Games that have challenged players have always been around the video game industry and while they initially were meant to pull extra quarters out of pockets, they have evolved over the years and while many genres have their own style of difficult but rewarding games, the action RPG has only really peaked in the last decade. This style of game came primarily from the hands of FromSoftware and since then various other developers have tried their hands at creating a game that can stand on its own merits while still emulating that style and the latest is Bandai Namco’s Code Vein. With a more anime approach and enough changes to help set it apart, is Code Vein worth the challenge?
After the world suffers an apocalyptic occurrence only to have the solution to that previous apocalypse trigger yet another one, players will take on the role of a completely customizable character that has no memory of who or what they are. They awaken alongside another amnesiac girl by the name of Io who seems to know a bit more about the world and the fact that the two of you are Revenants, vampiric-like beings that are incredibly difficult to kill as they can rise even from a standard death, but must feast on blood to retain their sanity. Those who fall to their bloodthirst become Lost, crazed beings that have lost their sense of humanity and often morph into monstrous creatures.
With what is left of humanity in the trapped world that Code Vein takes place in kept safe by remnants of the government, Revenants must use blood beads that grow from strange white trees to slake their thirst but even these trees have started to wither. As many Revenants begin to turn on each other and the amount of Lost skyrockets, the player learns that thanks to the special nature of their blood, not only can these trees be restored but the miasma that quickly drives Revenants crazy can even be purified and with the help of a number of allies, it is up to them to try and restore the various Bloodsprings and even learn more about what is actually happening.
One of the key parts that helps set Code Vein apart from other games of its ilk is that unlike those games, Code Vein wants to tell a storyline that players won’t need to infer from item descriptions and various fan theories. Sure, things do start out incredibly vague, especially since one of the aspects of a Revenant’s rebirth is that they lose a part of their memories. Instead players will find that the game offers its fair share of cutscenes that help keep the plot moving along and features plenty of unique twists that keep the story interesting while also revealing more about the world as a whole. That being said, there are more than a few instances where cutscenes can feel like they drag on a bit too long and slow down the pace of the game.
In fact, even the character storylines are told in an interesting manner as players can find various bits of Blood Code scattered around environments, dropped from bosses, and even received from allies that help tell individual stories. These often delve into a character’s past or reveal additional details about an upcoming foe and are not only a unique little feature but one that helps expand the story more and gives some weight to these characters’ journey.
Outside of the aforementioned focus on storytelling, Code Vein also happens to feature a number of gameplay mechanics that help set it apart from the rest of the Souls styles of games. Generally some aspects remain the same as players will use a hub area where they can interact with NPCs, purchase items at shops, customize their character, and even take a dip in the hot spring, fight against enemies that drop “Haze” which is then used as currency to either purchase items, upgrade equipment, or simply level up the player, and while exploring various resting areas called “Mistle” can be activated and then used to restore healing regeneration as well as fast travel points.
For all of these similarities Code Vein also stands apart a bit by not only varying up the way combat works but also adding in a number of new mechanics and build-styles to keep things feeling fresh. Players will find that they have access to a wide array of tools even at the start of the game as rather than forcing players to set themselves into any one class, classes can be swapped at any time through the use of Blood Codes. Each Blood Code provides various stat bonuses to the player’s stats and has their own set of skills to learn and master but what is unique here is that mastered skills, both active and passive, can then be used with any Blood Code. Some skills require a certain weapon type to be equipped or having a certain rank in a specific stat to activate but it is entirely possible to use a berserker Blood Code while utilizing various buffs and skills from longer range classes as both magic and firearms can play a factor in this game.
Alongside the standard fair of one-handed swords, spears, massive two handed blades, axes, and hammers players will find bayonets that can be used for quick slashing attacks and fired at a distance with heavy attacks. These attacks do require “ichor” a limited resource that is also used to activate skills and buffs but ichor also plays a role in drain attacks. While fighting enemies players have the option to perform chargeable drain attacks that vary depending on the clothing equipped and, if landed, these attacks can stun a foe as well as restore ichor. Drain attacks can also occur when an enemy is launched or backstabbed so there are many ways to restore ichor, including consumables, should the player’s playstyle rely on it.
Alongside the fact that players have the option to wildly change the way they play depending on the Blood Code and skills they have equipped Code Vein also offers another different aspect by allowing players to have a companion with them almost all the time. The AI companion, who can be swapped at any point by returning to the hub, works incredibly well as an assistant as they are both smart with their actions as well as heavy hitters. It is worth noting that this does make the game a bit easier than other games in this genre but be prepared for enemies to still relentlessly pursue the player with bosses being quite challenging with strikes that can easily shave off half your health. In fact, some bosses may require some outside thinking that requires a change of playstyle or companion to best take them down, offering plenty of interesting ways to tackle most challenges. Though if you do want a real challenge, it is possible to venture forth without an AI partner, though it is clear that co-op play is intended thanks to the way most encounters see players battling against three to four foes at a time.
Visuals & Audio
One of the more noticeable aspects of Code Vein is that it’s art style combines both gothic themes as well as anime styling, both of which play a role in the plot as well. The character customization system is extremely detailed to the point that players can create nearly any anime style character they feel like unless they happen to be old. Fan-service does play a decent factor here as most character options allow for a bit of skin to be shown and a few female companions can be rather revealing, but the overall gothic styling, combining gas masks to survive the miasma and the vampire themes create a great looking game at times. Even the environments are filled with plenty of destructive detail and plenty of variety though be prepared for a bit of slowdown here and there during some more hectic fights.
The soundtrack for the game features a solid collection of background music, including a nice insert song that players can listen to at the hub base while the voice work, featuring both the Japanese and English voice tracks fit the their characters well enough.
It is always a risk trying to take a formula that has an established fan base and putting your own spin on things and thankfully Code Vein stands as a successful one. With its own art style and some appealing additions to the combat system players will find that Code Vein allows for plenty of customization, both visually and mechanically, to best fit their style of play or the challenges they may face. Combine that with a solid storyline and the feeling of battling alongside solidly developed AI companions and players will find that while Code Vein may be a bit on the easier side of the genre, it is certainly one that stands on its own two feet.