Code Vein (PS4) – Dark Souls… with Anime Tropes

Released on: September 27, 2019

Available Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC

Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US) [DLC is available]

Published by: Bandai Namco Entertainment Developed by: Bandai Namco Studios

It seems that I’ve been in a Souls-like (games similar to Dark Souls) mood lately. Ever since I beat Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I’ve acquired a newfound respect for the Dark Souls series, and games that emulate it. The games play differently, but the philosophy behind them remains the same. While browsing Youtube, I found someone playing Code Vein, a game that, for the lack of a better description, looked like an anime take on the Souls-like formula. What I saw appealed to me, so I decided to pick it up. Did my impulsiveness lead me to a hidden gem?

Thanks to the Great Collapse, it’s the apocalypse. What’s worse is the Great Collapse caused monsters to start showing up. To counter these monsters, humanity created Revenants: human corpses brought back with a parasite implanted in their hearts. A perfect solution! Except for the fact that these Revenants require human blood to keep them from turning insane. When a Revenant goes crazy, they turn into the Lost (the main enemies of the game). The situation got so bad that the Lost started emanating a blood-red mist labeled as “Miasma” that quickens a Revenant’s transformation into the Lost. A woman volunteered in an experiment to slow down the frenzying process of Revenants, turning her into the Queen of the Revenants. This, too, goes badly as she frenzies and goes on a murderous rampage. An army of Revenants spring up and kill the Queen of the Revenants, but things don’t improve. All Revenants wear masks to filter out the miasma and to search for trees that grow Blood Beads: a substitute for human blood that Revenants can use to stave off the frenzy. The player, along with a mysterious girl that can track these unusual trees, wake up in the middle of this madness. It is up to the player to end the madness once and for all. It was only after doing some research on Code Vein’s story did I realize that it’s laughable. The solution for humanity to fight monsters is to create more monsters… I think there’s a logic fault in there somewhere…

Waking up in the middle of a ruined city… looks like it’s one of those day…

Being inspired by anime, I expected Code Vein to be brighter and more colorful than most other Souls-likes. That said, I feel conflicted with Code Vein’s presentation. On the one hand, I like that it’s well illuminated, and I do like the anime aesthetic. On the other hand, this is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic world, which suggests a darker tone overall. With that in mind, I do find Code Vein’s bright graphics tonally confusing. They work on a technical level, but I never felt intimidated by its world.

Those that have experience with other Souls-like games will also be familiar with Code Vein’s gameplay. Monsters do a significant amount of damage, can gang up on unsuspecting players. Players want to avoid death (ground-breaking advice I know) since they lose all of their Blood Essence (Code Vein’s version of souls). What Code Vein does differently, is with the optional partners. Players can have a companion with them to tackle Code Vein’s many challenges. The player can enlist the help of computer-controlled characters, or from other players. The computer-controlled ally is insanely helpful. I underestimated them at first since, in most cases, they get in the way. This isn’t the case with Code Vein, having some of the best artificial intelligence (A.I.) I ever experienced. I lost count of how many times my partner saved my life. They are helpful against regular enemies, and a must for bosses.

Louie coming in clutch!

Another aspect I like about Code Vein is its character creator. There is a myriad of options available to customize how the player character looks, including body type, hair, eye shape, eye color (either both, or individually), and voice. Character creation is relevant as well, since dying in Code Vein doesn’t disfigure the character, and they do show up regularly in cutscenes.

No Mohawk!? For shame…

One unique feature to Code Vein is character classes. Each class gives the player special skills that use ichor instead of stamina, which can help keep pressure against bigger enemies and bosses. Classes also offer passive bonuses that keep the player alive. The character class is freely interchangeable, meaning the player can change their strategy on the fly. What I enjoy most about classes, is if the player uses a specific class, their skills gain experience. If the skill gets mastered, they can use that skill as another class. If the player wants a shortcut to skill mastery, the player can use their Blood Essence to master the skill on the spot. The proper synergy between classes and skills can make for an insane character build.

Buying my way to mastery.

As much as I like the positives of Code Vein, there are some things I need to point out.

First of which is the story. In the story section, I did mention my initial thoughts on the story, but I feel like I need to go a little deeper. First off, in my summary, there is a lot of jargon. I left out a few terms in my summary for the sake of simplicity, but even in what I wrote, there are a lot of terms the audience has to follow. At first, I missed most of this because I have an admittedly short attention span. After doing some research on the backstory, I understood what was going on, and it just made me realize how lousy the writing is as a whole. Reading the summary feels like I’m reading a parody, but the way the characters act in the game, I know I’m meant to take this seriously.

The hot springs (the place to rewatch cutscenes) has a glossary of in-universe terms. While it is nice that the player can get clarity on what these mean, there are a lot of them to keep in mind.

Code Vein, more than any other Souls-like game, likes its cutscenes. The player occasionally comes across Vestiges. The player then talks to Io (the lady that accompanies the player is at the beginning of the game) to go through memories of the person who had the Vestige. I do enjoy unlocking more classes, but going through the memory thing is painfully slow. Thankfully, the player can skip it, but the game has to load the memory, then load the game again after each Vestige, breaking the flow of the game.

Yes, that is me moving as fast as I can.

While I do like Code Vein’s combat, for the most part, it feels like it wants to play like Dark Souls, but also like a hack-and-slash. While this isn’t bad per se, the two styles don’t seem to go well together. Most of the time, I forget that I have skills that I can use instead of my regular attacks because I’m playing Code Vein like I would a Souls-like. While the inclusion of skills is unique for Code Vein, I feel like they give it an identity crisis.

Despite my points of contention, I did enjoy Code Vein. The character creator, anime aesthetic, partner characters, and classes help set it apart from other Souls-likes. That said, the story is asinine, and the gameplay is an odd mix of Dark Souls and pure action games. I would recommend Code Vein only to those who are ready to accept an anime Dark Souls, those that are okay with a more action-like take on the Souls-like formula, and those who can get over the laughable story.

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