By: Brian Gunn
Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is an oddity of a title for the Playstation Vita. While the platform is home to a variety of games that let the player pick and choose among love interests, these tend to be about male main characters pursuing women. However, Code: Realize is an otome, a game aimed primarily at women and featuring a female protagonist being pursued by a variety of men, and one I found myself liking more than I expected as someone not part of the target audience.
Visual novels have simple controls in general, and that’s the case here. You move dialogue forward via the X button or tapping the screen, and there are some additional functions like fast forwarding if you’re replaying a section. There’s also handy quick save and quick load shoulder buttons for when you don’t want to mess with the menus.
Visual novels rely on their art and character designs pretty heavily and can often flounder if this is not an asset. Thankfully, the aesthetics here are mostly pleasant. Characters all seem a bit impossibly lanky and, of course, tend to be dreamboat handsome, and they all have unique enough looks to stand out.
The game does look a bit bland at times when just showing areas and some dramatic scenes can fall a bit flat due to limited animation. A steampunk setting means almost everyone is covered in some sort of gear or doodad, and I personally wasn’t a fan of it.
A good set of catchy tunes are also important for the genre, and it’s a mixed bag in Code: Realize. There’s a general lighthearted theme during the story’s downtime that is pleasantly snappy, and some of the character themes and more ominous music are solid. They don’t really tend to stand out overall though.
There’s Japanese voice acting and it mostly hits the mark, though I’d suggest, given the setting is London, that this would’ve been a good title for English voice over localization. Otome visual novels are niche enough, however, that it’s easy to understand why they opted to stick with Japanese exclusively.
Strictly speaking, there isn’t a ton of gameplay in Code: Realize. The story does give you some choices at various intervals, but simply reading the story is the bulk of the experience. Cardia is our young hero, a woman with a whole slew of bad luck. On top of amnesia blocking out all but the last two years of her life, she also seems cursed to melt anything she touches.
Given her destructive nature, she has been sequestered in a lonely mansion by her father so that she won’t accidentally harm everything she comes into contact with. Fortunately for Cardia, her father is world famous and eventually various groups come poking around to find his secrets, and the plot begins with her adjusting to a normal life.
Soon Cardia finds her life populated by a variety of eligible bachelors, all of whom have their own motives for helping her. They are fairly familiar archetypes, ranging from the charming rogue to the distant warrior. There’s a small twist to things, though.
As the title is set in the Victorian period, almost the entire cast is made up of either real people or characters from fictional stories, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, that are set around the time period. Characters like Abraham Van Helsing are cast into those familiar roles, though obviously much younger and better looking.
The story is broken into chapters, eight of which are the common plot of the game, with five more for each suitor to close things out. The common plot allows a handful of choices but doesn’t change much, and it appears these choices lead you to the character you end up with. However, it all feels a bit obtuse when trying to narrow down how your romantic lead is really chosen.
I ended up going down a route for a character I was fairly indifferent to, and as such I was frustrated at how random it felt. It seems the game has a background counter of “favor” you accrue with characters and this determines both the final pairing and the ending of the game — each story has a normal and true ending, the latter of which requires perfect favor to see.
While this did annoy me, the game is thankfully pretty open-ended once you finish the first time. You unlock features that allow you to restart from any previous chapters with maxed out favor so you can avoid replaying too much. The first eight chapters are fairly intriguing, setting up a variety of mysteries, and the story plays out almost like an Ocean’s Eleven of Victorian era public domain figures at times.
Even though Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is sold based on the romance aspects, I found the characters mostly compelling even out of that context, and their endings told interesting stories. If you’re wary this might not be a game for you because of the romantic trappings, I’d suggest a second look, as the game’s mysteries and character work stands on their own.