Aksys Games bring Idea Factory and Otomate’s period otome visual novel to the west, providing an enjoyable entry point into the genre.
World-building & Story
Set in a steampunk version of Victorian London, Code: Realize follows Cardia – self-proclaimed ‘monster’ whose skin melts anything it touches, metal and flesh alike. Living in exile in a deserted mansion, a series of events causes her to leave her comfort zone and take up residence with a master thief and gang of rogues which sets the main plot into motion.
The main story starts out simple, following the cast as they attempt to unravel the mystery behind Cardia’s ailment by tracking down Isaac – her father and important scientist who disappeared many years ago, who seems to have a connection to nearly every member of the team. They’ll establish a base, follow up on key clues and attempt to remain hidden all the while chasing their goal.
However, this quickly escalates to a plot of political intrigue involving shady government branches; underground gangs and even the Queen of England herself. It’s definitely not what it first appears and – without giving too much away – becomes a compelling tale of the ‘little guy’ trying to take down powers well beyond them to save the country from a cataclysmic plot. It can get melodramatic and bit uneven at times with a number of lulls without much happening, but on the whole I found the overarching tale engaging.
What Code: Realize does masterfully is mix compelling character development in between major plot devices. Being an otome, the main character’s band of potential suitors is established early and they’ll take up residence in a suburban mansion to evade the authorities chasing them. This allows time for interactions not only between Cardia and each character, but between the guys themselves – watching the bromance between Lupin and Impey was always entertaining.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an otome without plenty of one-on-one time between the heroine and her admirers, but Code: Realize doesn’t overplay this. Yes, you can romance them and unlock bonus CG scenes, but most of the time you’re simply learning about new aspects of their personality, creating very well-rounded characters. The stoic Van Helsing, for example, reveals a great deal more about himself than first appears as the story progresses, leading to him becoming one of my favourite among the cast.
But really, it’s Cardia herself that is the star of the show. She starts out as a meek girl petrified of coming into contact with anyone yet blossoms into a brainy warrior who is an asset to the group. Rather than being a damsal in distress, she takes it upon herself to train in physical combat to hold her own; she’s smart (and often has some very amusing thoughts throughout the story) and was generally just worlds apart from the heroine I thought she’d be. Plus, her back story tugged on my heart-strings in a way I really wasn’t expecting.
World-building is also an area that exceeded my expectations. Victorian London was an interesting choice for setting, but it works – this is an altered history, so the writers can introduce plot points and technology that wouldn’t quite fit, yet many elements of the time period are embraced such as the development of steam technologies. Supernatural ideas are also introduced, such as vampires, and it all comes together to create an incredibly intriguing setting.
The choice to include historical and literary figures in the plot is also an intetesting one. You’ll encounter characters such as Queen Victoria herself, while others like Frankenstein will form part of your group, although obviously with changed backstories. In the end, it didn’t really affect my experience as these are their own characters with wildly different designs and ideas – if anything, I suspect I would have preferred it if these were just bespoke people.
Presentation & Sound
Many otome visual novels focus their attention on pretty character designs and portraits for their male lead characters and Code: Realize is no different in this regard. Each are drawn well with soft features and plenty of expression in their design, with a variety of poses depending on the conversation happening at the time.
Certainly, the aesthetic used in this game is on point and this extends to the non-romance-able side characters and Cardia herself. They mix modern sensibilities with features from the time period the story is taking place in, with most having lavish costumes befitting of the Victorian society.
Similarly, environments are inventive and beautifully drawn. From Cardia’s spooky mansion at the beginning of the game, your journey will take you through busy streets; underground laboratories and scores of countryside, each featuring a lovely animated background at the same time. Colour is used well throughout, making areas pop with character. I enjoyed just staring at the sunset while having a conversation with Impey or admiring the gardens with Victor.
Menus are pretty well done. Text is big enough (which I find can be a problem with certain Vita games sometimes) and they’re easy to navigate around.
Sound is generally pretty good too – voice acting is only Japanese, but the characters are emotive and fit with each personality well. Sound effects are okay, but its music that steals the show. Although tracks will become overused through the course of a playthrough, there’s a variety of tracks ranging from melodic piano pieces to orchestral chase music, which is always fitting with the events happening on screen. I wouldn’t say any piece was overly memorable on its own, but as a whole the soundtrack is great.
Gameplay & Content
As a visual novel, gameplay is the area I have least to say about. An interactive storybook, your time playing will mostly be spent reading text and learning various new elements about each character throigh to the situations they find themselves in.
If you’ve played any game in the genre before, you’ll know what to expect and whether or not this is for you by now. As is the norm for such games, you’ll be given the odd conversation choice and this allows the story to branch after a certain point – this is the otome element, as these paths will follow a particular member of the male cast cast down a romantic route with Cardia. Thankfully the game does a decent job of wrapping things up enough that you don’t feel short-changed for only seeing one ending, but you’re encouraged to replay in order to grasp the full plot.
As such, Code: Realize does have a fair amount of content to offer. A handy ‘path of genesis’ option will unlock at the title screen upon your first completion, allowing you to return to the moment the story branched to pursue a new route, which will generally follow a different with different characters. Obviously you will need a desire to see this extra content, but it’s a pretty meaty amount of story to miss out on otherwise.
The main menu also contains a number of extra little pieces of content, ranging from a gallery allowing you to view CG images to a music box to play the various songs used throughout the game. There’s nothing noteworthy, but it’s a nice touch to allow you to view and re-listen to some of your favourite parts of the game, even if it is just standard for the genre.
A great introduction to the genre for newcomers and a compelling title for veterans, Code: Realize is a fun package for anyone who enjoys a story-driven visual novel with plenty of character development and beautiful locations. While the plot can lull at times, it’s not enough to detract from the experience and I’d recommend giving it a try if you’re at all interested, otome fan or not.