Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Idea Factory/Design Factory
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
It's the time of year where we talk about miracles, so here's one more to consider: Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~.
Just all of it, in its entirety. If that sounds like I'm painting with a broad brush…well, I am. Not too long ago I basically wrote off the entire visual novel genre. Based on my limited experience, I was convinced that the category as a whole was full of unlikable characters doing stupid things in the service of convoluted, difficult-to-follow plots. Code: Realize has made me, er, realize that it doesn't have to be that way; it's entirely possible for a game to firmly place itself within the confines of the genre, while at the same time — to put it very bluntly — not suck.
It should come as no surprise that it achieves this not-so-difficult feat simply by sticking to the kind of standards that have made people want to read regular novels for centuries. The characters are interesting, and they interact like relatively normal people, rather than competing to see who can be the most obnoxious to everyone else. It shouldn't feel revolutionary when a game is capable of going a couple of minutes without one character insulting another, or one character looking horribly stupid, or all kinds of (insert an identity here)-phobic comments being tossed about…and yet, after seeing all those things happen in the likes of Amnesia Memories and Steins;Gate and even Hatoful Boyfriend, for Code: Realize to not resort to such cheap tactics comes off as a breath of fresh air.
What's even more impressive and important, however, is the way Code: Realize uses those engaging characters to tell a story. It's not a particularly complex tale when you boil it all down to its most basic elements, and yet the way it's told makes you want to keep reading. Maybe that be attributed to the fact that Code: Realize doesn't have some crazy mythology to weave into its plotlines, and that it aspires to be nothing more than a simple romance (sorry, an "otome" romance), but it works. I started off the game feeling incredibly skeptical, and yet, every time I picked it up, I found it harder and harder to put down. In the grand scheme of things it's no literary masterpiece, to be sure, yet by the very modest standards against which I was judging the game, it got me surprisingly hooked.
It's quite possible, of course, that the reason I enjoyed Code: Realize so much was precisely because of those modest standards, and that if I were coming at the game from a purely objective point of view I may have liked it a little (or a lot) less. And to that I say…probably, yes. But that's what I'm getting at, ultimately: in my (again, fairly limited) experience, most of Code: Realize's peers don't achieve a fraction of what this game does, and they did so by ignoring what's worked for hundreds and hundreds of years. It may be a simple thing — but as Code: Realize shows, simple can really work.