To say I’ve been enamored with everything surrounding Code Vein since the initial announcement trailer in April 2017 is a bit of an understatement. The latest new IP coming out of Bandai Namco and the God Eater team, both myself and Frank here at Level Down Games have been itching to get our hands on what we’ve been collectively referring to, along with the rest of the gaming industry, anime Dark Souls. The game literally checks so many boxes for me it’s stupid. Vampires? Check. Demonic ghouls? Check. JRPG elements infused with a gorgeous anime art style? Check. Soulsborne level of difficulty and combat mechanics? Check. Post-apocalypse setting? Well.. they can’t all be winners, can they? Joking aside (I really dislike the surge in post-apocalyptic stuff as of late), Code Vein is tough, it’s brutal, and it’s exactly what I was hoping for before sitting down to play it over the past couple weeks.
Title: Code Vein
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Game Provided By Bandai Namco for the Purpose of This Review
Set sometime in the near future, the world has fallen into chaos. Revenants, these vampire-like creatures that exist in the lore of Code Vein, were created from dead humans to fight against the calamity using a parasite that attaches itself to the heart. To explain and bake in the fact that this is a Soulslike game and you can resurrect upon death, it is said that Revenants always come back to life upon death, but when they do, they lose random pieces of their memory. The narrative gets stronger the longer the game persists on, and after the halfway point, I really found myself attached to this select cast of characters and wanting to see not only their outcome, but I wanted them to be universally happy since there’s so many romantic tragedies taking place all at once in this world.
One of the stronger elements found in Code Vein is the character customization options available to players at the beginning of the game. I have full confidence when I say this, but this is without a doubt the strongest create-a-character to exist in a video game to date. There are so many freaking options you can literally create an anime avatar of almost anyone, real or fictional. Just the amount of color options and palettes was enough to blow me away, but then the added system of layering, clothing options (that themselves can be changed like what shows up and what doesn’t), and accessories. Bandai Namco really outdid themselves here with this impressive feature.
Your avatar never speaks in cutscenes, though they do occasionally make noise during combat, it’s never more than just the audible grunts and random shouts. However, the strong supporting cast of main characters more than makes up for a silent protagonist. We have Louis, Mia, Eva, Io, Jack, Yakumo, Karen, and Nicolas, all with strong personalities and unique stories that you’ll want to explore. There’s a memory system that exists as you find Vestiges throughout the areas where we get to learn more about each individual character and their backstories. These moments can be kind of slow, since you’re forced to walk at a very slow pace through this memory you have no control over, but the character building is top notch. It would have been better if it could have been done a bit faster in terms of speed, as it was slightly boring as a player to sit and wait, but I didn’t mind so much toward the later half of the game when the stories themselves just really sucked me in, plus the music is always excellent during these portions. The voice acting too is quite good throughout the entire game.
Because there are so many characters with their own stories going on throughout the experience, it’s fun to mix things up every so often and bring a different partner with you into combat. One of the unique things Code Vein has going for it over other Dark Souls clones is that there is a party-based system for exploring and dealing with enemies. You can only select one other person to accompany you out into the world, but this completely changes the dynamic and landscape of how combat works in a Soulslike. Linking together with your partner of choice offers different attacks that can be done, and health can be given back and forth between the player character and the AI character using a certain ability, but only if either member has enough health to lend. It was a system that I took advantage of often as the difficulty in Code Vein is no freaking joke.
Speaking of that difficulty level, you think it would be easier to manage thanks to the party system and two people attacking enemies and bosses instead of just one. Not so! The developers countered this little addition by throwing more enemies at you at once throughout the different areas, plus the enemies have much larger health pools than we are used to seeing in similar games. It was slightly annoying at times just how many enemies needed to be dealt with at one given time. Patience is key and rushing in will almost certainly always end in death and the loss of your precious Haze. Boss encounters are as difficult as ever, with each one needing trial and error to figure out patterns and excellent timing. The models for each one of the bosses were insanely cool as well. I was actually impressed not only by the bosses, but the enemy design throughout the entire game. The artists stepped their game up for sure from previous entries in the God Eater franchise.
The environments too were nice to look at, thanks in part to the beautiful graphic design and choices made throughout Code Vein. Some of the areas, like the snow covered mountain, the city burning all around you, and the underground areas with the glistening water were a sight to behold. Other areas, like the Cathedral, seemed almost ripped straight out of Bloodborne.. just a lot worse. In fact, let me talk about the Cathedral for a moment. That section of the game marks about the halfway point upon completing it. I was literally ready to throw my controller out the window, pick up my PC and throw it away, and be done with this entire operation over the damn Cathedral. It’s nothing but a labyrinth where every area looks identical to one another and super frustrating. I’m not entirely sure why this design choice was given the go-ahead, but it seriously almost made me quit the game countless times due to frustration.
Other than that, the areas are smartly designed with shortcuts expertly placed like we’re used to seeing from FROMSoftware. The interconnected world is always a joy to explore and see just how we’ll end up back in places and open shortcuts that we never knew existed. There aren’t many collectibles for the sake of collecting in Code Vein, but anything of note that you’ll want to pick up can be found on the ground as a white sparkling object, including upgrade items, crafting materials, and gifts to give your companions.
In order to reveal more of the map, you’ll have to purify rotting mistles whenever you find one. This is Code Vein’s version of lanterns from Bloodborne, bonfires from Dark Souls, shrines from Sekiro, etc. You will also be leveling up from these locations, and teleporting around the map to other mistles. They felt spaced out perfectly and the next one appeared when I started thinking it was time to level up again and save. A few of the non-resting mistles (the ones where you can’t teleport to or level up at) were a bit harder to find (and I always tried to find them so I could see as much of the map as possible in each area), but nothing was ever too far out of reach that I couldn’t figure out how to reach it.
Combat wise, Code Vein is very fast paced and relies on heavy usage of dodging and parrying just like Bloodborne. It’s probably for this reason I’ve been having so much fun going through the story and a lot of the extra content found within. Code Vein is now ranked number two for me in my personal list of Soulsborne games. Bloodborne is still number one, and Dark Souls 3 is now number three with Code Vein knocking it down a spot. Which successfully takes Sekiro out of my top three, but that’s okay! It’s still a great experience too! You have light and heavy attacks with each different style of weapon, and the amount of variations we have to choose from in terms of not only weapons, but armor as well, was a very nice touch.
Throughout the game, you’ll learn different classes that slightly alter the way you’ll tackle combat, which weapons and armor you can use, different abilities, and how much Ichor you have (which is basically how many attacks you can do at once before needing to recharge it). The classes allow you to play your character a number of different ways and best serve you and your unique playstyle preferences. If you want to be a ranged character, there are classes and weapons that allow you to do so. Same with casters, melee, tanks, and support characters. Your combat partner is actually quite intelligent, and knows how best to handle each situation thrown at you. Plus, getting aggro on your partner and then running in and attacking can almost allow the two of you two kite enemies (and bosses) back and forth around an area to make combat a little bit more manageable.
I briefly mentioned it earlier, but Haze is Code Vein’s way of saying Souls and will be what you use to level up your character, purchase new weapons, gear, and items, and upgrade everything you can get your hands on. Much like the formula we’re used to, dying causes you to lose everything you have, and you either need to run back and reclaim it, or let it be lost for good. One thing Code Vein added to the mix which I greatly appreciated is the Hot Springs. This is an area at your Home Base you can enter, and if you recently died, relaxing in the Hot Springs allows you to absorb half of your lost Haze without the need for running back to reclaim them. The other half will be lost for good if you do this, but it’s an excellent system that more of these types of games should explore.
Alright, let’s talk about that Home Base now that we mentioned it. It’s a very cool idea Bandai Namco has implemented that is more or less a central hub with music blasting throughout (if you so choose through the Jukebox and a radio). All of your party members and supporting cast of characters will be going about their daily lives here in the Home Base, and you can chat with them, give gifts to them and receive items back as a reward, train in combat, participate in optional difficult dungeons and bosses, upgrade your equipment, and change your appearance. I made sure to return to the Home Base several times throughout the story just to see if anything was changing or to chat with new party members.. it was really quite fun.
The soundtrack features a mix of hard rock and anime inspired tunes for the most part, but it gets very soft, emotional, and sentimental when it needs to. Composed by Go Shiina, there are several vocal tracks that felt very epic in nature, which was a nice offset from the rest of the soundtrack which was very orchestral. The entire thing felt very grandiose and I can’t think of a bad track featured throughout the game. The Main Theme features a choral accompaniment that sounds like something you’d hear in a grand Cathedral. “March of the Lost” feels like it could be a timeless and classic piece of music from days gone by. “Requiem” is one of those instant goosebumps tracks for me, and I think it’s safe to say the entire soundtrack for Code Vein is now one of my personal favorites of 2019, which is also helped along by how well some of the music lends itself to the storytelling.
All of this being said, Code Vein is not without its shortcomings and faults. There were a handful of issues I ran into when playing the game on PC via Steam, such as the frame rates acting up at times, the camera getting stuck on terrain and not being where it needed to be during particular fights or moments, and the classes introduced in the game need a bit of a tune up to make them feel even more unique and useful against one another. I spent 23 hours playing Code Vein before I reached the ending of the main story, and that wasn’t even with all the optional dungeons and content that was still available. Some of the issues I mentioned throughout the review definitely impacted the score, and had they been cleaned up a bit before release, may have resulted in a different outcome.
I think Code Vein is a special release for anyone that appreciates the FROMSoftware formula and is a big fan of their work like myself that is really also an anime fan at heart. Bandai Namco put a lot of work into making this feel epic and grand on a scale they’ve not yet done before, and it paid off for the most part. The combat is fast and fluid while maintaining the difficulty fans want of this genre. The storytelling is top notch with characters you’ll want to bleed and die for. The small annoyances that existed throughout were a bit of a shame and definitely took us out of the experience a few times, but for the most part.. this is a game worthy of playing in a Fall lineup that is absolutely packed. If you’re looking for that big Souls experience to close out 2019.. Code Vein is it. I promise you you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did. “You can’t charge forward if you’re always looking back.”