Monday, September 12, 2016

VN Talk: Code: Realize: Guardian of Rebirth - Part 3: Victor

I went back to Frankenstein for my second playthrough of Code: Realize since he was a close second to Van Helsing, but I was a little more doubtful I would enjoy his route just because I was afraid Cardia would get fewer opportunities to take the initiative as a way to make up for the fact that Victor Frankenstein is never going to be anyone's action hero.

It turns out that I like his route the best, and Cardia still kicks ass precisely because Victor isn't your typical male hero, allowing the two of them compliment each other's capabilities. There's a lot of back and forth with them looking out for each other depending on who's healthiest or most suited for the occasion. When they're both captured and thrown in separate prison cells, she's the one who breaks out, knocks out a bunch of guards, and rescues him.

Though Victor sometime has trouble keeping up with her (if they're on the run usually he's the one who tires out first), I like that he doesn't express regret at being less of a physical fighter than the other men. His emotional hang-ups have more to do with his past instead of traditional notions of masculinity.

Van Helsing's story involved a lot of vampires and a war with them two years prior to the start of the game. This was expected given his literary origins, so I wondered, where was Frankenstein's monster?

And the answer is Cardia herself.

Though he is not directly responsible for creating her, prior to the story Victor was asked by Queen Victoria to work on creating the Philosopher's Stone. As a byproduct of his research he created a highly poisonous substance called Zicterium. In its gaseous form it can be used for chemical warfare, which the government used in the Vampire War that Van Helsing fought in.

Because Victor never intended to create such a devastating weapon, he quit his job (which is not something you do when working on sensitive material for the queen) and became a wanted man, hunted by government agents for being the sole person with the knowledge of how to synthesize Zicterium. If Victor ever left the country and shared his knowledge with other nations it would be a gigantic security breach.

Cardia's father picked up Victor's research where he left off and further refined Zicterium into the Horologium gem that resides in her chest in place of a heart, the very thing that makes her body a mass of poison.

Victor feels guilty that Cardia's life is a mess because of his creation. Without it, she wouldn't exist, and be trapped in a body that forbids her from ever touching another person.

He actually finds out early on that she's an artificial being during the shared route, but declines to fully explain his role in her creation unless pursued as a romance interest (or in the epilogue of Lupin's ending). Regardless of whether or not he reveals his past, on all routes Victor promises to work on a cure for her and is never less than caring. When she joins up with the group, Victor is the one that manufactures custom silverware for her to use that can't be melted by her poison so she can eat at the table like everyone else.

One reason I like Victor's route the best is that his personal story weaves in tightly with Cardia's. On other routes she may fall in love with a character, but, using Van Helsing as an example, his storyline is largely about him. It's his pain, his revenge, and Cardia is the loving girlfriend who saves him from destroying himself.

While Victor also has something dear to accomplish in atoning for his past mistakes, Cardia's well-being is equally important to him. The emotional undercurrent of the final chapter is Cardia needing to believe that he really can handle both, that he can both stop the stored Zicterium from being unleashed in London while also saving her humanity. It helps that one leads to the other, and knowing that he's going to cut it close, Victor asks Cardia to not lose faith in him even at the last moment. Whether or not she does determines whether or not the player gets the good ending to his story.

And damn does Victor cut it close.

Usually when there's a timer in a story, it counts down and the heroes beat it just before zero. Victor's gamble actually runs over, though he goes in understanding there's some wiggle room and it works out in the end.

The other reason I like Victor so much is that most of the guys are interested in either dying for their cause or doing a heroic sacrifice to protect Cardia, which can be admirable, but isn't so great from Cardia's standpoint as the one who has to carry on. However, when Victor has the option to die to ensure Cardia's survival, he categorically refuses it. He realizes that his death would hurt her immensely and in his ending he is adamant that they will both survive. The achievement for completing his ending reflects his choice, being called "The World, With You."

After completing Victor's route, it's worth rereading his scenes along the shared path on a future playthrough, as a second read makes it incredibly clear how much he figures out about Cardia as soon as they meet, and it's possible to read between the lines of many of his evasive comments. The way his expression changes in his very first CG takes on a whole new level of meaning once you realize just why he's reacting the way he does.

Since he's naturally the most kind-hearted member of the cast the fact he's hiding something doesn't come across as sinister, making it easy on a first playthrough to overlook all the times he changes the conversation, deflects questions, or outright refuses to answer.