Monday, May 21, 2018

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ - Part 1: After Stories

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

Platform: PS Vita (also on PS4 as part of Code: Realize ~Bouquet of Rainbows~)
Release: 2018

I wasn't sure what to expect with the Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ fan disc (other than these things are definitely not discs anymore), but from what I'd read for other games, fan discs are usually semi-sequels with fluffy bits that consist of missing moments or take place post-game. Sometimes they're alternate universe stories, if the original has no room left to explore. They're basically to extend the life of the original property by letting fans revisit their favorite characters.

The original Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is still one of my favorite otome games, for having an incredible protagonist and (mostly) compelling love interests. (Sorry, Impey.) So when Future Blessings was announced, picking it up was a no-brainer.

The way this particular fan disk is arranged, each of the main five love interests have a sequel (or "After Story"), Herlock Sholmès and Finis have their own routes called Extra Stories that could have taken place as alternate storylines in the original game, and there is also an Another Story that takes place during the original game's common route.

It should go without saying, but this series of posts will have spoilers both for the original game and the fan disc.

Since the After Stories aren't as long as the original games, I'm going to combine a number of them into two posts rather than giving them their own. Sholmès and Finis will get their own entries (being multi-chapter endeavors), and the Another Story and Delly's Room vignettes will get a separate post, for a total of five in this series.

After Stories

Victor Frankenstein

Being that Victor Frankenstein ended up being my favorite route in the original ~Guardian of Rebirth~, I dove into his story first. And I was surprised by how good it was! It not only addressed a loose plot thread I had been wondering about from a different route in the original, but it brought up and addressed extremely valid concerns about Cardia and her future.

I had complained earlier about Saint-Germain's route in the original game, and how it was odd that he was assigned to kill Cardia, but wouldn't make a move on the other routes (save Lupin's where his backstory comes out). That dangling plot thread is taken care of in Victor's Future Blessings route.

Victor's "After" route opens with him and Cardia living alone together in Saint-Germain's mansion, several months after the end of the first game. He's managed to stabilize her condition to the point she no longer needs to take any treatments to keep the Horologium dormant. Her poison production has been effectively neutralized. Victor is now back with the Royal Alchemy Society working under a reformed Queen Victoria, and he and Cardia are enjoying a sweet domestic life where she sees him off to work each day while she stays home and looks after the house. Though they aren't married, from their behavior they may as well be.

Unfortunately for them, Saint-Germain returns and brings them out to meet Idea, specifically Omnibus and Guinevere. There, Omnibus reveals that though Cardia's poison will remain dormant for Victor's remaining lifetime, as an artificial creation there's no guarantee that Cardia will not live for hundreds or even thousands of years and there is a non-zero chance that her poison will eventually return, in which case they will have to kill her.

Omnibus offers Victor a choice. His soul has the unique quality that will allow him to become an Apostle of Idea, and given his scientific skills he would be an asset to their organization. If he joins them he will become immortal, and thus be able to spend an eternity with Cardia. This way he will always be able to look after her, and make whatever changes are needed to keep her condition under control. However, the Apostles of Idea are also the stewards of humanity, and they make pinpoint course corrections to avoid extinction. Most of the time, that means assassinating their targets, some of whom have no fault other than being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This makes for a fascinating dilemma. A love interest like Van Helsing could probably join Idea with little change to their psyche, but Victor is by far the kindest and most considerate of Cardia's potential suitors, so for him to turn into an immortal assassin is completely against his nature. And yet, if he doesn't, how can he be wholly certain that Cardia will never revert for however long she may live?

I wasn't expecting this sort of plot or soul searching in his After Story, but it made it quite engaging, especially since both options are undesireable. I doubted Victor would eventually join Idea, though I think it would make for a fascinating sequel, so the question became, how could they find a viable alternative?

Cardia initially doesn't say anything, leaving the choice up to Victor (and considering it's a weighty choice that primarily affects him, I think that's fair), but this renders her fairly passive through a good chunk of the route while Victor agonizes over his decision.

He almost decides to join Idea at one point, because he wants to guarantee Cardia's happiness, even if means destroying his own, but Saint-Germain talks him down from it, asking him to think if Cardia would really be happy with that, which brings us to this route's biggest flaw. Omnibus gives Victor three days to make up his mind, but he and Cardia spend two and a half days of it avoiding discussion about what is arguably the greatest decision of their lives. Though it's Victor's choice, if he joins Idea Cardia will be burdened with the fact he made such a sacrifice for her.

Fortunately, as the end of the third day approaches, Cardia decides to give him a piece of her mind. Her timing could be better from a rational standpoint, but from a storytelling one it's fun to see her burst into his meeting with Queen Victoria and pin Victor to the floor (yes, right in front of the queen) while letting him know that under no circumstances does she want him to join Idea.

Their heart to heart is sweet, and a reminder of why I liked Victor the most out of the original love interests. His eventual conclusion, even before Cardia busted in on him, is that a life where the two of them can't be happy together is not worth considering, so he's not going to sacrifice his future and join Idea, and they decide to come up with an alterative to the choice Omnibus offered.

And that is to find a way to ensure Cardia lives a human lifespan.

Omnibus is skeptical, but with Saint-Germain supporting them (and a cameo appearance of the rest of the cast to defend the pair), she backs down with the understanding that Victor will work to ensure Cardia has a human lifespan, even if it takes the rest of his life. Cardia tells Omnibus that if he dies before he succeeds, Idea can come for her then, but this way they can spend their life together.

The route wraps up with Cardia becoming Victor's lab assistant (since he'll be working to fix her lifespan along with his other research work, she might as well help) and the two of them informally exchange wedding vows in front of a church as a sign of their commitment to each other.

I would have liked a formal ceremony given the theme to the opening movie, but unfortunately that's about par for the course with Future Blessings. Despite the fact Lupin got married at the end of the original game, there is only one other wedding in Future Blessings, so most of the guys don't get to catch up.

Abraham Van Helsing

Van Helsing had the darkest, most angsty route of the original five, so it's probably not surprising that his After Story begins incredibly sappy, as if to make up for all the pain that was previously inflicted. I am surprised that he's not a little more randy though, considering the content of his epilogue, where he makes it clear that they need to find a way to get rid of Cardia's poison (since he's a man and he's got man needs).

For those disappointed that Van Helsing's original storyline had so little intimacy (he was the only love interest that didn't manage a kiss scene), Future Blessings kicks off quickly with him running home to meet Cardia after receiving word that Victor has cured her. Van Helsing giving a wide-eyed Cardia an open-mouthed kiss when he finds out he can touch her is the first major impression his After route makes.

Unfortunately it doesn't really escalate from there. What follows is more or less Van Helsing trying to be an indulging boyfriend to Cardia. If anything, he's a little too sweet and considerate, to the point that Cardia gets weirded out by it, but it's not a concrete "problem" that can't be solved by the two of them sitting down and having a conversation... which they don't do.

The "crisis" of his After route, such as it is, is that Cardia unintentionally pulls away when he tries to touch her after the conversation about how the change in him bothers her. Van Helsing is hurt by that, and starts avoiding her, which of course just makes everything worse as he now feels guilty over distancing himself as well as offending her in the first place. And he is bothered by the fact he doesn't know how he managed to turn her off, as in his mind he's been as attentive as possible.

Fortunately, he runs into Lupin and Impey, who make fun of him for moping around (and that's entertaining because Van Helsing usually comes off as too cool to mope), though I disagree with them that Helsing is simply blowing a lovers' quarrel out of proportion. It's not really that Cardia and Van Helsing are having an argument so much as they're having a communication failure about what they want from each other.

Both Cardia and Helsing are new at relationships. It's obviously her first and it's heavily implied that it's Helsing's as well, and prior to their disagreement the two of them were rushing towards commitment at breakneck speed.

While Helsing is getting some frank talk from his friends, Cardia also gets some from Victor, who is as kind and insightful as on his own route. Victor correctly concludes that neither Cardia nor Helsing know how to be in an relationship and in the throes of wanting to do right by the other person they're forgetting they have to look after themselves as well (a novice mistake I'm familiar with), and what Cardia has been picking up is that Helsing has been trying to put her needs waaaaay above his own as if his own don't matter, and that's what's been bothering her.

"It doesn't matter as long as my beloved is happy" sort of thing. (Which is one thing I like about Victor, both in his original route and After. He recognizes that excessively sacrificing for the other person doesn't make them happy.)

Helsing and Cardia get straightened out thanks to the help of their friends, and finally have that heart-to-heart, after which they're okay and Van Helsing asks her to marry him.

As a couple notes, Saint-Germain does not show up in this route, he's supposedly still in France, and Van Helsing's route takes place earlier than Victor's. Presumably this is why the bad news of Idea coming back to claim Cardia does not happen. Saint-Germain is probably still bargaining for her to be spared.

The route also covers other elements of Van Helsing's original ending, such as the reconciliation between humans and vampires. While it's not a cornerstone of the route, there's a lot more Delacroix than in Victor's route and Marquis Renfield (only mentioned previously) actually gets some spoken lines.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Darling in the Franxx and Becoming More Like Your Partner

One of my friends asked me when I was going to write another Darling in the Franxx post and I wasn't really planning to, except maybe at the end of the series. We're now about seven episodes until the end, but something did happen that I think is worth posting about.

This episode just aired this Saturday, so if you're wary of spoilers, stop here!

What I'd like to talk about in today's post is what's happening with Hiro.

It's very common to have inter-species relationships in fiction. Sometimes they're very different species, but usually they're between a human and a character who has a human-ish form. Also, if one of them is to cross the species barrier to become more like the other, they overwhelmingly feature the inhuman female becoming human to be with her male human love. The reverse option is rarely considered.

The Little Mermaid serves as the model for a children's tale Zero Two learned as a child. A princess of beasts falls in love with a human prince at a distance, and sees a witch to have her wings removed so she can become human and be with the man loves. However, the princess is unable to remain a human forever because that is not what she truly is, so she is given the choice to kill the prince and live, or to spare the prince and die. Like the Hans Christian Andersen mermaid, she chooses death.

Though Zero Two does not seem to be overly concerned that she is the princess of her own tale, she likewise met a human, Hiro, when they both were children. He was nice to her when everyone else treated her like a test experiment, and she recognized that they were fundamentally different. Though the series hasn't explained how Zero Two lost her scaly red skin (yet), she files down her horns to the nubs they usually are and presumably does the same with her teeth and nails.

Zero Two's driving motivation for much of the series has been to become human so she can be with her childhood darling, and she's been fighting the alien klaxosaurs because she was told that eventually if she killed enough she would become human. (I have to ask why she would believe anything the military told her, considering how she otherwise behaves around them, but I guess that's a question for another day.)

Now Zero Two and Hiro have been reunited, they remember their shared past, and something is happening to Hiro as well. The reason he's able to partner with her, and can only partner with her, is due to him having ingested her blood when they were children (he was trying to clean a scrape on her knee by licking the wound). This also has the effect of increasing his "saurification."

The series hasn't fully explained the link between humans and their klaxosaur enemies yet, but Zero is somehow a hybrid of the two and we see the results of her own saurification after she devours a few dozen more partners. Her horns grow into antlers, she has fangs and claws, and her mind is almost completely feral.

Until this Saturday's episode, Hiro looked fine, though he was briefly hospitalized. He has heavy bangs though, and in Episode 17: Eden, Zero Two brushes them back to reveal that he appears to be growing horns as well, currently small enough that they haven't broken the skin.

Zero Two seems to be saddened by the fact his fate has changed due to meeting her, but Hiro does not seem to be bothered at all. He's never been put off by her appearance (not even when she was a feral little girl with red scales), nor has he ever asked Zero Two to become human like him.

I was really afraid that this series would end with Zero Two becoming human in some fashion so she could be with Hiro (assuming she doesn't die due to the fairy tale motif), because that would be pointless when he never asked that of her. But I would be perfectly happy if Hiro continues transforming to be more like her. He didn't ask for it, but he's not doing it for her either. It just happened and he's okay with it.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Managing My Gaming Backlog

This is probably a funny post to be making in May, given that the time for New Year Resolutions was back in January, but this is more of an update to a plan I already laid down. And it seems to be working. Mostly.

Back in January I decided I was tired of looking at my gaming backlog and really wanted to make a point to play a lot of these games I was buying. I participate in the annual Reading Challenge at Goodreads, so I figured, why not make one for my games? Specifically for trying to get through titles I had been wanting to play or finish, but hadn't gotten around to.

So I made a list of five games that I wanted to finish (that I'd already started) and four that I hadn't started at all. I also made them of a variety of genres and moods (dark, light, serious, fluff). I also included a list of new games that I expected I would be buying this year, so I could tally how much was incoming versus outgoing.

After all, it's not making a dent in the backlog if I'm not finishing more than I'm buying.

So far this year I've completed five games. Two were unplanned acquisitions (being free indie titles), one was from my list of games that I expected to buy, and two were from my list of games that I hadn't started.

While the free indie games didn't help reduce my backlog, at least it wasn't me paying for something that was going to sit around unplayed.

What I found most helpful though, is the list of games I hadn't started. I've completed half of that list of four now, and I'm about to start a third game. (I probably won't do the fourth though, because that's Final Fantasy XV and the director has planned out content through 2019 so I'll probably take a rain check until he's done.) I have a lot of backlogged titles though, so I'm thinking of adding a couple more to the list.

Since I haven't gone back to any of the partially completed games there is probably a reason for that and I'm not enthusiastic about revisiting them, even though these are games that I probably would have finished if real life hadn't intervened in some way or another.

I find the list of unplayed games reminds of what I already own and had previously been excited about. Since it's pre-curated, I don't need to spend time figuring out what to play next or staring at shelves of games. Instead I can just look at the list and immediately see a few options I'm already interested in, not an overwhelming number, and pick from there.