimately forgettable. The (Japanese) voice actors do their best to elevate the substandard material they're working with, but I rarely stuck around long enough to hear their voices.
- Interface: Seeing as you're mainly skipping through dialogue with a single button, there's not much of an interface to speak of. What's there gets the job done.
- Lasting appeal: You're intended to play through Code Embyro multiple times, but for all the wrong reasons. If you actually feel the need to do such a thing, consult your local radiologist for a CT scan.
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