Code: Realize Guardian of Rebirth is an Otome visual novel originally released for the PlayStation Vita back in 2015 that sees you assume the role of Cardia, a mysterious young lady with a serious case of amnesia who's been shut off from the world and is living her life in a strange abandoned mansion at the behest of her elusive father. She must never go outside, he's told her, and absolutely under no circumstances should she ever fall in love.
To add to her misery, Cardia's body has been infected with some sort of deadly poison that melts anything she happens to touch and she has a bizarre set of gems encrusted in her chest to keep her alive. We join the story just as Royal Guards have stormed into her shelter in order to capture her on behalf of locals who've heard rumours of a hideous and dangerous monster living in their midst.
Of course, being an Otome novel, it's not long before a handsome young lad swoops in to rescue our heroine from the clutches of her enemies and, in this case, swooping responsibilities fall to Arsene Lupin, a dashing and arrogant thief, who steals Cardia away from her would-be captors in a theatrical hail of smoke and flashbang trickery.
Arsene is the first of five potential suitors that you'll happen upon in Code: Realize Guardian of Rebirth, each one loosely based on an 18th-century literary figure. You've got rebel alchemist Victor Frankenstein, cold-hearted bounty hunter Abraham Van Helsing, happy-go-lucky engineer Impey Barbicane and the gentleman noble Count Saint-Germain. They're a well-written and likeable bunch, for the most part, each one with an intriguing backstory and plenty of hidden motives – although we did feel Impey was a bit of an overbearing pest at times.
Over the course of the story you'll be offered a handful of opportunities to show your affection or disdain for each of these men who all desire to win your heart and, depending on how you choose, you'll set off on various different routes with different adventures, epic scenarios and situations to get yourself mixed up in.
However, it is possible to make bad choices when given the opportunity to choose how to interact with a potential suitor and doing so will see you get a bad ending, in which case it's game over. We actually had our first experience with a bad ending just five minutes or so into the game, and there are plenty of places to fall down along the way here, so it's a good idea to take a moment's pause before rashly refusing to be polite – we'd also advise that you make sure to save often.
Once the game kicks into gear, Cardia finds herself in a flashy steampunk version of 1853 London, the setting for the vast majority of the proceedings here, as her new acquaintances slowly reveal both their affections and various agendas while slowly uncovering fragments of the past which she has forgotten. Needless to say, there's no point in us ruining the ins and outs of the adventure here, but there's an impressive amount of fun to be had, with some entertaining scenarios and a couple of proper shocks over the course of the rather lengthy proceedings.
If we had to pick something which did irk us a little with this one, it's that you can't choose to get romantic with Lupin as a first choice. He's certainly one of the more interesting leads and therefore you might have expected that you could go straight to fluttering your eyelids at him, but unfortunately you'll need to make your way through all the other characters and their respective romantic scenarios before you're allowed to reach the "true ending" of the game with sexy boy Arsene. It's a time-consuming prospect, one that'll take you a good 15-20hrs, but it's helped somewhat by the fact fresh restarts can be blown through by auto-skipping text, as well as the game having the foresight to include a Path of Genesis option when restarting, which allows you to skip the opening eight chapters and get straight to the next romance line.
In fact, there are lots of nice QoL options as you play through the game, including the ability to rewind to previous scenes, a drop-down glossary that explains terminology and gives some background on featured characters and a fully-scrollable text history of conversations so you can jump back a little if you happened to lose focus during one of the more boring chapters.
Not that there really are that many boring chapters here though as, once the setup has been firmly established, setting off on the various different routes available as you pair of with each of your five suitors sees Cardia get involved in plenty of engaging scenarios and there are enough shocks and twists to keep things more than interesting. In fact, in terms of the writing, each chapter is well-paced and – taken as self-contained portions of play that you might dip into in handheld mode – they all have a pretty satisfying story arc to themselves, always ending on a little cliff-hanger of sorts.
Graphically, Code: Realize Guardian of Rebirth holds up fairly well for a game that's getting a little long-in-the-tooth. However, don't go in expecting too much in the way of flashy animations here; it's all pretty stiff stuff, with only the occasional flourish to further animate a point or facial expression. The music too is solid enough, but there's nothing really here that's going to stick in your mind or having you requesting Alexa to play the game's soundtrack. We should also note that there's no English voice option here, which may be off-putting to some, although the Japanese dub is well acted for those that don't mind this omission. We also noticed a few typos as we made our way through the game but nothing so bad that it will stop you from understanding what's what.
In terms of this Switch port, as you may well have expected for a visual novel originally released on the Vita, there are absolutely no problems here in either portable or handheld mode.
Code: Realize Guardian of Rebirth is a solid visual novel with a unique steampunk setting and a bunch of well-written and pretty likeable lead characters. The mystery surrounding Cardia's bizarre situation combined with suitors based on well-known 18th-century literary characters is an engaging mix and, even if you're not really all that bothered with romancing a bunch of lads, there's plenty here to keep you reading and exploring the various routes and scenarios until you've seen everything this one's got to offer.