Say what you want about the PlayStation Vita, but it sure has a great lineup of obscure Japanese games for those of us who like them. Now otome and visual novel fans have one more title to choose from, since Aksys Games have been kind enough to bring Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ to the handheld. Silly tilde-bearing title aside, don’t be afraid: this is a fun, fairly solid little fantasy that could serve as a great bit of escapism for lovers of steampunk and 19th- and 20th-century literature.
Okay, maybe that last bit is a stretch, but it is one of the coolest aspects of the narrative. Code: Realize pulls its characters straight from the pages of famous classics, and that extends to the five eligible bachelors: you can woo Arsène Lupin, Victor Frankenstein, Abraham Van Helsing, Impey Barbicane or Saint-Germain (who’s an actual historical figure). There are even some neat little touches: in some of the original Lupin stories, author Maurice Leblanc put in Sherlock Holmes as a rival to his character. When Arthur Conan Doyle found out, he wasn’t too pleased, forcing Leblanc to redub this version of the character “Herlock Sholmes” — the very same moniker given to Lupin’s rival here.
But enough geeking out on the literature front. What’s this story actually about? Well, this is a pretty standard otome game in the sense that the protagonist is mostly a blank slate through which the player can speak vicariously with gorgeous 2D men. Yeah, she has amnesia, which may bring to mind that other cutesy otome game from August… but the comparison really ends there. This protagonist (named Cardia by default) actually has a backstory that may be of some interest to players, especially when you consider how much she’s up against: she’s considered a “monster” and forced to live in isolation because a mysterious gem named the Horologium is embedded in her chest. The gem causes poison to run through her veins, which causes anyone who touches her to feel unbearable pain — or die if they hang on too long.
But wait, there’s more: a secret government organization named Twilight is after the Horologium, and rumor has it that her long-lost father is behind an evil conspiracy. My, that’s simply awful! What’s a girl to do? Team up with her captor Lupin, of course, to gather a merry band of sexy guys (and a young Dracula, and a dog) who will eventually help unravel the mystery. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is — and there’s no denying that this story has a ton of flaws. The story bounces all over the place without much direction, for one thing, and it’s a bit of a shame to watch these timeless literary characters be reduced to goofy anime archetypes. Stop me if you’ve heard these before: Lupin is a smooth-talking ladies’ man, Van Helsing is the “edgy” aloof one, Victor is the shy and troubled megane…
But you know something? The energy level is high, the steampunk world is detailed and the story ekes out enough surprises to be consistently entertaining. Archetypes though they may be, the guys are given enough time to explore their backstories and details — the same thing that was instrumental to the success of fellow Vita visual novel Steins;Gate. Rather than shove the plot forward, the dialogue gives these people room to breathe and talk about silly things every once in awhile, like Impey’s cooking ability and Victor’s dorky obsession with history. This helps them feel a little more human, which makes us care about them a little more during the suspenseful scenes.
With that said, the writing does occasionally dip into dangerously-bad territory, especially during some of the “epic confrontations.” As one example, the exchanges of dialogue between Van Helsing and the young Dracula (sorry… Delacroix the Second) are truly laughable bits of melodrama that wouldn’t seem out of place in fanfiction. One second, they’re both victims on opposite sides of an unspeakable tragedy — the next, they’re coexisting and bonding over a cute puppy at Saint-Germain’s mansion. But again, this is all more amusing than anything else, and there’s something to be said for a little bit of melodrama and sappiness when it comes to dating sims.
So if you’re of the mindset to enjoy this sort of thing, you’ll be equally happy to learn that the visual and auditory presentations are exemplary. The artwork here is splendid, presenting a varied group of attractive bachelors for your selection. If that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll surely be brought in by the amazing steampunk backgrounds and Victorian-style costumes. The music here is also a lot more interesting than your average visual novel, from the brassy caper music that accompanies Lupin to the somber piano that plays as Cardia recounts her tragic origins.
Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is unabashedly goofy and melodramatic. It brings in famous characters from classic fiction, then strips them down to the silliest of anime archetypes. Its cast speaks in the broadest of cliches, uttering declarations of vengeance and everlasting love in every other scene. Still, one can’t help but feel that this is all part of the show, and if you’re of a certain persuasion you’ll be enraptured by the detailed world and handsome gents of this energetic fantasy.
Review code for Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.