Monday, May 6, 2019

"All Times, All At Once" Is Out In Intergalactic Medicine Show

My latest short story "All Times, All At Once" is now out in the April 2018 issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show. You might have already heard if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook. This issue seemed to be running late, but the good thing is it's now available to readers.

Currently a subscription is required, but it will become available for free later this year after the magazine ceases publication. Unfortunately, this is IGMS's penultimate issue and I'm sorry to be losing such a good market. This is my second time appearing there and my second time getting the cover art as well. I've been very fortunate in that regard.

"All Times, All At Once" is set in the far future when humanity has colonized the stars, but in some places, the stars are definitely "not right" as the crew aboard the Starfish quickly learns when they answer a colony's distress signal. If you love the idea of space colonies, Lovecraftian fiction, and Chinese food, this may be up your alley!

I know I missed a post with my Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ VN Talk series last week. Sorry about that. I'll pick up with Impey next week.

Monday, April 22, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 5: Saint-Germain

This week,I'll be covering Saint-Germain's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

This game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

I enjoyed Saint-Germain's Christmas story. Like Van Helsing, his circumstances post-game on Finis's route are significantly different than in his own. For one thing, Saint-Germain is still an Apostle of Idea and immortal. His route also starts earlier than everyone else's, so it hasn't started snowing yet, but it serves as an excellent way to show how Saint-Germain handles the passage of time. (I'd guess it starts in late summer or early autumn, since it's enough time for people to have parted ways and for Saint-Germain to get bored in the lead-up to Christmas.)

Omnibus unexpectedly tells him that he's to take a break following the successful end to Code:Realize, and he quite frankly doesn't know what to do with himself. The mansion is empty since Victor started his clinic, Cardia and Finis moved out, Van Helsing and Delly are looking for surviving vampires, and Lupin and Impey have taken a trip to France. Saint-Germain suddenly realizes that after living in a bustling household these past few months, it's kinda lonely once it's just him again, and no amount of distraction cleaning is going to fix that.

From there, his story is rather simple. He decides that he's going to have to throw a Christmas party so that everyone has a reason to come back again (especially Cardia), but he also ropes in the other Apostles to help him do the prep work, so there's some fun seeing Hansel and Guinevere (outside her armor!) making Christmas decorations.

Everyone comes back, chaos ensues (with a bang, because Impey crashes the ornithopter into the house), and Saint-Germain feels blessed to have such chaos in his life again. He's so happy about it that the rest of the gang can't help feeling that he's acting strange.

There are two things that I didn't quite like about though. The first of those is that like Van Helsing, there is history between Saint-Germain and Finis. And it's recent. No matter what the route is, Saint-Germain always kills Finis in Isaac's laboratory and Saint-German dreads meeting Finis again because it's hard to let bygones be bygones when it involves stabbing the aggrieved party in the heart.

Saint-Germain acknowledges this, but Finis surprisingly doesn't make a big deal out if it. I get that the writers might have felt it was too close to Van Helsing's talk with Finis in his own Christmas story, but the situation is reversed with Saint-Germain, where he is the one who did the wronging. It was nothing personal, but he still did it. Instead Finis brushes it off in a single line and it never comes up again.

The other matter that didn't quite work for me was the romance between him and Cardia. Saint-Germain is very difficult to get to know (with good reason) prior to the route split, and given that the rest of his route doesn't happen in this timeline, I found it hard to believe Cardia would be interested in him. Him liking Cardia was fine, but I don't see why Cardia would have fallen in love with him in return. Whereas most other routes she's usually described as mooning over the guy by name, or clearly into him, this time around Finis finds her reading some alchemical treatise Saint-Germain wrote a couple centuries ago, which doesn't feel like a sign of puppy love.

Interestingly, his route also has a number of references to the After Stories in ~Future Blessings~. Even though those stories don't happen here, due to being in a different timeline, the circumstances leading up to them still do. So we have mentions of his friendship with Trismegistus, as well as the fact Idea had been looking at Victor Frankenstein as a potential recruit. When Saint-Germain considers whether he can have a future with Cardia, he tells her that he would be uncomfortable with the idea of her welcoming him home after he's killed someone on a mission, which is the argument he gave Victor when trying to convince him not to join Idea in Victor's After Story. These references don't affect the plot, but it's nice to see them woven into more of the common continuity that should be shared no matter which route eventually happens.

The ending is a bit unexpected, considering that Saint-Germain is still an Apostle and thus has a duty he cannot retire from, but Omnibus stops by the Christmas party to let him know that she never did tell him how long his break is supposed to be. Being that they're immortal, she's figuring on ten, twenty, or maybe even a hundred years, which makes it clear that she's freeing Saint-Germain to live a normal lifespan with Cardia before he has to go back to work.

I'm guessing since Cardia is poison-free in the best way in following Finis's route, there's no reason she might eventually revert like in Victor's After Story, though the game neglects to mention she might have a longer than human lifespan. Considering the nods to other timelines, it's a little surprising this wasn't addressed in some fashion.

Special Epilogue

Saint-Germain's Special Epilogue picks up with him and Cardia returning to London after having visited his hometown at the end of ~Future Blessings~. It's been a year so her poison is gone and the Horologium has changed to white, indicating that it's completely drained/neutralized in the same fashion as Lupin and Finis's endings. Because of this, Omnibus says Idea will no longer look after them and they have her blessing to get married. The danger that Cardia once posed is completely gone.

Perhaps for a change of pace (and to avoid reusing too much of the same scenery), Saint-Germain reveals that he's purchased the Gracia, the boat from the Lupin Gang side story in ~Future Blessings~, and had it rebuilt for his wedding with Cardia. Since they've been globetrotting, having their union celebrated on a boat seems appropriate.

The Special Epilogue draws parallels between Saint-Germain and Cardia as outcasts and thus how they are an unusual pair. Saint-Germain should have died a couple thousand of years ago, but has instead been living as an immortal in the shadows, and Cardia was born a poisonous monster. Now both of them have left the darkness of their previous lives and are about to move on to happier lives in the light. (Since in this ending, Saint-Germain is no longer an Apostle.)

It also brings out the fact that though the Apostles of Idea are a merciless organization, for better or worse, they are family. Since everyone else dies around them and their organization exists only in the barest of rumors, the only people the Apostles can confide in are each other.

Hansel also makes an appearance in this route, though Cardia hasn't met him in this timeline so they need to go through a short introduction. I kind of wish we'd gotten a fourth named Apostle, but I can understand not wanting to do that for a bit part, and the Cantarella side story had enough going on without introducing another one (aside from the fact it happens prior to the Idea reveal).

The Saint-Germain Special Epilogue is a nice send-off, and ties up remaining loose ends, but otherwise is not too remarkable.

As a side note: I'd mentioned that in ~Future Blessings~ there seemed to be a new translator or editor involved because of the inconsistent terminology, and that seems to have been the case here as well. The majority of the game appears uniform, but Saint-Germain's Christmas and Special Epilogue routes feel just a little stilted. This happens in a couple others routes as well, but Saint-Germain is particularly impacted since this affects both his routes.

Usually Aksys does a good job in making the dialogue feel like it was originally written by a native English speaker, but some of the lines on these routes felt like a more literal translation I would see in a fan translation than a professional one. Like it wasn't necessarily wrong, but you probably wouldn't choose that wording if English was your native language. In a few cases the sentences themselves weren't even grammatically correct, like we have the first half of a thought, but not the second. And we end up with "Idea's Apostles" again even though "Apostles of Idea" is the more common wording. I'm really surprised that there wasn't a glossary of some kind for the translation/editing team to ensure consistency.

Monday, April 15, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 4: Van Helsing

This week,I'll be covering Van Helsing's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

This game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

Van Helsing might actually have my favorite of the Christmas stories, which I'm surprised by since I found his original ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route to be unbalanced. Cardia's personal story more or less vanished so the story could focus on Helsing's personal pain. But this turned out to be the alternate universe that I didn't know I wanted.

As with the other Christmas stories, it begins from his perspective, saying goodbye to Cardia without expressing his feelings for her. Though, being Van Helsing, he's not entirely ready to acknowledge that he has those feelings at all.

It's been about six months since they put a stop to Isaac Beckford's Code: Realize plan, and Van Helsing has been trying to let go of vengeance.

The important thing to note in this route is that Van Helsing does not know the truth about the murder of his family or how he was artificially enhanced to become the "Human Weapon." That's because the Christmas story is based on Finis's route, and not Lupin's or his own.

This means that while he's attracted to Cardia, he's also well aware that the target of his vengeance is her brother, who she has finally reclaimed as a part of her family. In fact, he takes their farewell conversation as a warning from Cardia to butt-out so she can live her life with her brother, which he supposes is reasonable.

As with his endings on other routes, Van Helsing now spends his time working with Delacroix II to form a sanctuary where vampires can live undisturbed. Having Delly around has smoothed a lot of Van Helsing's rough edges, and it's nice seeing him smile a lot more, even though he doesn't see how someone like him can possibly be allowed a happy future.

But because he himself was a target of Delly's vengeance, and Delly is no longer seeking to exact it, his companion turns out to be the perfect sounding board for Van Helsing's confusion over how to feel about Finis. Van Helsing killed Delly's parents, and yet he's now Delly's trusted companion.

Interestingly, Delly doesn't brush off his concerns or say that Van Helsing is inherently a good person so none of what he did matters. He admits that in some ways he really does want to kill Van Helsing, and that feeling hasn't gone away, but he's come to recognize that letting him live is power too. Delly draws a distinction between vengeance causing a person to hate, and hate that demands vengeance, and he refuses to let himself fall for the latter, a lesson that Van Helsing takes to heart.

When Van Helsing finally does meet up with Finis at the house he shares with Cardia, they similarly have a private conversation during which Finis admits that he should pay for what happened to Val Helsing's family, since as the leader of Twilight whatever it was clearly happened on his watch. However, he can't pay with his life because that would make Cardia sad after all the lengths she went to reclaim him. Van Helsing gives Finis a punch and admits it doesn't really do anything to take away the pain, and Finis is sympathetic, knowing that Van Helsing has been carrying around his pain for years so obviously one punch isn't going to fix it. But then Helsing takes Delly's route, and tells Finis to live his life as payment.

The game easily could have gone for the simple route, having Van Helsing mooning over Cardia (and he does a bit of it to be sure), but I really appreciate the acknowledgement that this timeline is different and allowing Van Helsing to grow and explore as a person after his story is supposed to be done.

And the ending isn't too shabby either. Since Van Helsing isn't the type to walk up and confess his feelings, we instead get Cardia confessing hers, after having a talk with all the other guys, who help her recognize that what she's feeling is love. This is topped off with her notifying Van Helsing that the rest of the men feel entitled to punch him once apiece. He of course takes it in stride, with the exception that he might punch Impey back, without restraint.

Special Epilogue

On the other hand, Van Helsing's Special Epilogue is rather disappointing. It's not that he's being bad so much as it feels like the writers really didn't know what they wanted to do after his proposal to Cardia at the end of ~Future Blessings~. There's a cute scene of them shopping for a wedding dress together and then Cardia's at the chapel with Shirley, who is helping her get ready.

Since Cardia isn't used to walking in heels, she figures she'll get some practice in before the ceremony and leaves her dressing room. Shortly thereafter, she encounters some strange men in black suits who adamantly insist on taking her away by carriage. Not wanting to start a fight where she could be at a disadvantage, she goes with them while looking for a moment of weakness to escape.

Van Helsing finds out about this and pretty much goes on a rage trip to get his bride back. He gets to punch some bodies around and be his violent self, at least until the truth comes out in that Cardia was mistaken for another woman who hadn't shown up for her play rehearsal. (The scene was a wedding, so naturally she would be in a wedding dress.) The guys sent to get her found Cardia instead and dragged her along and apparently none of them knew any better.

The problem I have with this is that all the guys involved with the play had to be a bunch of idiots to not 1) ask Cardia for her name to make sure they found the right person (she was outside a church in a wedding dress so there was a good chance she was the bride of an actual wedding) and 2) not notice something was horribly wrong once they got to the church and she wasn't acting in character or as if she knew anything about what was going on.

And from the writing end of things, all the dialogue is written to obfuscate the fact that everyone involved is either an actor or part of the stage crew. This is to make it look like some random brute is forcing Cardia to marry him (for some reason). There isn't a single line that says something like "Rehearsal started an hour ago! Where were you?!" which you think would make sense.

Finally, the fact the play they're doing is in a church is just odd. It needed to be for Cardia and Van Helsing to have the reactions they do, but from the perspective of the people putting on the play it makes no sense, because unless the audience is in the pews as participants, there would be no place to sit.

The wedding artwork of Cardia and Van Helsing is very nice, and there's a good amount of Impey bashing on Helsing's part, but the plot itself is pretty idiotic.

Monday, April 8, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 3: Lupin

This week, we move on to Lupin's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, covering both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

As an important note, my commentary on Lupin's Special Epilogue will also include Cantarella side story spoilers. While I always warn that my commentary on new games contain spoilers while the game is less than a year old, it's possible someone might be willing to view Lupin spoilers, but not Cantarella ones, so just in case...! You've been warned.

Afternate Story: First Christmas

I found I enjoyed Lupin's Christmas story a lot more than I thought I would due to the healthy dose of humor involved. Like Victor, Lupin failed to confess his true feelings to Cardia before she returned to Wales with her brother, Finis, and ever since he's been feeling a little down in the dumps. But being a gentleman thief, this has a greater consequence as his daring thefts have gotten sloppy and he's nearly caught due to his constant mooning over Cardia.

His friends recognize something is wrong with him as well, as he's getting pretty listless in his civilian life. Eventually Lupin has to acknowledge that he's gotten really bad when Sholmès of all people points out that he's not being his usual self.

For anyone disappointed in how smooth Lupin is in his previous romantic appearances, his Christmas story is nice because he is so plainly out of sorts and unable to hide it. He tries writing to Cardia to arrange a visit, but his letter writing is crap and his first attempt ends up being a phantom thief-style calling card. I actually thought it was pretty good and completely in character! She would understand! Another attempt of his is so spicy he can picture Cardia's embarrassment and his resulting secondhand embarrassment is so strong he chastises himself for writing such an awful confession.

When he finally sends a letter and he doesn't get a response from her, his anxiety goes through the roof and he begins to wonder if she could possibly have met another man in Wales. While he acknowledges that he could tolerate her falling in love with another member of their crew (and it's plain from Saint-German's ~Future Blessings~ route that Lupin does stuff down his feelings if she gets involved with someone else in their group), he can't tolerate the idea of her falling in love with some random guy off the street.

Since sulking isn't befitting a gentleman thief such as himself, Lupin decides the best thing is to just drop in her, even if it's unannounced, and then he start behaving more or less like his dashing self again, showing up as Santa Claus (complete with Sisi as a reindeer) and disabling the defenses to Cardia's house, much to Finis's chagrin.

And this eventually results in Cardia and Finis traveling back to London with Lupin to spend Christmas with their friends. He keeps trying to find a moment to confess his feelings to her, but the timing sucks and he keeps getting interrupted, to the point that he throws his hands up and runs away from the party with her so they can have some private time. (When his third time's the charm attempt to confess is still interrupted, you have to feel a little sorry for the guy.)

Then he finally confesses, they kiss, and I like that there is some discussion on what to do in the future if they have a long term relationship. Since Cardia is living with Finis and they have no other family, she wants to take his situation into consideration, so it would not be straightforward for her to pack up and move back to London. Lupin says that there's also option of him moving to Wales with them, which I like, though I don't know how Finis would feel about that.

For the most part I enjoyed this route because of all the different ways Lupin was getting frustrated, both before and after reuniting with Cardia, but there is one element of the route that didn't quite work for me.

There were two components to the communication problem between Lupin and Cardia. The first was that Lupin wasn't receiving Cardia's answers, which is what we know from the first half of the story told from his point of view. Once we get her POV, we learn that she hasn't been getting any letters as well. So for a month, both of them have been completely without word from each other or, in Cardia's case, anyone from London.

Once Lupin arrives in Wales, we learn the reason his letters never got to Cardia, and it's a good comedic scenario, making use of Impey as everyone's favorite butt-monkey. It's completely in character for Impey to be sending Cardia a mountain of love letters that Finis would eventually get tired of delivering (since it's his job to get the mail) and for Lupin's letters to accidentally get mixed in. That's an easy enough explanation, and worth a chuckle.

What doesn't make sense, is the reverse scenario, where Cardia's mail doesn't get to Lupin. Even though she never wrote a reply to his letters, she still wrote regardless because everyone at Saint-Germain's mansion is one of her friends, and people stopped replying.

It turns out that Saint-Germain, Impey, and Victor were withholding mail on their end to drive Lupin and Cardia crazy enough to act on their romance. And while that certainly did the job for Lupin, it feels rather mean to do the same for Cardia, who is not as cognizant of her own emotions. It's clear that Cardia's letters were group letters and not intentionally directed to any particular person, so not answering her, especially with the upcoming holiday season, feels rather jerkish, even though it works out in the end.

Special Epilogue

Lupin's Special Epilogue turned out to be a fair bit of fun, especially compared to his lackluster ~Future Blessings~ one. Taking place three years after ~Guardian of Rebirth~, Cardia is curious about Lupin's parents and what they were like, so he takes her to France as a belated honeymoon.

Since Lupin's an orphan, the one he considers his father is his mentor, Theophraste, who we finally were introduced to by name in the Cantarella side story. Of course, Theophraste is also dead, so part of their honeymoon turns out to be a visit to his grave, but Lupin pays his respects, letting his mentor know that he stopped Code:Realize and that he rescued Cardia.

From conversation with Lupin, Cardia learns that there were children Theophraste couldn't save before leaving Twilight and makes the connection between what he learned on the job and her dead clones, which ties in nicely with what we learn about him in the Cantarella side story.

To be honest, I was hoping a bit for a Cantarella and Miles cameo since they went to France at the end of her side story, and they were such great characters that I wish there was something else that acknowledged their existence (rather than more Gordon family cameos).

But Lupin's route does have a fun diversion in that Inspector Ganimard (from the original Lupin stories) gets a cameo appearance where he shows up at the gravesite with a bunch of police to try to catch Lupin. He's described as a French version of Leonhart. I'm not sure if that matches the man from the original novels, but it's nice to see a nod to the literary Lupin's thorn in the side.

Though nothing of consequence happens in the Special Epilogue, it was a good send off to have Cardia and Lupin up to thiefy shenanigans in France.

Monday, April 1, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 2: Victor

Victor was my favorite love interest in the previous Code: Realize games, so I decided that I'd play his routes first whenever the opportunity game up, be it a Triangle Date (covered last week) or a more meaty route designed for a longer play session. This entry is split up into two sections, one covering his First Christmas story, and the other his Special Epilogue, which is normally only unlockable after completing all Christmas stories, side stories, and regular epilogues.

Here's your warning. There are spoilers below!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

Victor's Christmas story takes a different route from both his and Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ endings in that he doesn't return to Queen Victoria's service. Instead it's like the other endings where he starts a clinic in the poor part of London as a doctor. This allows him to be in different circumstances, where he's busy, but surrounded by the less fortunate. Surprisingly we also have cameo appearances from members of the Gordon Family from ~Future Blessings~. This threw me off a bit initially since they don't show up in Finis's route, but they're still part of this timeline since their story would have taken place during the ~Guardian of Rebirth~ common route.

A lot of Victor's Christmas story takes place from his perspective, which I found I enjoyed. Among the potential love interests, Victor is a relatively normal person and the only one still with a living set of parents. (He also gets Finis's seal of approval as the "most acceptable" of the men around Cardia.)

One day in December, Victor gets a letter from his mother in Switzerland and he realizes she's probably been worried because of the whole thing where he got declared a terrorist and hooked up with a band of thieves. While there is that, her letter also tells him that he should consider settling down and getting married.

Victor means to tell his mother that he will when he finds someone, but ends up writing about all his time with Cardia, which results in his parents misinterpreting his letter as Victor saying that he's in a serious relationship. His parents decide to visit for Christmas to meet him and his wife-to-be. Victor naturally freaks out and this sets the stage for the rest of his Christmas story.

Given that it's getting close to Christmas, and that he's in England and his parents are en route from Switzerland, I'm not surprised that telling them to stay home due to a misunderstanding is not an option. They're on their way and no letter will reach them in time. But he handles this poorly by running over to Wales to see Cardia and asking if she can pretend to be his significant other until Christmas. Of course he really would prefer she was his significant other for real, but is afraid of rejection.

And of course this being a romance game, when he asks her to help him, the wording comes out in a way that Cardia initially thinks Victor is reciprocating her attraction to him, only for him to stomp over the whole thing because he's asking her to fake it. Thankfully, Cardia recognizes that she's being asked to do something really stupid, and the narration does an effective job at conveying how pissed off she is even though she's not breaking his face at the moment. (You know she's upset when she intends to use a move Van Helsing taught her on Victor if he so much as moves.)

After hearing him out, she agrees help him under two conditions: that she goes to London immediately with him, instead of coming in Christmas Day to meet his parents, and that they actually pretend to be a couple in the days leading up to it instead of just while meeting his parents. She figures this way she'll at least get the satisfaction of seeing what it would be like if they really were in a relationship, and I like that she finds a way to use Victor's dumb idea for her own ends.

Probably the most entertaining part of their fake dating is meeting up with the rest of their friends in an attempt to fool them. Because if they can't fool their friends, how can they fool Victor's parents? Despite Victor's overacting, Lupin and company (barring Impey) take the news as if it's completely natural that Victor and Cardia are in a relationship. Their level of non-surprise makes the scene a lot funnier than it would have been if they had expressed any level of disbelief.

The rest Victor and Cardia's prep time together is charming (barring an underwhelming restaurant scene). She gets mistaken for his wife by his patients, and the ice skating scene is cute since it allows Victor to be proficient in something unexpected. He's good at ice skating due to having grown up doing it every winter in Switzerland.

But eventually, as they're waiting at the train station for his parents to arrive, the fact that their "dating" is going to end soon gets to both of them and Victor decides to tell her how he truly feels, that he loves her and that he wants a family with her. Cardia is pleasantly shocked and reciprocates, so when his parents finally arrive, the two greet them as an actual couple, and it's fun seeing how she looks at them and Victor to see what a family is like, since her own situation has been so messed up.

Though I like Victor a lot, and found his scenarios pretty strong in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and ~Future Blessings~ I didn't find that the case here. I wasn't too fond of the deception angle or the overacting. I also found the constant use of the term "significant other" to be jarring. This is Victorian England so I can understand not wanting to use "girlfriend" which didn't gain its current meaning until the 1920s, but "significant other" didn't come into play until the 1940s, which is even later. It really feels like the game should have used "fiancée" instead, since Victor's parents are assuming they're getting married and the term was part of the English language back then.

I also disliked that neither Victor nor Cardia talk about what to do after their charade is over. Of course it turns out not to be a charade, which is how it gets its happy ending, but supposing that they kept up the act and never discussed anything further, what was supposed to happen afterwards? Victor's parents would surely ask what happened to the girl he was supposed to marry sooner or later.

Special Epilogue

After spending so much time in alternate timelines, it was a bit of a shock to return to the original started in ~Guardian of Rebirth~. Even though I knew this was a continuation of Victor's ~Future Blessings~ After Story, I felt like I was experiencing things out of order.

I can see why the Special Epilogues are only unlocked after nearly everything else, because they're short and the player might feel cheated if the epilogues were viewed as part of the main event (they feel only slightly longer than a Triangle Date), but I think if that was conveyed ahead of time, the best play order would really be to play the Special Epilogues ahead of the Christmas stories so that the player's brain only has to go one "reset" instead of jumping back and forth between timelines.

When we last left Cardia and Victor in ~Future Blessings~, they were already living together as a married couple in all but name, and ~Wintertide Miracles~ makes it pretty clear that they consider themselves husband and wife even though they never had a wedding ceremony, which turns out to be the story of the epilogue.

Victor is accidentally reminded by the employees of their new laboratory that he and Cardia never formally tied the knot, and he ends up feeling bad that it got overlooked between all the stuff with Idea last time and setting up the research that will give her a human lifespan. How Cardia feels about that is up to the player. She can tell him it's okay that they never had a wedding, or let him know she wants one.

Either way, Victor will run through hoops to get one set up as quickly as possible, and due to it being wedding season, the only place they end up being able to use is no less than St. Paul's Cathedral, thanks to Queen Victoria reopening it in time for them to use. It's pretty funny considering that St. Paul's Cathedral was Twilight's headquarters in Code:Realize, and the game even comments on that, but it mostly does it as a bit of trivia from Cardia's perspective, because she never goes to Twilight headquarters on Victor's route. Though if she had, and had been traumatized by it, she would probably be less likely to want her wedding there.

Though there's not a lot of meat on the Special Epilogue, I did find it in character for Victor to get distracted and not get around to having the wedding, but I found it odd that we missed the transition to when they started considering themselves married. You'd think the topic of a wedding would have come up then.

I did like, though, that they included some of the traditional English language wedding vows in the dialogue, since that gets skipped over in most of the wedding scenarios.

Monday, March 25, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 1: Overview

In which I talk (write) about visual novels from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: PS Vita (also on PS4)
Release: 2019

I feel incredibly fortunate that the second Code:Realize fandisk made it to the US. It's unprecedented from an otome localization perspective, because being a fandisk, it's not geared towards new players at all. In fact it expects players to have completed not only the original Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ but the previous fandisk Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ as well. It's not a good place to start with the series, but it's a fulfilling piece of fanservice for those who want more of the characters. (And if you want to try otome at all, Code:Realize: ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is my all time favorite and I highly recommend it.)

Rather than an overarching story, Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ is divided into different types of scenarios; Triangle Dates, Christmas stories set after the Finis route from ~Future Blessings~, epilogues to Finis and Sholmès' routes from ~Future Blessings~, a new side story that happens during the common route of ~Guardian of Rebirth~, and special epilogues for the original five love interests based off their ~Guardian of Rebirth~ endings. As I did with ~Future Blessings~ I'll break this discussion up into multiple posts centered around each love interest with separate posts for Finis and the new side story.

There will be some spoilers for triangle dating (which is plot-lite) in this overview post, but the major spoilers related to the actual routes will be withheld for the more detailed entries. For ease of discussion purposes, the special epilogues in the original timeline will be grouped with the Christmas stories, just so I can talk about the same characters in the same posts, even it's not possible to play those stories in that order.

When starting a new game the player is greeted an interface that resembles a Christmas tree, with the different story options being presented as gifts or ornaments. Unfortunately the player's view starts at the top of the tree, making the Triangle Date the first option the player will see. This is probably the fluffiest, least impactful of portion of the game, and it probably should have been pushed elsewhere rather than being presented first, because it's not possible to dive deeply into any of it.

The Alternate Stories: First Christmas, is more likely where the player will want to start, and these are in the middle of the tree. The Christmas stories are ~Wintertide Miracles~' solution to address the fact that all five love interests from Guardian of Rebirth have already achieved their happy endings with Cardia. ~Future Blessings~ struggled, not always successfully, to give the committed couples worthy epilogues. So what ~Wintertide Miracles~ does is puts the courtship back into play by setting its Alternate Stories after the Finis route in ~Future Blessings~ where the Guardian of Rebirth romances never happened. It's like a rewind button to allow everyone to confess their love to Cardia again, except this time during more peaceful times since they're no longer in danger.

At the bottom of the tree, presented as Christmas gifts, are the new Cantarella side story and the two epilogues to the Finis and Sholmès routes in ~Future Blessings~. The special epilogues appear on the main menu after completing the middle and bottom sections of the Christmas tree (triangle dates don't need to be completed as I hadn't completed two of the "secret" dates before they unlocked).

For the rest of this post I'm going to discuss the Triangle Dates, and while they're not the most fulfilling part of the game, I've found them to be a nice way to fill a half hour to an hour with some fluff.

Triangle Date

The triangle dates don't take place on any established route, in fact they might even contradict each other, but in general they make four assumptions.

1) Whatever danger there was is over.

2) Cardia has been cured of her poison.

3) The main cast is still living at Saint-Germain's mansion.

4) Cardia has not formed a committed relationship with anyone.

It feels like an alt-universe ending of ~Guardian of Rebirth~ where Cardia managed to stop her father's plot and become cured of her poison. This setup allows her to interact with any two of the main love interests as chosen by the player. Only those characters and Cardia show up during the scenario, which is not really a date so much as an excuse for the three of them to interact.

The comedy is dialed up and characters might be slightly out of character to make the scenario funny, but since they aren't part of the main storyline they ultimately don't mean much beyond what you see.

The Triangle Dates vary in quality and the amount of romance, ranging from obviously flirting to non-existent, but I didn't find any of them particularly bad. Some of them might even have been good additions to a more canon timeline, such as Cardia's trip back to Wales with Lupin and Impey so she can place a memorial to her father.

What the Triangle Dates are good for though is letting the player see another side of the various characters that might not otherwise come out. Most notably, we see a lot more jealousy between the men than we usually get. Saint-Germain actually tries to sabotage Lupin's attempt to give Cardia flowers, and Victor grows a strong enough backbone to let Lupin know that he's not giving up on Cardia without a fight.

On the other hand, a few scenarios are fairly platonic. Victor and Van Helsing's joint scenario results in Victor and Cardia nearly getting trapped by Van Helsing during his attempt to share his cooking with them (which we know from previous games is terrible), but they manage to turn it around by having Cardia cook instead to thank Van Helsing for all his help. The three then turn the event into a picnic that has a couple of romantic gestures, but neither of the men behave as if threatened by the other or comments on what the other is doing.

In general, Lupin and Saint-Germain tend to spar with whichever man shares the scenario with them (with the exception that Lupin does not feel threatened by Impey and Saint-Germain's outing with Victor is similarly friendly). Van Helsing only fights with Lupin and Saint-Germain because they start it, and Impey and Victor mostly get along with everybody.

There are also three "secret" triangle dates, which aren't really secrets (since the game tells you how to access them), so much as scenarios involving preset side characters. If you wanted to see what Nemo looks like without his glasses on, this is your chance, though I'm a little disappointed that the game does not include Aleister in the CG shot since he's part of the scenario.

For those disappointed that Watson was not a love interest in ~Future Blessings~, you might feel a little better in that he's part of a secret Triangle Date scenario, but he's mostly there to be an overprotective father figure despite being the same age as Sholmès. His scenario is also weird just because he's paired with Hansel (not Sholmès). The two have never interacted before in game and Hansel is already an eccentric personality, so the "date" goes about as well as you'd expect.

Surprisingly neither Sholmès nor Finis have anything to do with the triangle dates, not even as part of a secret pairing.

Next week I'll diving into Victor's routes. Given how much I enjoyed him in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and ~Future Blessings~, would I ever pick anyone else?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Thoughts on Psycho-Pass 3 and Sinners in the System Movies

Psycho-Pass is one of my favorite anime series, mostly for the first season's well-thought out dystopia where crime is virtually non-existent (until it is). It's a bit like Minority Report, except instead of predicting crime before it happens, the Sibyl System is able to judge someone's criminal inclination. Latent criminals are put away for treatment before they become a danger to society. If treatment is successful, they are allowed to return, though it's implied that this event is rare. Once someone's too far gone, it's not possible to go back.

The two seasons of Psycho-Pass have followed Division 1 of the Criminal Investigation Department, which has been composed of two inspectors (people with good Psycho-Pass ratings) and four enforcers (latent criminals who are trusted enough to hunt other latent criminals so the inspectors don't get corrupted).

Though the story has largely been told through the eyes of inspector Akane Tsunemori, the fan favorite is enforcer Shinya Kogami, who used to be an inspector until his Psycho-Pass worsened due to his desire for revenge over the murder of his former partner. Season 1 saw Kogami satisfy his revenge at the end of the season by taking out the main villain, but in doing so, he went from a latent criminal to an actual one, so he had no choice but to flee the country at the end of the story.

That was fine. It was the ending that we knew was coming. Akane would never have killed Makashima, because she believes in working with the law, even if it is a flawed system, whereas Kogami's sense of justice had long fallen outside the Sybil System.

Then Season 2 happened.

While it had a number of flaws that had nothing to do with Kogami's absence, the fact the fan favorite was gone didn't help matters. (For me personally, I would rather have had Ginoza's role punched up since the guy's life was put through a meatgrinder in Season 1 and we don't see much of the fallout from that.)

About a week ago, Psycho-Pass 3 was announced, and it'll be airing in October this year. This wasn't entirely a surprise, considering that the Psycho-Pass: Sinners in the System movies started releasing earlier this year. No one's picked those up for North American distribution yet, but chances are Funimation will since they have the previous movie and both TV series.

And here come the spoilers.

I started reading the reviews for the Sinners in the System movies because I figured they weren't coming over to the US anytime soon and I wanted to know something of what they're about. I knew the first was a sequel, starring Ginoza and Mika; the second was a prequel, starring Teppei and the now deceased Masaoka; and the third was a sequel, picking up after the previous stand-alone movie with Kogami. (Which I haven't actually seen yet.)

I didn't feel a strong need to see what Kogami was up to, but I still wanted to know what the movie was about. So when the review went up at ANN, I read it, and realized that there was more going on than I'd thought.

The movies weren't just to bring Psycho-Pass back into the awareness of its audience in preparation for Season 3, but also to lead in to Season 3. And it sounds like Kogami is coming back.

I'm not entirely sure I like this, though if it's handled well, I'll roll with it.

Until this point, Season 3 hadn't teased any of the previous characters coming back. In fact the first promotional image is of two new characters we've never met before, though from their outfits and their Dominator weapons they are clearly part of the CID like Division 1.

Unfortunately we also don't know most of the staff for Season 3 either. The lead writer changed from Gen Urobuchi in Season 1 to Tow Ubukata in Season 2, which is what most people have credited as to why Season 2 was so much poorer than its predecessor. While I think it's possible for someone to write a good Psycho-Pass story without being Gen Urobuchi (as shown by the Mandatory Happiness spin-off game), Season 3 is really going to need to earn some trust back, and I don't think shoving Kogami back on the show is going to be enough.

Whichever way it goes though, I'm pretty sure I'll be watching in October.