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.