Man v. Otome: Settling down for some quality reading time with Code: Realize

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In March of last year, I made the bold suggestion that men should play more otome games, before promptly attempting to take my own advice and starting on Code: Realize.

Far from being “girls’ games”, otome visual novels are, in fact, a distinct breed of narrative-centric interactive entertainment that anyone can enjoy — and they feature some of the most interesting, ambitious and hard-hitting stories in all of gaming. I was immediately struck by this the moment I began reading Code: Realize, and the story was drawing me right in. The characters were interesting, the setup was just the right blend of compelling and ridiculous, and I very much liked the setting.

Code: Realize

Then, as things tend to go, I kind of fell out of the habit of reading it partway through Victor Frankenstein’s route. Other games showed up and demanded my attention, and I found it difficult to make time for Code: Realize. It remained at the back of my mind, though, taunting me, reminding me that I’d left it tantalisingly unfinished. And, despite the fact I had failed to make time for it thus far, I still wanted to finish it.

To go off on a mild tangent, part of my reason for leaving it on the back burner for so long is something that doubtless some of you will be familiar with: the idea of “analysis paralysis” when confronting a large number of possibilities for what you might want to do with your free time. This is a common side-effect of anxiety, where you constantly feel like you “should” be doing something, even if there’s no real rational reason to say that you “should” be doing anything in particular — it’s your free time, after all.

When my brain gets into a cycle like that, it starts thinking “visual novels are long and involved, and if I get stuck into one I won’t have time to play other things, so I should just leave it until I’ve finished everything else I want to play”. Unfortunately that “everything else I want to play” consists of shelves upon shelves of fantastic games for a variety of platforms, and so following this thought through to its natural conclusion means I’d never get to those visual novels I’ve been meaning to explore for ages.

Code: Realize

So last night, I gave my brain a good, hard slap and reminded it that although reading a visual novel can be challenging if the subject matter is heavy, and that indeed, some visual novels can be very long indeed, it is, on the whole, a fairly minimal-effort means of enjoying some quality entertainment.

So rather than staring at the wall for several hours before playing Daytona USA for the umpteenth time this week “because it’s late now and I shouldn’t get into anything too involved”, I popped Code: Realize back into my Switch for the first time in quite a while and decided that tonight was the night I was going to finish reading the route I’d left hanging for so long.

The poison-skinned Cardia may or may not be doomed to turn into a monster in nine hours, after all, and I needed to know how Victor Frankenstein could possibly save her when Queen Victoria was about to unleash one of the most dastardly, evil plans I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction.

So I did. As it turned out, I was less than a couple of hours away from the end of Victor’s route, and I finally had some closure. So now I want more. Now that I’ve seen some of Code: Realize, I now feel in a better position to tackle the rest of it with a fresh mind. I have Impey, Van Helsing and Saint-Germain’s routes to do first, then Lupin’s as the grand finale and, presumably, “true” route. And, having reminded myself of the pleasant company these gentlemen — and protagonist Cardia — are, I’m once again more inclined to proceed on my way.

Code: Realize

And that’s what this new column is all about. As someone outside of the perceived target audience for otome titles (regardless of whether or not that’s accurate, as we’ve already said), I thought it might be interesting to spend some time with some well-established entries in the genre and see what I think of them. It’ll provide a reason for me to make time for these games each week. Plus, and perhaps more significantly, I feel like my perspective may well be different to our resident otome specialist Lilia, since I’m coming from a very different angle.

This perspective occurred to me as I was watching Code: Realize’s credits roll. In visual novels where the love interests are a different gender and/or sexuality to you, you can still find characters relatable and engaging — but on some level, you’re still aware that there are differences between you; things that they can experience, believe, know and feel that you cannot. By contrast, I thought, the heterosexual male love interests in otome titles should therefore, in theory, be more relatable to me as a heterosexual gentleman… right?

This is just a theory right now, but it’s one of the things I’m interested in testing over the course of this column in the long term. Where a heterosexual female player sees a male love interest exhibiting troublesome behaviour as evidence of a traumatic past, and/or evidence of falling into a common archetype, will I be able to see something different given my own perspective and experiences? Does gender and sexuality actually have anything to do with it?

Code: Realize

Having felt very close, personal connections with a variety of female characters in anime-style games over the years, I honestly can’t say for sure right now. But I’m looking forward to investigating thoroughly — and I have plenty of games waiting for me to serve as evidence in those investigations.

Code: Realize is available now for Nintendo Switch digitally and physically.

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Pete Davison
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