Why have one class when you can have them all?
I’d avoided most coverage of Code Vein, so I was unprepared for what awaited for me when I started up my PS4. Then the Ufotable opening animation began.
Code Vein is an anime-style action RPG for PC, Xbox One and PS4, developed by Bandai Namco and Shift (God Eater series). It’s also the edgiest, broodiest, black-lace-with-a-side-of-choir-music game that I’ve ever dipped my toes in.
And I am HERE for it.
So, pick up a drink, leave your dignity at the door and join me for the most fun you’ll have with an anime Soulslike this year.
Poor unfortunate souls
Code Vein puts you in the black military boots of a “revenant”, a totally-not-vampire who can only survive through the consumption of blood. What’s worse, both revenant and human society are confined by the mysterious Red Mist to a small area along with your enemy, the mindless Lost. Everyone has amnesia, everyone has lost someone, everyone is just pretty miserable.
On the surface, Code Vein plays like a typical Soulslike outing. You know the drill – mistles are bonfires; enemies respawn; boss fights are challenging. Stamina levels need to be managed, and attacks, blocks and parries need to be precisely timed.
The vampire thing comes into play via the draining of ichor in combat, which powers your combat abilities. No pedestrian neck-biting in this town; no, here we consume our blood by puncturing our enemies with huge chains that appear from the backs of our outfits. Like civilised people.
Code Vein isn’t all battle and survival. Downtime is spent in the chill hub hang out, a church-like building where you can chat with your companions, shop, re-customise your character, train, and listen to music straight out of my 2005 high school playlist.
The backbone of Code Vein’s combat system are the combat ability “gifts”, governed by your combat class “blood code”. Lucky for you, you’re a very special revenant who can use any blood code you damn well please and any time you damn well like. And you will, because it’s very, very fun.
What’s more, once you’ve trained up individual gifts, you’re free to mix and match abilities from one class while playing another. Many of the blood codes and gifts can only be unlocked after watching the tragic backstories of various NPCs, adding some emotional tug to your class builds.
With over twenty different blood codes to play with, it’s incredibly freeing to completely change class on the fly with no penalties. Code Vein almost demands that you leave traditional RPG devotion to a class behind, as blood codes that work for defeating one monster sure as heck aren’t guaranteed to work for the next.
Oh, you want to fight the Butterfly of Delirium without poison resistance or ranged attacks? See you at the loading screen, pal.
Come die with me
The main combat difference to other games in the genre are the AI companions, who make combat a cake walk compared to playing solo. I was so used to being punished in Sekiro that I would give up after small errors, only to realise that my AI companion had killed off the enemy after I’d thrown my controller. For players who want a true Soulslike challenge, this will be a turn-off.
Code Vein also allows for online human players to drop in when things get tough. As the most introverted of inverts I didn’t often take advantage of this, but having a human behind the controller could help in fights where a modicum of strategy is involved. Particularly as the AI companions are very… enthusiastic .
While the blood code and weapon combinations are great fun, combat isn’t without its annoyances. At times I would dodge an attack from an enemy who would then execute a perfect 180 pirouette to smack me over the head. Other times, misleading invincibility frame animations and led to a fair bit of swearing.
One character-creator to rule them all
One aspect of Code Vein which undeniably deserves full marks is the character creator.
It’s difficult to find the words to express the depth of the creator. For eyes alone, you must choose iris design, colours for various parts of the iris, eye highlights, eye-white colour, eye shape, and eyelashes, not even taking into account the hundreds of eyebrows to choose from. Even now, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere close to explaining to you how complicated this character creator is. It’s a lot.
Thank the stars then that Code Vein has both a save function within the creator and a redesign character redesign option in the main hub, because otherwise the whole thing would be too intimidating.
Oh My Goth
Count with me, if you will, the number of stereotypically “goth” objects in the screenshot above. Broken stained glass; stone slab flooring; black grand piano; red velvet curtains; a profusion of candles. Five glorious goth motifs, Ah hah hah hah!
Count von Count would be proud.
Despite the healthy helping of edge in Code Vein’s visuals, the graphics aren’t cutting edge by any measure. However, they certainly do a satisfactory job communicating a dangerous post-apocalyptic world and its brooding anime inhabitants. Level design is also quite thoughtful, with clever twists and turns and loop-arounds, making exploration genuinely enjoyable.
The storyline itself is a 30 hour-ish campaign with a few different endings. Companion backstories all hit the same notes – life sucks, but I’m going to try and stop other’s lives from sucking so much. But not by sucking blood. I told you; we don’t do that here.
What I did enjoy about the story is that Code Vein isn’t stingy with its dialogue, cut scenes, or exploration of themes. There’s no need to piece together the plot from scraps of paper like a madman.
There’s even an onsen in the hub where you can splash around in the water and review the plot line so far. It’s the most calming plot review mechanic ever.
Maybe I just like baths.
A bloody good time
More often than not, players go into a Soulslike with specific expectations. Code Vein will have both ardent admirers and vehement detractors, with some players being polarised by both perceived difficulty levels and the aesthetic.
If I had to summarise Code Vein with a metaphor, it’s that moment when a My Chemical Romance song comes on at a house party. Inevitably, there are two reactions: jeering and eye-rolling, or singing your lungs out. You still know it’s trashy, but by god are you going to enjoy every second of it.
I’m squarely in group number two.