Monday, June 18, 2018

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ - Part 4: Finis

Finis's story is definitely one that would have been saved for a fan disc since it's not romantic, but it's also really good, and if you have unanswered questions left after ~Guardian of Rebirth~, this likely has the answers. Also, because this deals with the creation of Cardia and Finis, there is a lot of overlap with Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route, but in this case it's understandable. There's no way to tell Finis's story without also going into the purpose of Code:Realize, and this time we get additional insights into the same events.

In ~Guardian of Rebirth~, we learn that Finis has been trying to get a hold of Cardia since the beginning of the game. He was the one who sent the order to have her brought from her mansion in Wales. She's a necessary keystone for enacting their father's plan, Code:Realize, which will resurrect him as a sort of machine god who intends to plunge the world into everlasting war to advance science. (War tends to push along scientific progress, so the base logic is sound, if inhumane.)

But Cardia refuses to go along with this. Because she was rescued/kidnapped by Lupin and company who treat her like a person, she's gained a sense of self and has no interest in being turned back into a doll.

As with Sholmès's route, the story picks up shortly after Cardia discovers she's an artificial creation and runs away from Saint-Germain's mansion. She returns to Wales, much like she does in Lupin's route, in a bid to learn more about herself and her past before going back to her friends, but this time when she's confronted by an angry crowd of villagers, it's not Lupin who saves her, but Finis and Twilight. Realizing that Finis has all the answers she's looking for, Cardia agrees to go with him.

Finis's story takes pains to show the parallels between Cardia and Finis as created tools for their father, except that Cardia had the benefit of being among people who loved her, and Finis spends his days enacting his father's plan and never living for anything more than his purpose. When we first meet Cardia, the only things she has on her mind are her father's last words to her. Even outside of this particular route, we already know Finis works so hard specifically for his father's approval, which is sadly an approval that will never come. Isaac views thanking Finis as the equivalent of thanking a screwdriver for doing its job.

It's not until Finis's story though that we get to see why Isaac's view of his homunculi is so dim. Considering that Isaac's first words to Cardia are out of consideration and that he named the two after his deceased children, it came as jarring that he was so callous to them during the climax of Lupin's route.

We finally get to see Isaac's pain, as he starts with Finis and tries over and over to recreate his son by implanting his memories into a homunculus, but each time the homunculus wakes and sees him as a stranger. Though the many iterations of Finis try to become the Finis of their collective memories, it only serves to shove them further into the uncanny valley and make Isaac realize that they can never be his son. This is why Isaac doesn't love Finis and never smiles at him no matter how hard he tries to please him.

Realizing that he needs to do something else if he wants to recreate his family, Isaac goes on to form his Code:Realize plans and creates Cardia (meaning that she's only Finis's older sister because that was the case for the original Cardia, or because of her physical appearance, and not because she was created first). While she is still sleeping, Isaac realizes that she will probably turn out the same as Finis when she wakes, and because of the poison in her body, he would never be able to hold her like his real daughter. So Isaac gives her those parting words from the opening of ~Guardian of Rebirth~ about how she shouldn't fall love because she is a monster and it would only cause her pain.

Since the transmutation from Horologium to Philosopher's Stone was going to take time, and it appears that Isaac knew he didn't have many years left in his life, he made plans for his resurrection, which was a nice touch. I assumed when Isaac had disappeared he had been violently killed somehow, but it looks like age and overwork just caught up with him. And given Cardia's poison build-up, it made sense that he would leave her in his old abandoned home rather than underground in Twilight's headquarters until the Horologium was sufficiently processed to be usable.

The Finis we know is one of many, each connected through a main body "computer" (for lack of a better term). They all share the same memories, and in a sense they're all interchangeable. If one dies, another takes his place.

Needless to say, this does nothing for Finis's sense of individually. More than any other route, we see Finis hurling multiple instances of himself to bodily block attacks, because "he" doesn't matter. There will always be more of him. If one is injured, he can be thrown away.

Cardia finds this horrifying, believing that each Finis by rights should be an individual life. They're more clones than remote controlled dolls.

His route plays out much like Lupin's with the attack on St. Paul's Cathedral and the Nautilus appearing over the city as Code:Realize is enacted, but eventually one of the many Finis clones becomes marked as an individual. This one is discarded and cut off from the main body as Isaac considers it an acceptable loss to get an Apostle of Idea off the Nautilus at the same time. However, this Finis survives the fall and is found by Lupin and company, allowing him to see the kind of life that Cardia had been living.

Following this particular Finis from that point on, it's possible to see him transform as a character who was an absolute pain in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ to a boy who's finally being allowed to think for himself for the first time. One of the tragic things in the original game is that we knew Isaac didn't care for Finis and would never say he loved him, even though Finis dedicated everything he had to his father. In his own route, Finis is able to grow past that and it's fitting that in the best ending, he and Cardia together take out their father.

Other things things of note:

I suspected during Victor's route that there was a new translator working on this one because his Japanese nickname "Fran" shows up once in his route and on the save files for his After Story. There's no doubt to me that the new translator was also working on Finis's route because after using Apostles of Idea all throughout ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and every other route in ~Future Blessings~ we suddenly get "Idea's Apostles" and the term is used consistently throughout Finis's route. It's essentially the same thing, and it's not a "wrong" translation, but it was annoying because its consistency in that one route broke with the consistency in all the others.

We also get introduced to a new Apostle, Hansel Hexenhaus, who is the Hansel from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. The soul of his sister Gretel is bonded to his weapon, which is described as a "fork" but that doesn't really do it justice. That thing is more of a trident or ornate battle pitchfork, if you have to keep the "fork" part in it.

I suspect Hansel was created in order to have a different representative present for the finale. Saint-Germain is difficult to use because his character is already established (and besides, he canonically kills Finis on every route, which another Finis is unlikely to forgive without time and distance) and Guinevere is too militant. Hansel, with his brother and sister backstory, is able to be sympathetic to Cardia and Finis, as well as to justify sparing them once Isaac is dead. It's also amusing that he's off-kilter enough that Saint-Germain and Guinevere question his deployment.

Though I'm not entirely sure he was necessary, I did like getting another Apostle. Since there are only thirteen of them, they're a small enough group that they should be individuals rather than random NPC faces.

Lastly, I like that Cardia and Finis go back to Isaac's old house in Wales together and work on rebuilding it to be a proper home. After everything, there's only one Finis left now and the main body is gone, but the Finis that remains is now a real person.

Monday, June 11, 2018

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ - Part 3: Herlock Sholmès

Continuing my run through all the stories in Code Realize ~Future Blessings~, this morning I'll be posting about the first of the Extra Stories, which are storylines that could have taken place as an alternate story branch in the original Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~. They each take place after the eighth chapter, shortly after Cardia has learned about her origins.

The first Extra Story I dove into was Herlock Sholmès, because I knew it was going to be a romance and I figured I'd leave the non-romance routes grouped together.

When Herlock Sholmès is first introduced in the original ~Guardian of Rebirth~ he is specifically there to be Lupin's arch-nemesis, so it made sense that he was using the expy name that Maurice Leblanc used to get around copyright. However, during the ending of Lupin's route, it's revealed that Herlock Sholmès is actually an alias that Sherlock Holmes is using post-Reichenbach Falls to continue his hunt for Moriarty (who also survived) while pretending to be dead.

So in Code:Realize, Sholmès and Holmes are canonically the same person.

Aside from the fact it's the worst cover ever (Watson even calls out the fact that Sholmès is operating a detective agency on Baker Street just down the way from his old place), we also know from Lupin's route that Jimmy Aleister, Van Helsing's nemesis, is actually James Moriarty.

In ~Guardian of Rebirth~ this was a bit of a headbanger that didn't need to come out considering that Sholmès is a side character, and it makes me wonder if he was at some point slated to be included as a sixth romance option for the original game. I think if not for Lupin getting the starring role, Holmes would have been a shoe-in for a roster consisting of 19th century fictional characters.

But let's be honest, Lupin's shenanigans are what made ~Guardian of Rebirth~ happen, and Holmes wouldn't have been the same kind of ringleader, if a ringleader at all.

His route reflects this as Sholmès is not nearly as entertaining without Lupin around. He was a perfectly good foil in ~Guardian of Rebirth~, always being one step ahead and getting under Lupin's skin like no other character could. But Sholmès by himself is a man wallowing in his past and surprisingly Lupin barely factors into his story.

Aside from that I'm a little annoyed that Van Helsing's villain for his own route is being reused, because it makes Van Helsing's own story feel like a side project. With Aleister as Moriarty, it's not unexpected that he takes a greater interest in Holmes than Helsing. Using Moriarty is a great source of tension, but it's unfortunately diminishes the meaningfulness behind his plans as a villain, since he basically wants the same thing out of Sholmès as he did Helsing. We've seen this plot before, and this could have been avoided if that connection had never been made.

Perhaps because of this, Sholmès's route is a lot like Van Helsing's in that it has little to do with Cardia and the story is mostly about him, but considering that she abandons Lupin's group I can see why her personal story drops off the agenda.

The route begins shortly after Cardia discovers that she is the 666th iteration of herself, and the first to be successful as a host for the Horologium. As in multiple other routes, she leaves Saint-German's manor in the aftermath of this discovery, feeling that she truly is a monster now that she knows she was created as a poisonous creature rather than being born as a normal human. In other routes she is eventually found by whoever her love interest is (sometimes not even making off the manor grounds), but in Sholmès's she makes it all the way to Whitechapel.

There she's attacked by Jack the Ripper (also borrowed from Van Helsing's route) and rescued by John H. Watson, who makes a dramatic appearance. Contrary to most pop culture portrayals of Watson being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, this Watson is pretty brash, outspoken, and ever optimistic. It's a shame he's not a love interest himself as I found him much more engaging than Sholmès, but he's still in love with his wife Mary, who passed away before the route began.

Considering that Code:Realize discards a fair portion of these characters' backstories when adapting them for the game, Watson is ridiculously intact, from having lived with Holmes until he married Mary, Mary's death, and then moving back in with Holmes post-Reichenbach Falls. He's still a doctor and a former army man, and they lean into the former army man part of him more than most portrayals as this Watson comes packing heat.

It's thanks to Watson that Cardia eventually ends up on Sholmès's doorstep and though she feels bad about leaving Lupin's gang unannounced, she decides she's not ready to go back yet so she stays with Sholmès and Watson.

In a third person scene, Aleister permanently disposes of Finis after seeing a coded message in the newspaper from Sholmès, and that sets the stage for the rest of the route. Finis and his plans are out of the way, paving the way for the Holmes vs. Moriarty showdown.

The showdown itself isn't bad. There are mind games going on, and some dangers that Sholmès could not have known about, but it borrows heavily from elements previously used in Van Helsing and Victor's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ routes, specifically Van Helsing's brainwashing, Aleister's need for a companion as messed up as he is, and Cardia's poison going into overload. While it's not bad, it's doesn't do anything unique either.

It doesn't help that Aleister/Moriarty ends up killing himself to leave Sholmès with a potentially unsolvable mystery in order to save Cardia's life. Even if Aleister won, he wouldn't get to enjoy it, and it feels like the writers did this just so Sholmès would not have to kill him himself.

As for the romance, I think it had potential, but Sholmès is really hurt by the fact that he's missing eight chapters of the shared route. While he does show up a few times earlier in the original game, Cardia doesn't really bond with him. By the time his route begins, that's when the individual plot accelerates into overdrive and everything happens within a few days. That's not much time for Sholmès and Cardia to believably fall in love. Certainly they could have attraction, and Sholmès can be gallant (such as when he holds on her wrist so she doesn't fall, even though her blood is eating away at his skin), but it feels way too rushed.

Mostly, it feels like she falls in love with Sholmès because he's nice to her and doesn't treat her as a monster, which is pretty much what every love interest does. But the reason it doesn't work with him as well as the others is that she doesn't have much of a shared history with him to build that love on. The bar is set way too low, and Sholmès himself doesn't act like he has much romantic interest in her so much as he's being a compassionate human being. That's fine, but that's not enough reason to fall in love within a span of a few days.

Writing this it feels like I'm mostly griping about the plot, but it does provide an alternate reason for why Finis doesn't reappear after his death by Saint-Germain on some of the routes in ~Guardian of Rebirth~. Since Aleister knew the truth about him, presumably he could have found a reason to get rid of all the Finis clones as well as the main body, and this would allow Aleister to remain active on route like Victor's in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ where he is still around but Finis never returns.

Though there is a lot of retread, interesting things certainly happen, with the supposed death of Queen Victoria and Holmes being framed for her murder. This is the odd route where the middle is more interesting than the beginning and end since it's where all the original stuff is. It keeps things exciting even if the climax and the romance don't quite come together.

Next week I'll cover Finis.

Monday, June 4, 2018

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ - Part 2: After Stories Cont.

Sorry! Holidays always throw me off, so I missed my usual Monday post last week. This time I'm going to continue through Code Realize: ~Future Blessings~ and the last three of the After Stories. You can catch up on my thoughts regarding Victor and Van Helsing's After Stories here. As before, there are spoilers both for the ~Future Blessings~ content and the original ~Guardian of Rebirth~.

After Stories Continued

Arsene Lupin

Lupin is not route locked this time! While I liked his original route second to Victor's, I didn't find Lupin himself as compelling a love interest as Victor or Van Helsing, since most of his personality is bluster and righteousness. He's fun, but he doesn't have much depth.

His After Story picks up after Cardia and Lupin's marriage to find out that despite tying the knot, they don't have a place of their own (they're still living at Saint-Germain's) and they aren't even sharing a room like a proper married couple. This is mostly because Lupin finds it fun and romantic to sneak into her room at varying times in the middle of the night to surprise her. (If I was Cardia I probably would have yelled at him after a few days of that!)

Annoyed that Lupin is having all the fun, Cardia decides that she wants him to be as caught off balance and flustered about her as she is about him, which basically sets the route up for shenanigans as her friends try to help her. If you like the idea of Van Helsing being a total goofball because he draws entirely the wrong conclusion as to how to help a couple become closer together, this will scratch the right itch.

The first half of the route is pure silliness. Since every character's storyline was wrapped up in Lupin's original route there is no danger to speak of. Everyone is living their best life. And due to the whole Cardia and Lupin not seeing eye to eye about their romance, Lupin's route starts off feeling very similar to Van Helsing's. Eventually after enough of their friends acting out of character (and Lupin getting twinges of jealousy seeing Cardia on a "date" with Impey and Saint-Germain), the two have a talk and he admits he has a poker face because it's part and parcel for being a gentleman thief, but on the inside he's completely crazy for her and that seems to be enough for Cardia.

This initially feels like the end of the route, but there's a second half to the storyline, and this part is more interesting because it has to do with Cardia's feelings about her father, Isaac Beckford.

Since Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route is the only one where she meets Isaac, his After Story is the only one where she can unpack what her father means to her, considering that she is not the "real" Cardia that Isaac mourned over. She wonders what kind of man he was before he became a villain, and whether he ever loved her. His earliest words in her memory are caring, and nothing at all like what he was when they finally reunited.

It also spells out what was implied in Lupin's ending, that Isaac's reason for Code:Realize wasn't just to advance civilization through endless warfare, but also to reunite with his lost family (presumably because technology would eventually advance to the point that was possible). Even if the romance in Lupin's After Story was pretty flat, the second half makes up for it with its theme of finding and cherishing family.

One thing of note though, that I found really strange, is that Cardia keeps calling Lupin by his last name even after they get married. While I understand in some places and eras a wife would call her husband by his last name in public, saving personal name usage for when they are in private, I don't think that's what the game was going for here since Cardia calls him "Lupin" all the time and he never asks her to change it. I assume this was done for the player's sense of familiarity, but it still feels weird, considering that she freely calls Impey by his first name and she's not married to him.


Saint-Germain's route was good. I really like when there's something to these After Stories besides problems adapting to a deeper relationship. Though Saint-Germain also has communication issues, his route handles them a lot better, because of his reason for not communicating. While Van Helsing and Lupin are largely being romantic dunces in regards to Cardia's feelings, Saint-Germain is a being who has been alive for thousands of years and is all too aware he should be talking to her. He's just afraid he won't like the answer.

This route introduces us to Saint-Germain's backstory. It's implied he was originally a slave who labored on the Tower of Babel and was met by an Apostle of Idea who had been the one to destroy the tower. His After Story deals with the wish he made in exchange for service to Idea (to know an ordinary happiness, since he'd had none as a slave) and his inability to die like normal men. Though his lifespan is reduced to that of an ordinary human in his ~Guardian of Rebirth~ ending, he is still very inhuman in other ways, such as his regenerative abilities. Since Cardia is not cured of her poison in his original ending, this leaves him as one of the few people who can touch her, because even if she melts him, he'll just heal.

Because of this, his After Story is flashback heavy and more about him than Cardia. It follows his induction into Idea, his vitriolic friendship with Hermes Trismegistus (a historical figure, and in Code:Realize, a fellow Apostle of Idea), and how Trismegistus's research into the Philosopher's Stone eventually led to his death at Saint-Germain's hands under orders from Idea. Cardia's Horologium is the premature incarnation of the Philosopher's Stone, so in the present day Saint-Germain plans to find Trismegistus's research in hopes it can be used for a cure, since those were the terms he and Cardia made with Idea to spare them.

It's a lovely way to dovetail his backstory into Cardia's, and Trismegistus had a limited ability to see into the future. Though it's not spelled out, Trismegistus told Saint-Germain he was doing his research to grant a friend's wish, and given what happens in the end, that Victor is able to take Trismegistus's research and complete a cure for Cardia, it's not hard to read between the lines and conclude that Trismegistus did this for Saint-Germain.

And lest Trismegistus come off as incredibly self-sacrificing just to grant Saint-Germain his wish, he also admitted he was getting tired of being immortal and dying might be nice after all these millennia.

The problem with Saint-Germain and not communicating is that while he wants to free Cardia, he's also afraid that he'll lose her. He told her back in the first game that he was the only one who could accept her touch, due to the poison, and now with her possibly losing that poison, he starts to panic thinking that maybe he won't be special to her anymore. Of course, that's not true, but it's possible to understand why he would be insecure when curing her would potentially open up her dating pool to just about anybody.

Lupin is the one to beat that notion out of Saint-Germain. It's nice because aside from taking point in Saint-Germain's original route when he left the gang, Lupin also brings up the fact that he was the one who promised to fulfill Cardia's wish to touch another person. Lupin was fine with entrusting that promise to Saint-Germain when she began to favor him, but if Saint-Germain won't do it now, Lupin will. It gets Saint-Germain to reprioritize himself and it's a nice touch seeing that Lupin is still sweet on Cardia even though she eventually chose someone else.

Though she's not fully cured by the end of the After Story (this is the only non-Lupin storyline where Victor does not get a hold of Zicterium to make his cure), she expects to be fully detoxed within a year, after which she and Saint-Germain make plans to marry.

I also liked this route for being the only one not primarily set in London, which made for a good change of pace. Cardia and Saint-Germain went traveling at the end of his route in the first game, so it's not surprising they're in France for about half his After Story.

Impey Barbicane

I left Impey for last because he was my least favorite of the original love interests, since his machismo left me cold. Fortunately, he has two things going for him in his After Story: 1) there's nobody for him to fight so he can't be obnoxious about protecting Cardia from threats she can very well handle herself, and 2) his After Story has a storyline (putting him ahead of Lupin and Van Helsing). His After Story is also the only one that is 100% relationship problem free.

We pick up with Cardia and Impey still living in Saint-Germain's mansion while he travels abroad. They're working on Impey's plan to get to the moon, but have hit a funding snag, because as it turns out, building all the tech necessary to get to the moon is expensive. With help, they manage to secure Queen Victoria's patronage in exchange for helping her make a new submersible Britain can showcase at the next World's Fair.

Victor Frankenstein plays a large part in this route as Impey's co-designer on the submersible, which he has done to get resources for a secret project he's been working on with Impey. It's not outright stated, but it's pretty clear what he got was the Zicterium needed to fashion the cure for Cardia. (Seriously, the writers leaned really hard on Victor to patch up the other non-Lupin After Stories.)

Much of the story is going from point A to point B, but the thing is, it's fun along the way. Impey is a comedic character and the group's butt monkey, and the writing isn't afraid of making fun of him at his expense. His After Story is a complete hoot, especially when he learns about all the "safety" measures the rest of the guys have left with Cardia in case Impey ever gets too randy with her (ranging from shotguns to tranquilizers to secret escape routes).

The best part is when Cardia is finally cured and Impey leans in for the obligatory kiss scene. The screen goes dark to transition to what should be the kiss CG, but instead it brightens to show a speechless Victor and Royal Guard Captain Leonhart, who just walked in. The timing was pitch perfect. (And they do get that kiss later after the embarrassed parties leave.)

Impey's After Story is capped off by a post-credits, skydiving with anti-gravity wedding between him and Cardia. Since they're planning on going to the moon together, he wanted it as high as they currently could get with the rest of the guests below them on an airship. It was sweet and after playing this route I could buy into their romance much more than I could in the original game. Cardia teases Impey just as much as anyone and I'm glad somebody got married in this game given the artwork.

Next week I'll dive into Sholmès' route!