Monday, September 5, 2016

VN Talk: Code: Realize: Guardian of Rebirth - Part 2: Van Helsing

Unfortunately I got horribly sick from food poisoning last weekend, so I didn't get around to finishing my write-up for Van Helsing's route, which ironically was the first one I played in Code: Realize, considering that the rest are pretty much post-ready.

At the time I knew I wanted to write something for Code: Realize I wasn't sure if I'd be doing a single blog post or one for each route as I had done for Amnesia, and since Van Helsing was first, my entry for him ended up being the least developed.

When I started the game I wasn't sure who I would end up with on my first playthrough, and unlike Amnesia, where I had to make a choice at the beginning, I figured I'd just go where the story pulled me. Initially, I bought the game for Lupin, because he looks like a really fun character, but his ego in the early scenes rubbed me the wrong way (and it turns out he's gate-locked) so I figured I would end up with Victor Frankenstein. He surprised me, being the sweetest and most introspective of the five men, but that pretty much went out the window once Van Helsing got introduced.

Aside from the fact I've always favored vampire hunters over vampires, Van Helsing is the one who teaches Cardia martial arts and how to defend herself. (And she uses those lessons!) He lays down one of the best IRL rules for combat, as in don't fight if you can avoid it, and then proceeds to explain what Cardia should do if she has no choice, including weaponizing the poison in her body.

I loved that he didn't coddle her and that he took her seriously, which makes his overprotective change in demeanor later in the storyline easier to swallow, because the fact he acts differently shows that how he feels about her has changed as well. Tough luck getting him to admit it though.

Being a renowned slayer of vampires he naturally has baggage and Van Helsing is carrying so much that he's pretty much only standing for the sake of revenge. When it becomes increasingly apparent just how much his revenge is going to cost, he begins pushing Cardia away so she won't go down with him.

Visual novels can have action sequences, but because the player has no input into them, their success relies on their ability to convey the stakes. What would be a traditional last boss fight usually doesn't work, but the action scenes are fun, and it helps that hearing a gun click is used so well that it invokes a Pavlovian response in the player.

It means Van Helsing is here, and he's about to kick ass.

Van Helsing as a character fits a certain "type," the kind I tend not to have so much patience with anymore, though he's not as bad an example of others. He's very much a tsundere, pretending he doesn't care about Cardia and that there's nothing between them until he realizes that if he doesn't reveal the extent of his feelings she's going to get hurt/killed (never mind all the hurting he himself does while trying to drive her away for her own safety).

I think it hurts a little too that his route loses a lot of levity from earlier in the story. While Van Helsing has a blood drenched past, he has a dry sense of humor that comes out earlier in the story, and ends up the butt of a joke himself. (Seriously, the Van Helsing Cannon during the airship race was amazing! Who needs a weapon when you can shoot Van Helsing himself at your enemies?)

But once his story is fully underway, Cardia's own plot is swept away so the game can drag all of Van Helsing's skeletons out of the closet; how he was blackmailed into killing hundreds of peaceful vampires to save his family (in what world is that okay?), how he was a human experiment, and how his mentor was the one who orchestrated all of it in order to create a monster.

In the final chapter of Van Helsing's route it's obvious that his mentor, Aleister, will succeed if the drugged and brainwashed Van Helsing kills Cardia, because killing the woman he loves will sever the last thread of what sanity he has left. Once Van Helsing realizes what he's done, he'll break.

To her credit, Cardia does not sit in a corner weeping over her fate, and in one of the most badass moments I've seen in an otome heroine, she rips off her glove and grabs Aleister by the throat bare-handed to get him to call off Van Helsing. Aleister is a little too messed up in the head to be phased by the fact she's melting his skin off, but the action does get him to commit suicide, preventing him from seeing the completion of his plan.

This leaves the climax between Cardia and the still brainwashed Van Helsing, and what follows is the only scene that made me want to sit Cardia down and give her a stern lecture.

We just got through how killing her is the last thing that Van Helsing wants, and it's what's going to push him over the edge. But somehow, when he finally pins her and wants to kill her as the object of his revenge, Cardia tells him to go ahead if that's what it takes to break his madness, and I'm like "What part of letting yourself die do you think is going to make him happy?!"

After enough anguished dialogue, he comes to his senses long enough to not kill her, but Van Helsing is aware that it may only be a temporary reprieve, so he chooses to stab himself in the chest and end all threat to Cardia.

Now, I wasn't sure what would happen. This was my first playthrough and I wasn't using a walkthrough. It was entirely possible I didn't get a good ending, and Helsing was going to die right in front of Cardia. His farewell, everything that had led up to this point, was entirely in character,

I had gone into Code: Realize looking forward to a light and fluffy romance, but found myself tearing up instead. (Probably should've known it would happen when I went for the vampire hunter. Alas.)

It turns out that if the player makes enough good choices, Van Helsing pulls through and his unconsciousness is only temporary, leaving the door open to a happily ever after. Now that he's all done with revenge, he's ready for a more peaceful life, and he stops pushing Cardia away.

Van Helsing in the epilogue and his bonus scene is a much warmer person, and much more affectionate to Cardia, though there is still the poison issue since they pretty much discarded that part of her storyline in his route. He does note that he wants to get that fixed, since that kinda gets in the way of any bedroom activities.

Normally I would mind the lack of resolution on that front, but overall I had a lot of fun with it, and aside from dropping Cardia's plot and the weird "it's okay to kill me" part at the end, it was enjoyable and likely what most players would expect from a romance with a vampire hunter.