The best way to describe Code Vein would be like this: an anime-like dungeon crawler in a post apocalyptic world. Despite this droll over-simplification and its numerous flaws, Code Vein actually turned out to be a rather entertaining experience.
Initially hyped as an Dark Souls inspired anime style game, the resulting product was a departure from that notion. So if you go in expecting something along the lines of that, well, don’t.
Once the game begins, a minor sequence of events lead you to the character creation menu, which is extraordinarily detailed. The sheer number of features is simply daunting, resulting in a large amount of time being spent on creating a character close to the player’s expectation. Want to try replicating your favourite anime character in the creator? Go for it, a task like that would be a fun endeavour.
After confirming your appearance and your in-game name, the character wakes up in the ruins of a fallen and decadent city as a “Revenant”. Revenants are beings with superhuman abilities, granted by a parasite that lives within them, at the cost of their humanities. These Revenants require human blood to survive, without which they degenerate into vicious creatures without a conscience, aptly named the “Lost”.
Not too far along the story, it is revealed that Revenants were created to serve as super soldiers to fight an entity, simply called “Queen”. After the Queen’s fall, the Revenants were discarded and left to survive on their own, with blood being scarce, and the sources that provided nourishment, called Bloodsprings, drying up at an alarming rate. The death of the Queen resulted in the formation of a mist-like barrier encircling the city, trapping all its inhabitants inside. These dire circumstances leave the Revenants in despair, constantly battling each other, with more of these individuals joining the ranks of the Lost. The amnesia your character experiences is not an isolated case, as all Revenants have lost varying amounts of their memories.
Throughout the progression of the game, there are various underlying themes to observe: human avarice, the desolation of war, the fear of an unknown past, and the darker side of immortality. Code Vein constantly deals with these themes through its missions and interactions with side characters and companions.
And what anime RPG would be complete without giving its protagonist some plot-driving ability? In this game, your character has the ability to reviving Bloodsprings using your own blood. Additionally, you can use other combatant’s “Blood Code”, which allows the use of multiple combat styles and abilities, all vastly different from each other (the distinction between Blood Codes is similar to what one would encounter in other RPGs; choosing a character class like Mage, Warrior, Rogue, etc.). Finally, you are also able to absorb and dive into Vestiges: obscure blood coloured shards that hold memories of other Revenants. These vestiges allow you to unlock more abilities (called Gifts) within the blood codes, but more importantly, facilitate the progress of the story, revealing more about the past and the events that led up to the current situation, as well as different motivations of the other characters.
The intertwining of the Vestiges with the Blood Codes provides a rather fluid experience between the story and the combat, coupled with the game’s level up system. It is here, in the bridge between the level up and combat system, where the game shares some similarities with Dark Souls and Sekiro. Enemies release a substance called “Haze” once defeated, which is used to level up. Additionally, stopping at rest points, called Mistle, automatically replenished the game’s default potion “Regeneration”, whose quantity and effect can be expanded by collecting some rare item. Furthermore, it is only possible to level up when in contact with a Mistle.
The combat system is largely reminiscent of God Eater, which is of no big surprise, considering the same team worked on both of these. However, the combat mechanics are some of the noticeable flaws in Code Vein. The character is rather slow in using their weapons, with some features being absolutely pointless in retrospect. Blocking is redundant, even if it does reduce a minuscule amount of damage, with the game forcing you to evade constantly, at a heavy cost of stamina. Parrying feels like playing a game of chance, the timing of which is never clear, and its success rate too low to even warrant an attempt.
The enemies themselves aren’t that challenging either, even if they are the boss level ones. In fact, some of the larger ones are much easier than the minions that are scattered throughout the area. The main obstacle here are the enemies’ ability to deal a shocking amount of damage, which can go up to an absolutely insane value. The Blood Veil, the closest thing to an armour in Code Vein, does very little to negate any damage. The companions, on the other hand, are competent and able to hold their own ground in a fight, and are actually helpful throughout the game.
The character aesthetics are very pleasing to watch, with the designs being very well done. The combat scenes are fascinating to watch too. The background art and design, on the other hand, is rather bland and uninteresting to look at, with most areas sharing the same motif underneath: a gritty, dark area infested with annoying little minions you’ll have to pummel through.
Speaking of the areas, some of them are an absolute chore to navigate, with many of them being unnecessarily being structured as a maze, or a jacked up version of an obstacle course from Ninja Warrior. They drag down the game, in an effort to pad up the completion time of the game, but end up being more of an annoyance.
The soundtrack is absolutely wonderful, easily recognizable as Go Shiina’s work, who once again blended it together with the game’s changing tones and varying atmospheres.
At the end of the day, Code Vein is a dungeon crawler with a few additional features and an awkward combat system, which honestly, could have used more refining. The storyline is fairly decent, with themes and motifs being delivered to the player in a rather charming way, and the character elements of the game are an absolute blast to utilize. It’s not a game meant to appeal to everyone, and especially not to those who are looking for an anime-esque Dark Souls, but it is rather entertaining regardless.