Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Action RPG with waifu creator and A.I. companion (who can also be a potential waifu).
I stepped foot into the bland world of Code Vein as a big fan of the Soulsborne series. I’ve also had my fair share of rage-inducing deaths from Nioh. It’s safe to say that I’m a veteran when it comes to the profession of being punished severely for making minor mistakes.
With that said, Code Vein failed to give me a respectable amount of challenge. I pretty much breezed through the entire game, never having to redo boss fights more than 3 or 4 times. Most of my deaths actually came from being overwhelmed by the occasional mob and also rolling directly into falls from fatal heights.
Born Of The Blood, Made Immortal By The Blood
When it comes to the lore and story, Code Vein actually shows glimmers of great potential but ends up falling flat on its anime-style exposition.
You play as a Revenant, a near-immortal human being resurrected through a parasite that forces a blood-only diet onto your body. Without blood (and also exposure to the miasma), Revenants go insane and become one of the Lost, insane bloodthirsty creatures who serve a leader called the Queen.
Obviously, there’s a lot of questions that need answering and it gave me a good amount of motivation to trudge through the story. Unfortunately, the plot twists followed conventional anime cliches; it’s easy to figure everything out around halfway through the game. For those of you unfamiliar to anime, there might still be surprises for you.
Dialogue in Code Vein is nothing amazing but it’s not terrible either. Cutscenes are interesting enough that I don’t feel compelled to check my phone whenever they’re triggered.
I’m definitely thankful for the option of selecting Japanese voices , not because the English voices suck but because the script is designed in a typical anime and manga style of writing. Some lines just sound too awkward in English.
My biggest gripe with the storytelling was that it felt tedious to discover the backstories of the game’s many characters. Every time you unlock a new piece of a character’s memory, you slowly walk around a small mindscape that shows frozen scenes from their past accompanied by voice-overs. To say that they’re boring is an understatement.
The problem with these memory-restoration sections is that there are dozens of them and they’re tied to one of the game’s upgrade systems. I couldn’t avoid them even if I wanted to.
More Than Just Anime Dark Souls
If you’ve ever played any Soulsborne game or even a Souls-like such as Nioh or The Surge, then you’ll be very familiar with how Code Vein is played. If you’ve never played any of those games, I think you might enjoy it more than I did.
In spirit of being fair towards the developers’ efforts, I wanted to avoid using Dark Souls as a point of comparison. Unfortunately, it seemed that Code Vein wanted to be compared.
Aside from a few fresh moves and mechanics, combat is almost identical to what you’d find in any of the Souls games. Parries and backstabs work exactly the same way complete with uninterruptible animations. The speed of your dodges are determined by how much equipment load you can bear. There’s a lot more too but you get the idea.
Outside of combat, everything else is pretty similar too. You’ve got Mistles (read: bonfire) which act as resting places where you can level up and teleport to other Mistles you’ve activated. I don’t even remember if the game explained to me that I had to pick up my blood essence or soul or whatever to regain the Haze (read: souls) I lost due to death. I just instinctively knew that they’d use the same system.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how much a game takes inspiration from other games because pretty much all modern games do that. What’s important is that they make it fun and introduce their own twist to it.
Fortunately, Code Vein isn’t just a rip-off that wants to fill a void in the “hardcore” genre. The controls are tight and the animations are pretty darn cool. The magic system also encourages aggressive play so that you can replenish Ichor which is the resource used for skills, spells, and buffs.
Code Vein‘s X factor comes in the form of its classes which are called Blood Codes. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock more Blood Codes thus giving you more playstyles to experiment with.
Each Blood Code has its own stat bonuses and penalties, active and passive skills, spells, and buffs. The best part? You can swap Blood Codes anytime anywhere. There’s also a system that allows you to inherit skills from different Blood Codes so that they can be integrated into the ones you want.
It’s seriously impressive with how much freedom the game gave me in crafting several custom builds that would be useful in different situations.
I believe Code Vein is the most accessible out of all the games that try to emulate Dark Souls‘ brutal difficulty. Players can choose an A.I. companion to accompany them from the start of the game to the very end. If you lose all your health while your companion is still alive, they can cast a spell to revive you and grant a small portion of health.
You can do the same for a dying companion. There’s no casting limit to this spell, only a cooldown and Ichor usage.
As you play through the game, you unlock more companions that you can choose to accompany you. Swapping between different companions to complement your own build and playstyle can potentially make every enemy a cakewalk. I often played a fast melee DPS build and let the bayonet-toting Mia deal serious damage with her ranged attacks.
As I mentioned earlier, I barely had much of a challenge beating the game except for maybe one or two bosses that had some really bullsh*t moves (I haven’t ventured into new game plus). My A.I. companion’s ability to resurrect me felt a little broken because it pretty much gave me multiple lives. Dying also means making the boss divert their attention to my companion so upon being revived, I could easily get in a few attacks.
I sincerely hope that Code Vein does well enough that the developers would consider making a sequel. I really want to see them build a tougher game that would really pressure players into making full use of the game’s robust Blood Codes system and A.I. companion.
Thick Miasma In Big Anime Cities
Playing Code Vein on a regular PS4 mostly filled me with frustration. Textures look like they belong in the PS3 era and the game suffers from frequent framerate drops even when you’re just walking along empty corridors. I expected to game to crash on me during intense boss fights but surprisingly, no crashes occurred at all.
Being set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game is filled with ruins and caverns all painted in the same boring and ugly colour palette. There are a few locations which switch things up a bit but the overall level design always feels lazy.
Heck, there’s one particular location that every Dark Souls fan will recognise instantly. I won’t spoil it because it made my jaw drop at how surprisingly blatant it was.
There’s a lot of ladders in this game which feel like they exist just to create a sense of verticality in the game. A fair bit of platforming is in here too but there’s no jump button so it copies Dark Souls‘ frustrating “judge the fall damage, if it doesn’t kill you, you can drop there” style of platforming.
Concerning the sentiment of the game having a great character creator, I totally agree. However, it all feels very unpolished when you’re actually playing the game. If your character has long hair, it will clip through armour and even their own breasts if you’re playing a female character. If the armour you’re wearing has long flowing parts, those will definitely clip through walls too.
My personal favourite aspect of Code Vein is its music. Well, it’s composed by Go Shiina, the man behind the music of the Tales and God Eater series. A lot of the cutscenes and memory-walk sections were made memorable thanks to the melancholic and beautiful songs from the game’s soundtrack. The battle tracks also deserve mentioning with its strong vocal choir bits and over-the-top orchestra blasting through your speakers. This is as grand as you can get with triple-A epic gothic music.
As someone who loves the Soulsborne games and some of the games that are inspired by them, it’s really hard for me to say that I hated Code Vein. I honestly felt as if I was playing through a game I’d already beaten, just with mods that changed the story a bit and gave it an anime aesthetic.
Should You Git Gud?
Would I recommend Code Vein to someone who’s also a Soulsborne fan like me? Not really. It won’t give you the challenge you seek and the overall design feels like it falls short of achieving what it wants to emulate.
What about recommending this to someone who’s never played or finished a single Souls game? Yes, I certainly would.
It’s quite possibly the most accessible game in the genre so it might actually help you ease into the brutality of the other games. Add 10 points to the final score below if you’re in this category of JRPG players.
- Simple but robust combat system.
- Lots of freedom in class customisation.
- Same goes for character customisation.
- Helpful A.I. companion.
- Awesome music.
- Full of cringe-worthy anime dialogue and boring flashbacks.
- Unpolished graphics and poorly optimised for PS4.
- Level design is uninspiring and bland.
- Copies too much from the games that inspired it.