Spoilers for Code:Realize
You wouldn’t expect an otome game like Code:Realize to have themes that resonate so strongly with common queer experiences. In many ways, the game follows genre conventions, with a heterosexual romance story following a singular heroine and a cast of attractive men. Yet it spoke to me, an enby transgender man, by exploring themes of inner discovery, found family, and self-love.
Code:Realize: Guardians Of Rebirth is a game that follows Cardia, a “doll-like” young woman who secretes highly corrosive poison from her skin due to the perpetual energy device called the horologium embedded in her chest and, as a result, believes herself to be a monster. She lives alone in a mansion in Wales, isolated from the world according to orders from her father, the inventor Isaac Beckford. After the British military attempts to kidnap her, the gentleman thief Arsene Lupin whisks her away to London. They, along with the rest of the cast, resolve to find Beckford in hopes of ridding Cardia of her poison flesh, initiating a journey of self-discovery replete with mystery and romance.
Being an otome game, the story branches out depending on who you choose to romance. The five gentlemen of the game — Arsene Lupin, Count Saint Germain, Victor Frankenstein, Abraham Van Helsing, and Impey Barbicane, all based on historical or literary figures — lead Cardia on a number of adventures as they search for her father and evade enemies who want her for the horologium.
The male cast of Code:Realize aren’t just romantic options for the player to choose from and pursue; they’re Cardia’s friends and allies. They assist her in her quest, uplift her when she’s down, and provide her with a strong support system. Regardless of who Cardia falls for, all of them stand by her in each of the game’s endings, risking their lives and reputation to help her live her best life. In this way, they become not just a group of people brought together by circumstance, but a family who cares for one another deeply.
This mirrors my and many others’ experiences as a queer person. While my friends haven’t had to dodge anti-aircraft fire for me or fight the British army, my found family has always loved me for who I am as a nonbinary trans man, and we have bonds that go deeper than casual definitions of friendship. Like Cardia and her comrades, my found family embraces me, helps me when I need to be uplifted, and accepts me in my best and bleakest moments.
This nurturing environment helps Cardia on her journey to self-love. She starts at a place of self-loathing, despising herself as a monster doomed to hurt others, and seeing herself as a burden to others. Lupin’s intervention and the love of her friends enables her to realize that she is fully human, and deserves respect just like anyone else.
The guys affirm her by saying things like, “You’re a normal girl, and you deserve happiness each and every day,” constantly throughout the game, and they are courteous of her special needs as well. Since she can’t use normal utensils, and must sleep motionless flat on her back because of her poison, Frankenstein, who is an alchemist in this version, makes her special utensils and a pillow that’s poison-proof to help her live a normal life.
He even makes her new clothes that are more practical for their adventures. They encourage Cardia to be involved with their activities, even when things get risky, teaching her survival skills such as how to shoot or stay hidden. Every one of them contributes something important to her, helping her to become actualized as an independent young woman.
As Cardia joins in adventures like attending an underground auction in a casino and vampire-hunting, she begins to realize that she deserved to be treated with kindness all along and to extend that same kindness to others. When they meet an orphaned vampire child, she is able to use her experience to extend an empathetic hand to him and offer him comfort. It’s a beautiful thing.
The experience of learning to embrace one’s own self, to be loved and love others in return resonates widely throughout the queer community. It is generally a welcoming environment to those questioning their place in the world, where understanding friends will embrace whatever name or pronouns you choose to identify with. My queer friends gave me the space I needed to explore and accept myself for who I am.
That same kind of space allows Cardia to grow and gain a sense of autonomy. She starts off incredibly naive, unsure of herself, and nervous around other people. She had been sealed away all of her life, after all, and what few interactions she had with the outside world were negative. All she knew was the hatred of others, and the unfulfilled promise that her father would eventually return for her.
Once she travels to London, she starts to understand more about the world around her and grow as a person. More experienced and knowledgeable, she sees how she can take a more active role in her life and others’. She battles foes, flies an airship, and even blows a man out of a cannon. She goes from a “doll” to a fully-fledged person with an active role in her own life, now eager to find her father herself rather than just waiting to be found.
As she becomes a stronger person, she becomes capable of helping not just herself, but others, in ways that weren’t possible when she was just a “doll”. When Van Helsing tries to push Cardia away, also believing himself to be a monster, Cardia refuses to leave him. She can advocate for herself, asking to be taught how she can help rather than how her friends can protect her. She won’t go back to not having a say in her life.
Though I can’t personally relate to being “doll-like,” I can relate to that journey of self-discovery. It’s through that journey that we discover the queerness within ourselves and unlock a part of our personhood we weren’t privy to before. Through that, we become our true selves, the person we were meant to be from the start. That new selfhood empowers us to make decisions about who we want to be that we might have passed up before due fear of being found out.
Code:Realize brings all of these things together in the final half of the game.
Cardia does find the family she was searching for, but they aren’t the loving group she was hoping for. She learns she is an artificially-constructed homunculus, created in the image of Isaac Beckford’s dead children. Her brother, Finis, considers himself to be a lifeless doll and a tool for their father to obtain godhood rather than human beings worthy of respect or love, and encourages Cardia to think of herself in the same way. Finis’ rejection of Cardia’s newfound sense of self is reminiscent of too many queer people’s experiences with coming out to their families. Much like how those who grew up in religious households may find themselves closeted and stifled by their parents’ ideals, Beckford’s plans to become a god himself left no room for Cardia to express herself as a human being.
It’s thanks to her found family that Cardia can defeat her father and come out the other side alive. Through her own self-love and journey of self-discovery, she is also able to resist Beckford’s plot and see herself as someone who deserves a life of her own. All these things that help her come out the other side mirrored a queer story for me as well.
We live in a world that is often toxic to LGBTQ+ people. Many young queer people grow up in homes that reject them and make them feel isolated from the rest of the world. Like Cardia, we were separated from our peers, mocked by others, and — sadly — sometimes even called monsters or threatened with death. But, like Cardia, many of us found people who love us for who we are, and those new bonds enabled us to come out of self-isolation. To put it simply: through our found families, we found the hope and the courage to truly live.
In this way, Code:Realize speaks to an LGBTQ+ experience even when it is not explicitly a queer story. Though it was intended for a straight, cis female audience, its themes of found family, self-discovery, and self-love spoke to me as a enby transgender man, on top of being a fantastic otome experience.
In future games, this and other themes are explored further, and I encourage you to give the Code:Realize series a chance. They’re all fantastic games, from what I’ve played. Check them out, and experience Cardia’s journey for yourself.