Monday, July 15, 2019

"Unfilial Child" is Featured Story at Curious Fictions

First, I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me in support over the past week. The well wishes and assistance are greatly appreciated that. I will be going into surgery this Wednesday, and hopefully all will be well with my recovery.

As mentioned last week, I am beefing up my Curious Fictions presence with three new stories. The free one, "Unfilial Child," is in fact the featured story for this week! So if you haven't already taken a look, please do.

"Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang" are also readable for a token subscription cost.

The next subscriber story should be going live on the 21st (unless surgery leaves me too tired to hit the publish button), and that will be my space pirate novelette "Between Earth and Exile." Alexa escaped a conquered Earth as a teenager, living with other human exiles on the Bloodborne and surviving as a raider in a galaxy now hostile to humanity. But her family is still back on Earth, and she has a plan to rescue them.

I'm going to try lightening my blog load during my recovery, so next week's post is already queued up and should go up automatically next Monday without any input from me. I hope you'll enjoy my look at the story for the puzzle-platformer The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.

I'll also be playing a new RPG or visual novel during my recovery period. If you'd like to vote for what I cover in a later RPG or VN Talk, please take the survey. The primary criteria for what games I placed on the list is that they have to be games I already have in my backlog and have not yet played.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Health Issues and Supporting My Writing

Hi everyone,

I've been keeping my blog mostly about my writing and my games, which is the way I like it, but I feel it's time to take a break here and talk about other things, which is part of why the blog has been a little bumpy this year.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, and while we caught it early and it's treatable, it's put me in an uncomfortable position financially. I am extremely fortunate in that my writing earned enough this year to make a difference in being able to pay for my treatment, but just when I thought I was out of the woods, I found additional unexpected medical expenses.

I don't have the stamina to do any kind of centralized crowdfunding like GoFundMe, so what I'd like is a chance to earn your money. If ever you've enjoyed my work and/or wished there was something you could do for me, now is the time. I've arranged a few things so that if my fiction or blogging has entertained you, you have two ways to support me:

Curious Fictions (via tips and/or subscription)
Ko-Fi (one time tips in increments of $3)

If you've enjoyed my short fiction, you'll find that I've recently added three stories to my collection on Curious Fictions. "Unfilial Child" has been offline for months ever since Great Jones Street folded, but now it's online for free (though you can still tip me if you like it!). In addition to that, I've added my Writers of the Future grand prize winning story "Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang," the latter of which has never appeared in any online venue. Both "Living Rooms" and "The Final Gift of Zhuge Liang" are paid $1 reads, or free to subscribers.

Subscribers get subscriber-only content for as little as $2/month. In addition to the two stories already up, for the next two months I'll add additional subscriber-only reprints at rate of one every two weeks, so there are at least four in the pipeline, and none are currently available for free. I'd like to make Curious Fictions close to a one-stop shop for my previously published fiction so dedicated readers can find my short fiction where they like without having to run around collecting random magazines and anthologies.

As an added bonus, I will also run an unpublished novelette of mine, "Jack of Spades," as a serial and this will be the only way to read it. This story is near and dear to college age me, but I'm afraid in a post-Hunger Games world it looks mostly derivative rather than something I wrote before Hunger Games was published, so this is the ideal place for it to see the light of day.

I'll consider writing new content specifically for Curious Fictions subscribers if this proves popular!

As for the other way to support me, particularly if you're a reader of my blog rather than my fiction (or you're really just out to make my day), you can tip me at Ko-fi. Ko-fi doesn't have recurring payments, but operates more like a tip jar where you can tip me the cost of a cup of coffee (or in multiples thereof). You can do it as little or as often as you like and everything you put in goes straight to me, save Paypal's cut. I set a target goal where if we hit it, I'll do a reader's choice RPG or Visual Novel Talk on my blog, but as a catch-all donation jar there's nothing fiction related attached to it.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope to provide more fiction and fun in the months to come.

Monday, June 24, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 9: Cantarella

Sorry for another bobble in my posting schedule. Things have been a bit rough lately, and I'll try to address that in my next post, since I'd really like to finish up my Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ write-up first. But I will say that if you've been enjoying my VN Talk series to please consider dropping a tip in the Ko-fi jar, which you'll see in the upper right of my blog.

That said, this is the last, but certainly not least, of the ~Wintertide Miracles~ stories.

While I was playing this, I wasn't sure how everything would come together, because the side story has two plotlines and I wasn't sure at first which was the subplot and which was the main plot, but by the climax I knew what Cantarella was ultimately about.

It's a story about fathers and daughters and it's much better done than the Lupin's Gang side story in ~Future Blessings~. Lupin's Gang wasn't bad, but it clearly a side story unrelated to the main plot, and it didn't handle its father/daughter pairing with nearly the same deftness that Cantarella does.

In fact my biggest complaint with Lupin's Gang was that Shirley's father gave the final punch to the villain, taking away from Shirley's previous moment of victory and making the finale a showdown between two dudes, neither of whom the audience really cares about.

Like Lupin's Gang, Cantarella takes place after the airship race, but before Cardia and friends discover Isaac's laboratory, and from there dances a careful game between what the audience knows and what the main cast knows. Unlike Lupin's Gang, this does not take place completely outside the main storyline, and weaves in familiar enemies and even a familiar backstory.

Cantarella is a singing star in London, filling the opera house every night she performs, and Cardia and friends happen to meet her off the stage when the mysterious masked Baron Aiguille tries kidnapping her. Though they drive off Aiguille, Cantarella feels weak and they escort her back to her home so she can take the medicine she needs for a chronic condition of hers. This allows Cardia and Cantarella to become friends and for the crew to also meet her father, Miles Strand.

Miles is introduced as a lazy layabout who gambles away all of Cantarella's earnings (save what she needs for medication--he's pretty adamant he would never go that far) and from his looks, it's pretty obvious that he's not old enough to be her biological father. Though Cantarella's often frustrated with him, she tells Cardia about how Miles found her gravely injured as a child and took her in. They started calling themselves father and daughter because there could be no other reasonable explanation for a man to be living with a young girl, but Cantarella always calls him "Miles" because she's not sure how well he'd take to being called "Father" and she's afraid of being rejected, and with good reason.

As the audience learns, but Cardia never does (and even Cantarella perhaps only partially understands), is that Cantarella is one of the failed Cardia clones. She was unusual in that she was often awake while growing in the vat, and possesses memories of Isaac Beckford disposing of his failed prototypes. And then one day, to her horror, it was her turn to be thrown away. Isaac was disappointed by how she deviated from Cardia's intended appearance; her hair was white and her right eye deformed.

We also learn that Miles used to be the second-in-command of Twilight, so naturally he knew something (though not all) of Isaac's research, and became horrified when he was introduced to the room full of Cardia clones. This led to him becoming disaffected from his job and when he finally went AWOL, he spotting a dying clone and took her with him, naming her Cantarella.

(Which, by the way, only works because apparently nobody in Code:Realize knows the story of the Borgias. Miles named his daughter after a poison, which given that she's a Cardia clone is appropriate, but not something he should be advertising to the world.)

This means that Cantarella is actually Cardia's older sister. And by basing Miles's backstory around Twilight, the story is able to make use of Aleister and Twilight itself as part of the plot. Since Cantarella was artificially created and Isaac seemed to have implanted something in her brain, Miles needs Zicterium to treat it, and Twilight's the only source of that in town. Miles has been paying them Cantarella's earnings to get a regular supply, but now that Cardia's in the picture, Aleister has a different sort of payment in mind; one that Miles can't refuse.

I liked Twilight showing up since this takes place during the main story so they should be an ongoing danger and they were conspicuously missing during Lupin's Gang (though granted a lot of that took place on a boat where Twilight had no business being). As a former operative, it's fun seeing Miles change personas as he discards his "daddy" personality for that of a hardened agent (and it's something that probably was his game face earlier in his life). Seeing him prepare to face off against Lupin and company to capture Cardia was a good moment of tension, broken only by the story's other subplot.

I mentioned how Cardia meets Cantarella due to Baron Aiguille trying to kidnap her. Baron Aiguille is a completely unrelated party who has "inherited" a moving castle that won't walk anymore because it lacks the voiceprint of the appropriate singer to make it move. It's implied the castle was built by Isaac, and given that he knows it will no longer move but the appropriate person may eventually be born who will be able to wake it, it was probably something he'd built for the real Cardia and then buried knowing that eventually the reborn one might be able to reclaim it.

Aiguille is a fun character even though he comes off as a bit of a brute in his introduction. He's arrogant, and shows up in a hilarious variety of places. The player gets to choose where to hang out with Cantarella soon after meeting her, and there are five locations (so each love interest has an opportunity to tag along). I highly recommend reloading repeatedly to do all of them. Even though a lot of the dialogue between Cantarella and Aiguille ends up rehashed I love how he randomly turns up in his mask and carnival costume in public as if it's no big deal and there's always a context specific question about why people don't mistake him a robber or the like.

One thing I love about Cantarella is that she has a really sharp tongue. She uses it on Miles a lot, and she certainly doesn't spare Aiguille. When he tries calling her his Fairy Tale Songstress, she doesn't have any of it, and won't even respond to his loony threats until he finally gives in and properly calls her by her name. Cardia and her male companion generally comment on how it doesn't even look like the conversation is happening between kidnapper and kidnappee.

When Cantarella is broken by Miles's betrayal, she on the verge of despair, but Aiguille blasts down a wall and interrupts with his steam-powered carriage, announcing that he's come to take her away and that he's not going to argue with her (because he knows if they do, he's gonna lose). Cardia also hitches a ride and escapes, leaving her friends to handle Miles and Twilight, which they do.

At this point, I really wasn't sure where the story was going, since the two plots were so different from each other. There's a fairy tale we're given early on about a paraplegic prince and a singing princess who are given a moving castle so the prince can see the world, and from the accompanying drawings, the prince and princess are clearly supposed to be Aiguille and Cantarella, but the two of them don't actually have a shared history and this fairy tale actually exists in their world so it would be weird if their lives were exactly as the fairy tale depicted.

Fortunately that's not the case. We finally meet the real Aiguille, who is not entirely paraplegic, but has "bad legs." Apparently he can walk a little bit with a cane, but it's very difficult for him so he usually goes around in a sort of automated wheelchair. I do like that Code:Realize has a prominent disabled character in the story, and depending on the choices made he might even get a big moment to save the day, but I'm not sure whether I like the ending where they mention he's training to walk better. It seems like if it was possible for him to regain his ability to walk (he lost it in a childhood illness) he would have done so years ago. Worse, it implies that the reason he hasn't been able to walk is that he's been too lazy to rehabilitate himself.

Aiguille and Cantarella have some good chemistry together, in both of his personas, but given how little time they actually spend together their story ends with only a potential for romance rather than an actual relationship. He wants Cantarella because one of the devices left to him indicates that her singing voice can power the castle, and even though she's in a rather poor state of mind, she takes pity on him and agrees to do it. That way Aiguille can travel the world just like the prince in the fairy tale.

Of course, being that this is an invention of Isaac's (especially if you play this after the Finis epilogue) it's not entirely unexpected when things go horribly bad. The castle powers up and sucks Cantarella into its main hub where the device in her brain goes into overload with leftover commands from Isaac. In anguish and having flashbacks of being discarding, Cantarella continues singing, because she wants to please her father and knows that's what is being asked of her, and her dirge turns the castle into an uncontrollable monstrosity that powers straight for London.

This sets up the finale where Miles comes clean about what he was really doing with Twilight, so he can accompany Lupin and friends on the rescue mission to the castle, where they met up with Cardia and Aiguille and everyone heads for the main hub to rescue Cantarella.

Though everyone plays a role in rescuing her, the lion's share goes to Miles, who has to apologize for his deception and tell Cantarella what she truly means to him. Unlike Lupin's Gang in ~Future Blessings~ where the climax is Shirley's father Darius punching out the bad guy, the climax in Cantarella is a bleeding and battered Miles risking his life to tell his daughter how much he loves her.

It packs an incredible heft to it, especially considering that much of Code:Realize has already been about children and their fathers, particularly Isaac in regards to his creations. But unlike Isaac, Miles truly cares about Cantarella as a human girl and not a homunculus or lab experiment.

This is the finale, and not anything that has to do with Aiguille other than the fact the trigger for Cantarella's device happens to be a part of his castle. I really liked the father-daughter relationship, and the fact we've come to care about both Cantarella and Miles makes this work. Though we're only with them for a few hours, both of them are fully realized characters with their own fears and foibles by the end of the story.

What I didn't particularly expect to find in this side story though, was the rehabilitation of a minor, previously unnamed character, now known as Theophraste. This is Lupin's mentor.

As we learned in Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route, his mentor was previously a Twilight operative, and from Miles's backstory we discover that the two of them were close friends and found out about the Cardia clones at the same time. Apparently in Twilight's early days, before it became a full-on secret agency, Theophraste was able to convince himself that even if he got his hands dirty, he was doing it for the greater good, and some of his sense of justice rubbed off on the more cynical Miles. But learning about the Cardia clones broke both of them, because there was no way any of those girls could be related to protecting the British people. Being in charge of intelligence, Theophraste arguably had it worse, as he knew exactly what Isaac's plans were.

The two of them escaped Twilight, and given Miles's POV, we're able to see why Theophraste is so shaken that he can't carry on the fight anymore, making him more sympathetic than what he ultimately ended up being in Lupin's backstory. And Miles is canny enough to realize that Lupin is a student of his former friend.

Though this tie-in worked for me initially, it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The problem is that Lupin says in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ that he met his mentor when he was about ten. According to the official artbook, Lupin is 24 at the start of the game, meaning that they met fourteen years ago. But according to Miles, he and Theophraste didn't freak out and leave until six years ago. When they go through the lab for Isaac's documents, most of the specimens are already dead or disposed of. The successful Cardia is not there, which matches the timeline given in ~Guardian of Rebirth~, which places her in Wales six years prior to the story.

I suspect that someone forgot (or decided to ignore) that Lupin's backstory can't be reconciled with the new information in Cantarella. Even if we ignore his age in the artbook, Lupin's young enough in the flashback image that he's probably no older than his early teens when his mentor dies, and this is a man he's described as raising him, so they'd obviously been together for some years prior.

One thing that I'm a little surprised about is that we never learn Miles's birth name. One of Miles's flashbacks mentions that is not his real name, which makes sense being that he's an intelligence agent, but we're only left with implications as to his real identity, rather than it being spelled out at any point. This means that only lore nerds are likely to guess that he is actually Mycroft Holmes.

Miles mentions having a younger brother multiple times, but only vaguely suggests what his brother is good at and that they don't see each other often. Mycroft is typically depicted as being involved with the government in some fashion, and post-Doyle writers have often placed him in intelligence work, which fits with Miles's backstory. There's also the matter that Sholmès gets the Count of Monte Cristo potion from someone with a lot of connections in his epilogue, and we only catch a glimpse of a silhouette depicting the person he'd spoken too, which looked like Miles.

I can understand not wanting to spell it out in Sholmès's route since there's no way of knowing the order the player will go through the different stories and explaining why Mycroft is going by Miles in the opening credits would get needlessly complicated, but at least in the Cantarella story it should have been okay to call him Mycroft at some point. Sholmès doesn't show up, but the players already know that Sholmès is Sherlock Holmes and he's been a major character in the past so there would be less explanation needed.

Cantarella was unexpectedly the highlight of ~Wintertide Miracles~, which makes me a little sad that there isn't anything left in the main story to explore, since I very much would like to spend additional time with Cantarella and Miles. There are no additional fandiscs after this, and the two don't appear in the unlockable Special Epilogues, which is a shame. This side story is a real gem, and I expect to go through it again in the future.

Monday, June 10, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 8: Finis

This week I'm covering Finis's route for Code:Realize: ~Wintertide Miracles~. Please beware of spoilers if that concerns you as I'll be discussing everything including the ending.

When I started, I wasn't immediately sure where Finis's story was going, because he's a non-romantic route and while it's nice seeing him and Cardia establish a relationship as siblings, we already get a lot of that in the Christmas stories with the other characters. At first glance, living their happy ending feels like all there is.

In a nod to Saint-Germain's Christmas Story, both he and Hansel drop in on Cardia and Finis to check on how they're doing and what their plans are, though Finis is less than thrilled about it. Saint-Germain is relieved when Cardia tells him that the siblings plan on living out their days in rural Wales indefinitely.

We also get cameos from Sholmès and Watson, who are pursuing Moriarty/Aleister, who happens to stop by the Beckford manor to ask a question of Finis, his former boss. It's an excuse to show how Finis has changed, as he's willing to share his new outlook on life with Aleister (though he's too embarrassed to admit any of those feelings to his sister), but it's also a reminder that even though Finis has left his old life as the head of Twilight behind, he's still Isaac Beckford's creation.

And that's really where the story takes a much different tack than the rest of the stories in ~Wintertide Miracles~.

The remaining stories have a low level of danger, but in Finis's epilogue, London experiences a mysterious disaster that is causing buildings to collapse. Cardia and Finis aren't sure what's going on at first, being so remote that their local newspaper doesn't have the details, but they want to help, and that's when Idea steps in, in the form of Hansel.

Hansel tries to get them to peacefully stay at home, because it's the life they said they were going to live, and this causes them to realize that if he's preventing them from going, the disaster in London must be related to their father. And he comes clean about it, but admits that it's not really Cardia he's worried about (since her Horologium has been neutralized). Finis is the problem, because he has all of Isaac's memories. Conveniently, since we can't spend the whole game convincing an Idea hard-liner, Hansel caves relatively easily and even helps them to London by using the Forest of Fog that Idea uses to travel large distances.

We get to see cameos of the other characters since Lupin and company are obviously not going to stand idle while what turns out to be giant machines are wrecking London, and there are some good jokes about why a construction robot needs a cannon mounted on it (other than it makes for a menacing enemy!). Though this ultimately ends up being more of Finis's story than anyone else's, Cardia gets some really good moments.

Cardia is the one who thinks of getting Impey's ornithopter to head off the master robot, and she's the one who both pilots it and drops the bombs. While this feels well within anything Cardia does, it's sadly still refreshing to see an otome heroine this dynamic.

But it's Finis who jumps out of the ornithopter to land on the robot's head so he can get to the control panel and halt its commands to the other robots. We get to see Finis at his most vulnerable, when he hesitates to complete the command input. It's not because he is missing part of his father's knowledge, as Hansel suspects, but that he's saddened by the fact he has to destroy even more of his father's legacy. And if that's not enough, when he finally keys in the passcode, it's "my_dearest" as a reminder that Isaac Beckford had done everything to be reunited with his family.

In the end, Cardia and Finis come to realize that though their father was ultimately consumed by madness, there is a lot of good that he did for the world, and they spend their final pre-credit scene atop the wall around Steel London where Isaac once admired the view (in a nod to a plot detail from Lupin's After Story).

After the credits roll we're treated to a congratulations party for Finis, who has returned to work for the government to properly handle Isaac's legacy (no more malfunctioning giant robots). Idea's approved of his new work, so long as Hansel is part of the new Daybreak bureau for oversight, and Cardia happily announces to him that they're getting a new family member.

Given that this is a romance game, and Finis is all too aware that most of Cardia's companions are male, he immediately jumps to thinking she's getting married, but it's actually that the dog Sisi is joining their household so Cardia has someone to keep her company while Finis is at work. To be honest, I figured it was the dog, since the game wouldn't shoehorn in a canon love interest on a route where the player makes zero choices, so I pretty much stayed back and enjoyed Finis going around accusing various guys of impropriety or pondering whether they would try at all. Amusingly he dismisses Impey without even considering that he could be a candidate.

Other than the fact there are zero choices to be made on this route, I quite enjoyed it and would have liked to see what kind of future it would lead to. It's a bit odd that despite taking place six months after ~Guardian of Rebirth~ there is no snow, since temporally that places it concurrent with the Christmas stories, but I assume that was done to dodge the Christmas romance themes in the other routes.

Next week will be the last installment of VN Talk for ~Wintertide Miracles~, covering the Canterella side story, which I have to say is excellent.

Monday, June 3, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 7: Sholmès

This week I'm covering Sholmès's route for Code:Realize: ~Wintertide Miracles~. Please beware of spoilers if that concerns you as I'll be discussing everything up until the ending.

I have to admit that when I started Sholmès's epilogue it forced me to realize that I don't really remember the details of his ~Future Blessings~ route all that well. I remember the basic gist of his story with Moriarty/Aleister and how Cardia ended up at his house, but the epilogue opens with Sholmès reflecting on his relationship with Watson and how Mary ended up getting killed, and that was a detail I didn't remember all. I remembered that Watson's wife had died before the Sholmès route began, but couldn't recall exactly what Sholmès had done to contribute to to it, and his musings do nothing to refresh my memory.

I also hadn't liked Sholmès's route much due to heavily borrowing plot elements from Van Helsing's storyline, including the villain himself. Unfortunately he doesn't fare much better in his After Story either.

The epilogue picks up shortly after his route in ~Future Blessings~. Cardia is still poisonous, they want to fix that, and she's now working with Sholmès as his apprentice. The opening is a lot of fun since we get to see Cardia, Sholmès, and Watson mess around with Lupin and Impey (and Lupin and Impey mess around with them in turn). It adds another layer of character to Lupin and Sholmès's rivalry to have Cardia involved as well, and as a result, attempting to foil Lupin's heist feels a lot like a game between friends. Unfortunately this is the route's best foot forward and it's all downhill from here.

We get to see cameos of other members of the main cast (everyone except Saint-Germain really) and of course Victor gets involved again. He and Watson are working on trying to develop a cure for Cardia, but there's no Zicterium for him to work with this time, so thankfully the game avoids shoehorning Victor's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ solution into yet another After Story.

Sholmès himself is rather useless this route since he can't personally do anything to help Cardia except cheer her on since he's a detective, not a scientist. But he does a fair enough job of wining and dining her, and he does run into a convenient contact, who leaves him with a potion identical to the one used by the Count of Monte Cristo that will leave someone in a deathlike state without killing them. The contact's identity is intentionally hidden from the audience, but from context it's fairly easy to guess that it's his brother, Mycroft, who has not been used in prior games.

This potion turns out necessary because Cardia's Horologium (conveniently for the plot) reactivates and starts its more murderous transformation where she'll eventually explode and spread poison for miles around.

Since Victor and Watson believe they are at least a year away from rendering the Horologium harmless, they get help from Impey and Nemo of all people, to adapt the potion to one that should be safe for Cardia to take and revive from later. After some mushy talk with Sholmès, during which he proposes to her, she takes the potion and the credits roll.

Of course the route doesn't end like that, and the post-credits scene is after the year has passed and Cardia's condition has been successfully neutralized. But what I didn't like so much was that when Sholmès goes to wake her, he pretty much pulls a Victor by putting the wake-up medicine in his mouth before kissing her to wake her up. If Victor's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ ending hadn't already mouth-fed her medicine, it might have been all right, but Victor's did it first and it had a more compelling reason for him to do so other than he would think it's romantic. It also didn't help that the kiss illustration is posed almost identically, as if the artist couldn't be bothered to get a different angle.

What I did like though is that Cardia gives him crap about not letting her get her bearings after being asleep for a year because the first thing she wakes up to is finding his lips on hers. And I did like that we avoided a Victor and the Zicterium rehash. They just rehashed a different part of his route. But at least that gives us some reassurance that even if Victor had never gotten a hold of the remaining Zicterium, he would have eventually developed a cure as promised.

There are still two posts to go with Finis's epilogue and the Canterella side story. I will likely cover Finis next week, depending on whether I have the bandwidth for a more writing-related post. Because of the issues I've been dealing with, free time is very precious right now and I'm fortunate in that all these Code:Realize posts were actually written back in February/March when I played the game, so adding them to the blog is just a matter of formatting them and adding images.

Monday, May 27, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 6: Impey

Apologizes for taking so long with this. I had the Nebulas and a number of other personal things going on and somehow prepping these posts kept slipping by me these past few Sunday nights! If you'd like to catch up, you'll find the previous installments with Victor, Lupin, Van Helsing, and Saint-Germain here.

As before, this game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Alternate Story: First Christmas

I had low expectations for Impey, given that he was my least favorite route in ~Guardian of Rebirth~, which allowed them to be pleasantly thwarted when I finally played his Christmas story. As expected, he was really upset by Cardia leaving for Wales and made a big fuss over it, because Impey is nothing if not constantly declaring his love for her. But afterwards he became significantly more subdued, to the point that Saint-Germain asks him not if he loves Cardia, but why, which prompts Impey to do some unexpected soul searching.

On Cardia's side of the story, we finally learn why she falls in love with Impey in return, a key ingredient that was missing in their original romance. It turns out that Impey's constant assurance that he loves her, while initially meaningless, eventually convinced her that she was worthy of loving and being loved at a time when she still considered herself a monster. She attributes that in turn to her ability to save her brother Finis and allow him to know love as well.

Cardia doesn't quite understand why one love is different from another (leading to an amusing scene where she convinces Finis to tell her that he loves her and concludes that it just doesn't feel the same), but she figures out enough to know that Impey is important to her.

Impey's route leans into the humor, but oddly enough it's not as outright funny as Lupin's is. His usual amount of ham is toned down because he's trying to sort out his feelings for Cardia, causing him to at one point run away and pour his heart out to Nemo of all people about how he's feeling. (And Nemo dispensing deadpan serious relationship advice is the creepiest thing in this entire game.) Impey's still fond of the grand gestures though, such as when he plows through a blizzard to find Cardia because her train's been delayed.

There was only one point where I felt a bit bored, and that's when Impey comes back to Cardia after Nemo gives him a talking to and they just kind of meander around town. While other love interests do this with her on their route, it doesn't work on Impey's because of when the meandering happens. It's a pacing issue.

When she goes through town with Victor and Van Helsing, it's in the middle part of their Christmas stories, so there's no immediate expectation for an emotional payoff. However, on Impey's route, this happens after she asks him to tell her that he loves her (in a repeat of her experiment with Finis), and he refuses. So we expect that after he gets straightened out by Nemo he's going to come back and do the deed, not fart around town while quite obviously avoiding saying the l-word.

It picks up a little bit before the end when they eventually wind up at London's Crystal Palace, where Impey shows Cardia an exhibit dedicated to her late father and talks about how for all of Isaac's flaws he did a lot of good things, including being an inspiration to him. And it's only after they leave the exhibit that Impey finally confesses that he loves her, amidst fireworks prepped by Nemo of all people.

His route wasn't horrible, but because of the odd dip in the end, it felt just "okay" rather than great, which is too bad because I thought it had a promising start.

Special Epilogue

Unsurprisingly, of all the love interests, I also played Impey's Special Epilogue last. He still doesn't get to the moon. Rather he's busy with a lot of the World's Fair stuff that he did in exchange for getting Zicterium for Victor in his ~Future Blessings~ ending, so he's not home at the beginning. Cardia misses him, but figures she should be constructive and help him with his moon project, so she decides to head back to her old home in Wales to see if there's anything good in the books her father left behind.

She leaves a note for him so he won't worry if he comes home while she's away, but because she wants to surprise Impey with her research results, she doesn't want to say why she's going home. So she just leaves a note saying that she's gone back to her parent's house. And that's it.

Poor Impey comes home, finds the note, and freaks out thinking that he's neglected her so much that she'd gotten pissed off and gone back to her old house. It was great. I suppose it's a bit mean of me, but Impey works best as comic relief, and this is totally a misunderstanding that would happen.

In fact, when he finally chases her down to Wales, the game resumes from Cardia's perspective and she hears footsteps have entered the house in the middle of the night. No one else should be here so the player is presented with a choice to either wait and assess the situation, or deliver a preemptive attack on whoever enters the room. I knew it was Impey, so I assessed the situation to get the good option first, but you better believe I later reloaded to give Impey a karate chop to the face.

It was worth it, especially to see Impey freaking out as he wonders if Cardia is now so pissed off that she wants to physically attack him.

Eventually they get things sorted out and he reveals that he brought her a wedding ring because they hadn't gotten them yet, despite the wedding. This felt like an odd retroactive omission to me, though they wouldn't be the first couple I know who got married first and picked up rings later. Cardia's ring has a base with no stone though, and initially I thought it was because they're supposed to pick up the stone from the moon, but no, it's so she can hold up the ring and the moon "fits" in the empty space.

I was less impressed by that, though Impey suggests they can make new rings with stones from the moon once they get there, which is sort of what I was thinking, but why new rings at all? Maybe this is just another reason why Impey and I don't click, but all in all his Special Epilogue was fun (even if it was mostly due to Impey bashing) so it wasn't a bad way to end the game.

Even though his Special Epilogue is the last event I played due to the nature of the Special Epilogues unlocking at the very end, there are still more posts to come. Next week is Sholmès's regular epilogue.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"All Times, All At Once" Is Out In Intergalactic Medicine Show

My latest short story "All Times, All At Once" is now out in the April 2018 issue of Intergalactic Medicine Show. You might have already heard if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook. This issue seemed to be running late, but the good thing is it's now available to readers.

Currently a subscription is required, but it will become available for free later this year after the magazine ceases publication. Unfortunately, this is IGMS's penultimate issue and I'm sorry to be losing such a good market. This is my second time appearing there and my second time getting the cover art as well. I've been very fortunate in that regard.

"All Times, All At Once" is set in the far future when humanity has colonized the stars, but in some places, the stars are definitely "not right" as the crew aboard the Starfish quickly learns when they answer a colony's distress signal. If you love the idea of space colonies, Lovecraftian fiction, and Chinese food, this may be up your alley!

I know I missed a post with my Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ VN Talk series last week. Sorry about that. I'll pick up with Impey next week.

Monday, April 22, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 5: Saint-Germain

This week,I'll be covering Saint-Germain's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

This game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

I enjoyed Saint-Germain's Christmas story. Like Van Helsing, his circumstances post-game on Finis's route are significantly different than in his own. For one thing, Saint-Germain is still an Apostle of Idea and immortal. His route also starts earlier than everyone else's, so it hasn't started snowing yet, but it serves as an excellent way to show how Saint-Germain handles the passage of time. (I'd guess it starts in late summer or early autumn, since it's enough time for people to have parted ways and for Saint-Germain to get bored in the lead-up to Christmas.)

Omnibus unexpectedly tells him that he's to take a break following the successful end to Code:Realize, and he quite frankly doesn't know what to do with himself. The mansion is empty since Victor started his clinic, Cardia and Finis moved out, Van Helsing and Delly are looking for surviving vampires, and Lupin and Impey have taken a trip to France. Saint-Germain suddenly realizes that after living in a bustling household these past few months, it's kinda lonely once it's just him again, and no amount of distraction cleaning is going to fix that.

From there, his story is rather simple. He decides that he's going to have to throw a Christmas party so that everyone has a reason to come back again (especially Cardia), but he also ropes in the other Apostles to help him do the prep work, so there's some fun seeing Hansel and Guinevere (outside her armor!) making Christmas decorations.

Everyone comes back, chaos ensues (with a bang, because Impey crashes the ornithopter into the house), and Saint-Germain feels blessed to have such chaos in his life again. He's so happy about it that the rest of the gang can't help feeling that he's acting strange.

There are two things that I didn't quite like about though. The first of those is that like Van Helsing, there is history between Saint-Germain and Finis. And it's recent. No matter what the route is, Saint-Germain always kills Finis in Isaac's laboratory and Saint-German dreads meeting Finis again because it's hard to let bygones be bygones when it involves stabbing the aggrieved party in the heart.

Saint-Germain acknowledges this, but Finis surprisingly doesn't make a big deal out if it. I get that the writers might have felt it was too close to Van Helsing's talk with Finis in his own Christmas story, but the situation is reversed with Saint-Germain, where he is the one who did the wronging. It was nothing personal, but he still did it. Instead Finis brushes it off in a single line and it never comes up again.

The other matter that didn't quite work for me was the romance between him and Cardia. Saint-Germain is very difficult to get to know (with good reason) prior to the route split, and given that the rest of his route doesn't happen in this timeline, I found it hard to believe Cardia would be interested in him. Him liking Cardia was fine, but I don't see why Cardia would have fallen in love with him in return. Whereas most other routes she's usually described as mooning over the guy by name, or clearly into him, this time around Finis finds her reading some alchemical treatise Saint-Germain wrote a couple centuries ago, which doesn't feel like a sign of puppy love.

Interestingly, his route also has a number of references to the After Stories in ~Future Blessings~. Even though those stories don't happen here, due to being in a different timeline, the circumstances leading up to them still do. So we have mentions of his friendship with Trismegistus, as well as the fact Idea had been looking at Victor Frankenstein as a potential recruit. When Saint-Germain considers whether he can have a future with Cardia, he tells her that he would be uncomfortable with the idea of her welcoming him home after he's killed someone on a mission, which is the argument he gave Victor when trying to convince him not to join Idea in Victor's After Story. These references don't affect the plot, but it's nice to see them woven into more of the common continuity that should be shared no matter which route eventually happens.

The ending is a bit unexpected, considering that Saint-Germain is still an Apostle and thus has a duty he cannot retire from, but Omnibus stops by the Christmas party to let him know that she never did tell him how long his break is supposed to be. Being that they're immortal, she's figuring on ten, twenty, or maybe even a hundred years, which makes it clear that she's freeing Saint-Germain to live a normal lifespan with Cardia before he has to go back to work.

I'm guessing since Cardia is poison-free in the best way in following Finis's route, there's no reason she might eventually revert like in Victor's After Story, though the game neglects to mention she might have a longer than human lifespan. Considering the nods to other timelines, it's a little surprising this wasn't addressed in some fashion.

Special Epilogue

Saint-Germain's Special Epilogue picks up with him and Cardia returning to London after having visited his hometown at the end of ~Future Blessings~. It's been a year so her poison is gone and the Horologium has changed to white, indicating that it's completely drained/neutralized in the same fashion as Lupin and Finis's endings. Because of this, Omnibus says Idea will no longer look after them and they have her blessing to get married. The danger that Cardia once posed is completely gone.

Perhaps for a change of pace (and to avoid reusing too much of the same scenery), Saint-Germain reveals that he's purchased the Gracia, the boat from the Lupin Gang side story in ~Future Blessings~, and had it rebuilt for his wedding with Cardia. Since they've been globetrotting, having their union celebrated on a boat seems appropriate.

The Special Epilogue draws parallels between Saint-Germain and Cardia as outcasts and thus how they are an unusual pair. Saint-Germain should have died a couple thousand of years ago, but has instead been living as an immortal in the shadows, and Cardia was born a poisonous monster. Now both of them have left the darkness of their previous lives and are about to move on to happier lives in the light. (Since in this ending, Saint-Germain is no longer an Apostle.)

It also brings out the fact that though the Apostles of Idea are a merciless organization, for better or worse, they are family. Since everyone else dies around them and their organization exists only in the barest of rumors, the only people the Apostles can confide in are each other.

Hansel also makes an appearance in this route, though Cardia hasn't met him in this timeline so they need to go through a short introduction. I kind of wish we'd gotten a fourth named Apostle, but I can understand not wanting to do that for a bit part, and the Cantarella side story had enough going on without introducing another one (aside from the fact it happens prior to the Idea reveal).

The Saint-Germain Special Epilogue is a nice send-off, and ties up remaining loose ends, but otherwise is not too remarkable.

As a side note: I'd mentioned that in ~Future Blessings~ there seemed to be a new translator or editor involved because of the inconsistent terminology, and that seems to have been the case here as well. The majority of the game appears uniform, but Saint-Germain's Christmas and Special Epilogue routes feel just a little stilted. This happens in a couple others routes as well, but Saint-Germain is particularly impacted since this affects both his routes.

Usually Aksys does a good job in making the dialogue feel like it was originally written by a native English speaker, but some of the lines on these routes felt like a more literal translation I would see in a fan translation than a professional one. Like it wasn't necessarily wrong, but you probably wouldn't choose that wording if English was your native language. In a few cases the sentences themselves weren't even grammatically correct, like we have the first half of a thought, but not the second. And we end up with "Idea's Apostles" again even though "Apostles of Idea" is the more common wording. I'm really surprised that there wasn't a glossary of some kind for the translation/editing team to ensure consistency.

Monday, April 15, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 4: Van Helsing

This week,I'll be covering Van Helsing's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

This game is still less than a year old, so here's your spoiler warning!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

Van Helsing might actually have my favorite of the Christmas stories, which I'm surprised by since I found his original ~Guardian of Rebirth~ route to be unbalanced. Cardia's personal story more or less vanished so the story could focus on Helsing's personal pain. But this turned out to be the alternate universe that I didn't know I wanted.

As with the other Christmas stories, it begins from his perspective, saying goodbye to Cardia without expressing his feelings for her. Though, being Van Helsing, he's not entirely ready to acknowledge that he has those feelings at all.

It's been about six months since they put a stop to Isaac Beckford's Code: Realize plan, and Van Helsing has been trying to let go of vengeance.

The important thing to note in this route is that Van Helsing does not know the truth about the murder of his family or how he was artificially enhanced to become the "Human Weapon." That's because the Christmas story is based on Finis's route, and not Lupin's or his own.

This means that while he's attracted to Cardia, he's also well aware that the target of his vengeance is her brother, who she has finally reclaimed as a part of her family. In fact, he takes their farewell conversation as a warning from Cardia to butt-out so she can live her life with her brother, which he supposes is reasonable.

As with his endings on other routes, Van Helsing now spends his time working with Delacroix II to form a sanctuary where vampires can live undisturbed. Having Delly around has smoothed a lot of Van Helsing's rough edges, and it's nice seeing him smile a lot more, even though he doesn't see how someone like him can possibly be allowed a happy future.

But because he himself was a target of Delly's vengeance, and Delly is no longer seeking to exact it, his companion turns out to be the perfect sounding board for Van Helsing's confusion over how to feel about Finis. Van Helsing killed Delly's parents, and yet he's now Delly's trusted companion.

Interestingly, Delly doesn't brush off his concerns or say that Van Helsing is inherently a good person so none of what he did matters. He admits that in some ways he really does want to kill Van Helsing, and that feeling hasn't gone away, but he's come to recognize that letting him live is power too. Delly draws a distinction between vengeance causing a person to hate, and hate that demands vengeance, and he refuses to let himself fall for the latter, a lesson that Van Helsing takes to heart.

When Van Helsing finally does meet up with Finis at the house he shares with Cardia, they similarly have a private conversation during which Finis admits that he should pay for what happened to Val Helsing's family, since as the leader of Twilight whatever it was clearly happened on his watch. However, he can't pay with his life because that would make Cardia sad after all the lengths she went to reclaim him. Van Helsing gives Finis a punch and admits it doesn't really do anything to take away the pain, and Finis is sympathetic, knowing that Van Helsing has been carrying around his pain for years so obviously one punch isn't going to fix it. But then Helsing takes Delly's route, and tells Finis to live his life as payment.

The game easily could have gone for the simple route, having Van Helsing mooning over Cardia (and he does a bit of it to be sure), but I really appreciate the acknowledgement that this timeline is different and allowing Van Helsing to grow and explore as a person after his story is supposed to be done.

And the ending isn't too shabby either. Since Van Helsing isn't the type to walk up and confess his feelings, we instead get Cardia confessing hers, after having a talk with all the other guys, who help her recognize that what she's feeling is love. This is topped off with her notifying Van Helsing that the rest of the men feel entitled to punch him once apiece. He of course takes it in stride, with the exception that he might punch Impey back, without restraint.

Special Epilogue

On the other hand, Van Helsing's Special Epilogue is rather disappointing. It's not that he's being bad so much as it feels like the writers really didn't know what they wanted to do after his proposal to Cardia at the end of ~Future Blessings~. There's a cute scene of them shopping for a wedding dress together and then Cardia's at the chapel with Shirley, who is helping her get ready.

Since Cardia isn't used to walking in heels, she figures she'll get some practice in before the ceremony and leaves her dressing room. Shortly thereafter, she encounters some strange men in black suits who adamantly insist on taking her away by carriage. Not wanting to start a fight where she could be at a disadvantage, she goes with them while looking for a moment of weakness to escape.

Van Helsing finds out about this and pretty much goes on a rage trip to get his bride back. He gets to punch some bodies around and be his violent self, at least until the truth comes out in that Cardia was mistaken for another woman who hadn't shown up for her play rehearsal. (The scene was a wedding, so naturally she would be in a wedding dress.) The guys sent to get her found Cardia instead and dragged her along and apparently none of them knew any better.

The problem I have with this is that all the guys involved with the play had to be a bunch of idiots to not 1) ask Cardia for her name to make sure they found the right person (she was outside a church in a wedding dress so there was a good chance she was the bride of an actual wedding) and 2) not notice something was horribly wrong once they got to the church and she wasn't acting in character or as if she knew anything about what was going on.

And from the writing end of things, all the dialogue is written to obfuscate the fact that everyone involved is either an actor or part of the stage crew. This is to make it look like some random brute is forcing Cardia to marry him (for some reason). There isn't a single line that says something like "Rehearsal started an hour ago! Where were you?!" which you think would make sense.

Finally, the fact the play they're doing is in a church is just odd. It needed to be for Cardia and Van Helsing to have the reactions they do, but from the perspective of the people putting on the play it makes no sense, because unless the audience is in the pews as participants, there would be no place to sit.

The wedding artwork of Cardia and Van Helsing is very nice, and there's a good amount of Impey bashing on Helsing's part, but the plot itself is pretty idiotic.

Monday, April 8, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 3: Lupin

This week, we move on to Lupin's route for Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~, covering both his Christmas story and his Special Epilogue.

As an important note, my commentary on Lupin's Special Epilogue will also include Cantarella side story spoilers. While I always warn that my commentary on new games contain spoilers while the game is less than a year old, it's possible someone might be willing to view Lupin spoilers, but not Cantarella ones, so just in case...! You've been warned.

Afternate Story: First Christmas

I found I enjoyed Lupin's Christmas story a lot more than I thought I would due to the healthy dose of humor involved. Like Victor, Lupin failed to confess his true feelings to Cardia before she returned to Wales with her brother, Finis, and ever since he's been feeling a little down in the dumps. But being a gentleman thief, this has a greater consequence as his daring thefts have gotten sloppy and he's nearly caught due to his constant mooning over Cardia.

His friends recognize something is wrong with him as well, as he's getting pretty listless in his civilian life. Eventually Lupin has to acknowledge that he's gotten really bad when Sholmès of all people points out that he's not being his usual self.

For anyone disappointed in how smooth Lupin is in his previous romantic appearances, his Christmas story is nice because he is so plainly out of sorts and unable to hide it. He tries writing to Cardia to arrange a visit, but his letter writing is crap and his first attempt ends up being a phantom thief-style calling card. I actually thought it was pretty good and completely in character! She would understand! Another attempt of his is so spicy he can picture Cardia's embarrassment and his resulting secondhand embarrassment is so strong he chastises himself for writing such an awful confession.

When he finally sends a letter and he doesn't get a response from her, his anxiety goes through the roof and he begins to wonder if she could possibly have met another man in Wales. While he acknowledges that he could tolerate her falling in love with another member of their crew (and it's plain from Saint-German's ~Future Blessings~ route that Lupin does stuff down his feelings if she gets involved with someone else in their group), he can't tolerate the idea of her falling in love with some random guy off the street.

Since sulking isn't befitting a gentleman thief such as himself, Lupin decides the best thing is to just drop in her, even if it's unannounced, and then he start behaving more or less like his dashing self again, showing up as Santa Claus (complete with Sisi as a reindeer) and disabling the defenses to Cardia's house, much to Finis's chagrin.

And this eventually results in Cardia and Finis traveling back to London with Lupin to spend Christmas with their friends. He keeps trying to find a moment to confess his feelings to her, but the timing sucks and he keeps getting interrupted, to the point that he throws his hands up and runs away from the party with her so they can have some private time. (When his third time's the charm attempt to confess is still interrupted, you have to feel a little sorry for the guy.)

Then he finally confesses, they kiss, and I like that there is some discussion on what to do in the future if they have a long term relationship. Since Cardia is living with Finis and they have no other family, she wants to take his situation into consideration, so it would not be straightforward for her to pack up and move back to London. Lupin says that there's also option of him moving to Wales with them, which I like, though I don't know how Finis would feel about that.

For the most part I enjoyed this route because of all the different ways Lupin was getting frustrated, both before and after reuniting with Cardia, but there is one element of the route that didn't quite work for me.

There were two components to the communication problem between Lupin and Cardia. The first was that Lupin wasn't receiving Cardia's answers, which is what we know from the first half of the story told from his point of view. Once we get her POV, we learn that she hasn't been getting any letters as well. So for a month, both of them have been completely without word from each other or, in Cardia's case, anyone from London.

Once Lupin arrives in Wales, we learn the reason his letters never got to Cardia, and it's a good comedic scenario, making use of Impey as everyone's favorite butt-monkey. It's completely in character for Impey to be sending Cardia a mountain of love letters that Finis would eventually get tired of delivering (since it's his job to get the mail) and for Lupin's letters to accidentally get mixed in. That's an easy enough explanation, and worth a chuckle.

What doesn't make sense, is the reverse scenario, where Cardia's mail doesn't get to Lupin. Even though she never wrote a reply to his letters, she still wrote regardless because everyone at Saint-Germain's mansion is one of her friends, and people stopped replying.

It turns out that Saint-Germain, Impey, and Victor were withholding mail on their end to drive Lupin and Cardia crazy enough to act on their romance. And while that certainly did the job for Lupin, it feels rather mean to do the same for Cardia, who is not as cognizant of her own emotions. It's clear that Cardia's letters were group letters and not intentionally directed to any particular person, so not answering her, especially with the upcoming holiday season, feels rather jerkish, even though it works out in the end.

Special Epilogue

Lupin's Special Epilogue turned out to be a fair bit of fun, especially compared to his lackluster ~Future Blessings~ one. Taking place three years after ~Guardian of Rebirth~, Cardia is curious about Lupin's parents and what they were like, so he takes her to France as a belated honeymoon.

Since Lupin's an orphan, the one he considers his father is his mentor, Theophraste, who we finally were introduced to by name in the Cantarella side story. Of course, Theophraste is also dead, so part of their honeymoon turns out to be a visit to his grave, but Lupin pays his respects, letting his mentor know that he stopped Code:Realize and that he rescued Cardia.

From conversation with Lupin, Cardia learns that there were children Theophraste couldn't save before leaving Twilight and makes the connection between what he learned on the job and her dead clones, which ties in nicely with what we learn about him in the Cantarella side story.

To be honest, I was hoping a bit for a Cantarella and Miles cameo since they went to France at the end of her side story, and they were such great characters that I wish there was something else that acknowledged their existence (rather than more Gordon family cameos).

But Lupin's route does have a fun diversion in that Inspector Ganimard (from the original Lupin stories) gets a cameo appearance where he shows up at the gravesite with a bunch of police to try to catch Lupin. He's described as a French version of Leonhart. I'm not sure if that matches the man from the original novels, but it's nice to see a nod to the literary Lupin's thorn in the side.

Though nothing of consequence happens in the Special Epilogue, it was a good send off to have Cardia and Lupin up to thiefy shenanigans in France.

Monday, April 1, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 2: Victor

Victor was my favorite love interest in the previous Code: Realize games, so I decided that I'd play his routes first whenever the opportunity game up, be it a Triangle Date (covered last week) or a more meaty route designed for a longer play session. This entry is split up into two sections, one covering his First Christmas story, and the other his Special Epilogue, which is normally only unlockable after completing all Christmas stories, side stories, and regular epilogues.

Here's your warning. There are spoilers below!

Afternate Story: First Christmas

Victor's Christmas story takes a different route from both his and Lupin's ~Guardian of Rebirth~ endings in that he doesn't return to Queen Victoria's service. Instead it's like the other endings where he starts a clinic in the poor part of London as a doctor. This allows him to be in different circumstances, where he's busy, but surrounded by the less fortunate. Surprisingly we also have cameo appearances from members of the Gordon Family from ~Future Blessings~. This threw me off a bit initially since they don't show up in Finis's route, but they're still part of this timeline since their story would have taken place during the ~Guardian of Rebirth~ common route.

A lot of Victor's Christmas story takes place from his perspective, which I found I enjoyed. Among the potential love interests, Victor is a relatively normal person and the only one still with a living set of parents. (He also gets Finis's seal of approval as the "most acceptable" of the men around Cardia.)

One day in December, Victor gets a letter from his mother in Switzerland and he realizes she's probably been worried because of the whole thing where he got declared a terrorist and hooked up with a band of thieves. While there is that, her letter also tells him that he should consider settling down and getting married.

Victor means to tell his mother that he will when he finds someone, but ends up writing about all his time with Cardia, which results in his parents misinterpreting his letter as Victor saying that he's in a serious relationship. His parents decide to visit for Christmas to meet him and his wife-to-be. Victor naturally freaks out and this sets the stage for the rest of his Christmas story.

Given that it's getting close to Christmas, and that he's in England and his parents are en route from Switzerland, I'm not surprised that telling them to stay home due to a misunderstanding is not an option. They're on their way and no letter will reach them in time. But he handles this poorly by running over to Wales to see Cardia and asking if she can pretend to be his significant other until Christmas. Of course he really would prefer she was his significant other for real, but is afraid of rejection.

And of course this being a romance game, when he asks her to help him, the wording comes out in a way that Cardia initially thinks Victor is reciprocating her attraction to him, only for him to stomp over the whole thing because he's asking her to fake it. Thankfully, Cardia recognizes that she's being asked to do something really stupid, and the narration does an effective job at conveying how pissed off she is even though she's not breaking his face at the moment. (You know she's upset when she intends to use a move Van Helsing taught her on Victor if he so much as moves.)

After hearing him out, she agrees help him under two conditions: that she goes to London immediately with him, instead of coming in Christmas Day to meet his parents, and that they actually pretend to be a couple in the days leading up to it instead of just while meeting his parents. She figures this way she'll at least get the satisfaction of seeing what it would be like if they really were in a relationship, and I like that she finds a way to use Victor's dumb idea for her own ends.

Probably the most entertaining part of their fake dating is meeting up with the rest of their friends in an attempt to fool them. Because if they can't fool their friends, how can they fool Victor's parents? Despite Victor's overacting, Lupin and company (barring Impey) take the news as if it's completely natural that Victor and Cardia are in a relationship. Their level of non-surprise makes the scene a lot funnier than it would have been if they had expressed any level of disbelief.

The rest Victor and Cardia's prep time together is charming (barring an underwhelming restaurant scene). She gets mistaken for his wife by his patients, and the ice skating scene is cute since it allows Victor to be proficient in something unexpected. He's good at ice skating due to having grown up doing it every winter in Switzerland.

But eventually, as they're waiting at the train station for his parents to arrive, the fact that their "dating" is going to end soon gets to both of them and Victor decides to tell her how he truly feels, that he loves her and that he wants a family with her. Cardia is pleasantly shocked and reciprocates, so when his parents finally arrive, the two greet them as an actual couple, and it's fun seeing how she looks at them and Victor to see what a family is like, since her own situation has been so messed up.

Though I like Victor a lot, and found his scenarios pretty strong in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and ~Future Blessings~ I didn't find that the case here. I wasn't too fond of the deception angle or the overacting. I also found the constant use of the term "significant other" to be jarring. This is Victorian England so I can understand not wanting to use "girlfriend" which didn't gain its current meaning until the 1920s, but "significant other" didn't come into play until the 1940s, which is even later. It really feels like the game should have used "fiancée" instead, since Victor's parents are assuming they're getting married and the term was part of the English language back then.

I also disliked that neither Victor nor Cardia talk about what to do after their charade is over. Of course it turns out not to be a charade, which is how it gets its happy ending, but supposing that they kept up the act and never discussed anything further, what was supposed to happen afterwards? Victor's parents would surely ask what happened to the girl he was supposed to marry sooner or later.

Special Epilogue

After spending so much time in alternate timelines, it was a bit of a shock to return to the original started in ~Guardian of Rebirth~. Even though I knew this was a continuation of Victor's ~Future Blessings~ After Story, I felt like I was experiencing things out of order.

I can see why the Special Epilogues are only unlocked after nearly everything else, because they're short and the player might feel cheated if the epilogues were viewed as part of the main event (they feel only slightly longer than a Triangle Date), but I think if that was conveyed ahead of time, the best play order would really be to play the Special Epilogues ahead of the Christmas stories so that the player's brain only has to go one "reset" instead of jumping back and forth between timelines.

When we last left Cardia and Victor in ~Future Blessings~, they were already living together as a married couple in all but name, and ~Wintertide Miracles~ makes it pretty clear that they consider themselves husband and wife even though they never had a wedding ceremony, which turns out to be the story of the epilogue.

Victor is accidentally reminded by the employees of their new laboratory that he and Cardia never formally tied the knot, and he ends up feeling bad that it got overlooked between all the stuff with Idea last time and setting up the research that will give her a human lifespan. How Cardia feels about that is up to the player. She can tell him it's okay that they never had a wedding, or let him know she wants one.

Either way, Victor will run through hoops to get one set up as quickly as possible, and due to it being wedding season, the only place they end up being able to use is no less than St. Paul's Cathedral, thanks to Queen Victoria reopening it in time for them to use. It's pretty funny considering that St. Paul's Cathedral was Twilight's headquarters in Code:Realize, and the game even comments on that, but it mostly does it as a bit of trivia from Cardia's perspective, because she never goes to Twilight headquarters on Victor's route. Though if she had, and had been traumatized by it, she would probably be less likely to want her wedding there.

Though there's not a lot of meat on the Special Epilogue, I did find it in character for Victor to get distracted and not get around to having the wedding, but I found it odd that we missed the transition to when they started considering themselves married. You'd think the topic of a wedding would have come up then.

I did like, though, that they included some of the traditional English language wedding vows in the dialogue, since that gets skipped over in most of the wedding scenarios.

Monday, March 25, 2019

VN Talk: Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ - Part 1: Overview

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

Platform: PS Vita (also on PS4)
Release: 2019

I feel incredibly fortunate that the second Code:Realize fandisk made it to the US. It's unprecedented from an otome localization perspective, because being a fandisk, it's not geared towards new players at all. In fact it expects players to have completed not only the original Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ but the previous fandisk Code:Realize ~Future Blessings~ as well. It's not a good place to start with the series, but it's a fulfilling piece of fanservice for those who want more of the characters. (And if you want to try otome at all, Code:Realize: ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is my all time favorite and I highly recommend it.)

Rather than an overarching story, Code:Realize ~Wintertide Miracles~ is divided into different types of scenarios; Triangle Dates, Christmas stories set after the Finis route from ~Future Blessings~, epilogues to Finis and Sholmès' routes from ~Future Blessings~, a new side story that happens during the common route of ~Guardian of Rebirth~, and special epilogues for the original five love interests based off their ~Guardian of Rebirth~ endings. As I did with ~Future Blessings~ I'll break this discussion up into multiple posts centered around each love interest with separate posts for Finis and the new side story.

There will be some spoilers for triangle dating (which is plot-lite) in this overview post, but the major spoilers related to the actual routes will be withheld for the more detailed entries. For ease of discussion purposes, the special epilogues in the original timeline will be grouped with the Christmas stories, just so I can talk about the same characters in the same posts, even it's not possible to play those stories in that order.

When starting a new game the player is greeted an interface that resembles a Christmas tree, with the different story options being presented as gifts or ornaments. Unfortunately the player's view starts at the top of the tree, making the Triangle Date the first option the player will see. This is probably the fluffiest, least impactful of portion of the game, and it probably should have been pushed elsewhere rather than being presented first, because it's not possible to dive deeply into any of it.

The Alternate Stories: First Christmas, is more likely where the player will want to start, and these are in the middle of the tree. The Christmas stories are ~Wintertide Miracles~' solution to address the fact that all five love interests from Guardian of Rebirth have already achieved their happy endings with Cardia. ~Future Blessings~ struggled, not always successfully, to give the committed couples worthy epilogues. So what ~Wintertide Miracles~ does is puts the courtship back into play by setting its Alternate Stories after the Finis route in ~Future Blessings~ where the Guardian of Rebirth romances never happened. It's like a rewind button to allow everyone to confess their love to Cardia again, except this time during more peaceful times since they're no longer in danger.

At the bottom of the tree, presented as Christmas gifts, are the new Cantarella side story and the two epilogues to the Finis and Sholmès routes in ~Future Blessings~. The special epilogues appear on the main menu after completing the middle and bottom sections of the Christmas tree (triangle dates don't need to be completed as I hadn't completed two of the "secret" dates before they unlocked).

For the rest of this post I'm going to discuss the Triangle Dates, and while they're not the most fulfilling part of the game, I've found them to be a nice way to fill a half hour to an hour with some fluff.

Triangle Date

The triangle dates don't take place on any established route, in fact they might even contradict each other, but in general they make four assumptions.

1) Whatever danger there was is over.

2) Cardia has been cured of her poison.

3) The main cast is still living at Saint-Germain's mansion.

4) Cardia has not formed a committed relationship with anyone.

It feels like an alt-universe ending of ~Guardian of Rebirth~ where Cardia managed to stop her father's plot and become cured of her poison. This setup allows her to interact with any two of the main love interests as chosen by the player. Only those characters and Cardia show up during the scenario, which is not really a date so much as an excuse for the three of them to interact.

The comedy is dialed up and characters might be slightly out of character to make the scenario funny, but since they aren't part of the main storyline they ultimately don't mean much beyond what you see.

The Triangle Dates vary in quality and the amount of romance, ranging from obviously flirting to non-existent, but I didn't find any of them particularly bad. Some of them might even have been good additions to a more canon timeline, such as Cardia's trip back to Wales with Lupin and Impey so she can place a memorial to her father.

What the Triangle Dates are good for though is letting the player see another side of the various characters that might not otherwise come out. Most notably, we see a lot more jealousy between the men than we usually get. Saint-Germain actually tries to sabotage Lupin's attempt to give Cardia flowers, and Victor grows a strong enough backbone to let Lupin know that he's not giving up on Cardia without a fight.

On the other hand, a few scenarios are fairly platonic. Victor and Van Helsing's joint scenario results in Victor and Cardia nearly getting trapped by Van Helsing during his attempt to share his cooking with them (which we know from previous games is terrible), but they manage to turn it around by having Cardia cook instead to thank Van Helsing for all his help. The three then turn the event into a picnic that has a couple of romantic gestures, but neither of the men behave as if threatened by the other or comments on what the other is doing.

In general, Lupin and Saint-Germain tend to spar with whichever man shares the scenario with them (with the exception that Lupin does not feel threatened by Impey and Saint-Germain's outing with Victor is similarly friendly). Van Helsing only fights with Lupin and Saint-Germain because they start it, and Impey and Victor mostly get along with everybody.

There are also three "secret" triangle dates, which aren't really secrets (since the game tells you how to access them), so much as scenarios involving preset side characters. If you wanted to see what Nemo looks like without his glasses on, this is your chance, though I'm a little disappointed that the game does not include Aleister in the CG shot since he's part of the scenario.

For those disappointed that Watson was not a love interest in ~Future Blessings~, you might feel a little better in that he's part of a secret Triangle Date scenario, but he's mostly there to be an overprotective father figure despite being the same age as Sholmès. His scenario is also weird just because he's paired with Hansel (not Sholmès). The two have never interacted before in game and Hansel is already an eccentric personality, so the "date" goes about as well as you'd expect.

Surprisingly neither Sholmès nor Finis have anything to do with the triangle dates, not even as part of a secret pairing.

Next week I'll diving into Victor's routes. Given how much I enjoyed him in ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and ~Future Blessings~, would I ever pick anyone else?