In western territories, otome games are still relatively new. A few years ago, North American and European fans saw the release of Hakuoki, and the series has slowly spanned across several consoles now. Since then, Sweet Fuse and Amnesia have also hit western shelves, expanding upon a genre not well known outside of Japan. Now that’s picking up some steam, as Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ adds to the library on the PlayStation Vita. With its traditional visual novel formula and strong leading lady, Code: Realize gives Vita owners one more reason not to retire Sony’s ‘legacy’ platform just yet.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, Code: Realize is a visual novel, and by that regard, it strictly adheres to the traditional format. It has become increasingly popular to put mini-games and other extra goodies within visual novel titles, however Code: Realize is strictly driven by the story. The game plays just as it sounds, players will be reading the entire time, only stopping to make a few choices every chapter.
In most cases, visual novels are still relatively short, and their nature seems to heavily rely on exaggerated tropes. Otome games in particular are guilty of this. That’s not inherently bad, but seeing a tired trope subverted into a character like Cardia, the protagonist of Code: Realize, is refreshing. While otome games are aimed at young women, and set their sights on typical Cinderella-esque stories, Cardia often breaks from that frame.
What makes Cardia so unique is an affliction that has been with her since birth, poison skin. In a genre that so heavily relies on romance, Code: Realize must convey the affection between Cardia and her love interest without the ability to touch. This didn’t seem like a particularly big deal in the beginning, but each of the five romance options have their own unique way of dealing with Cardia’s inability to touch who she loves (lest she end up rotting their flesh off).
Cardia’s inability to express her love through some of the most typical interactions between a couple adds a level of complexity to every romance that I honestly would never expect from the genre. Her longing to remedy the obstacles made for some pretty emotional moments within the game, and as every love interest dealt with that dimension of their relationship, Code: Realize quickly became one of my favorite visual novels.
While it is an otome game, the romance in Code: Realize doesn’t start until the end of chapter 8, and each potential love interest adds five more chapters onto that. While there are some more tender moments shared with every possible suitor prior to initiating their route, watching Cardia come into her own during those first eight chapters felt appropriate.
In my experience with some otome games, I shamelessly disregard everything that’s happening prior to the actual romance. Usually I’m bored, of course I just want to get to the cheesy exchanges of love and obnoxiously affectionate displays, I’m a sucker for it. However, Code: Realize manages to get that setup stage more right than any other boyfriend simulator I’ve played.
Cardia is not the helpless, doll-like protagonist I initially thought her to be.
While those first eight chapters are fantastic, in order to unlock the true ending with Lupin, clearly the canon choice of the game, the four other romances must be completed. Playing those eight chapters over and over would be grating, but thankfully Code: Realize provides an option to skip everything after that initial play. So, after romancing Van Helsing first, I was able to skip right to chapter eight for the next four romances and choose which guy to proceed with there.
In terms of the actual romance options, Code: Realize was surprising in that I didn’t have that one character I dreaded having to encounter. Saint-Germain’s romance is one worth talking about, as some of the content is rather jarring, but that’s for another day as it’s impossible to expand upon that without spoiling too much of his plot and some of the others.
In the end, the only big qualm I had with Code: Realize was that everyone’s ending, aside from Lupin, didn’t have a sense of closure. The story felt a little too open ended, and that’s obviously because Lupin’s story is the canon route, but still disappointing if Lupin is not your favorite guy.
Occasionally, pacing would lull, particularly it felt like Impy and Lupin’s stories were dragging their feet in some parts. It was never to the degree that I’ve experienced with other visual novels though, where I’m half-reading dialogue and frantically pressing x to get to something interesting. There were also numerous typos, and those stand out more so when your game is all text and pictures. However, it wasn’t such a problem that it ruined the experience.
Otome still has such a small fanbase in western territories when compared to Japan, so the library is still severely lacking. Like everything, there’s definitely some pretty bad titles in the genre, but Aksys has done an excellent job in selecting which titles to introduce to the west. Code: Realize is the best of what they’ve introduced us to yet, and is hopefully an indication of what to expect from them.