Bandai Namco is no stranger to dark action-RPGs. It’s been sending people off on bite-sized, Monster Hunter sorts of missions in God Eater for years. It’s also been the publisher for FromSoftware’s Dark Souls. With Code Vein, it’s combining elements of the anime flavored, character-centric, post-apocalyptic God Eater and stirring it into a Soulslike adventure. While things aren’t 100% perfect, it’s a pairing that works.
Like Vampires, Only Not
We have certain supernatural ideas about what might cause someone to turn into a vampire. In Code Vein, the origins are more scientific than supernatural. There exist in this world creatures called Revenants. Each one was a human who had something called a BOR Parasite implanted into their heart. This would allow them to constantly revive, each time possibly losing more of their memories. They are dependent on blood and Blood Beads from specific springs. If they don’t get it, they will go mad and become ruthless monsters known as the Lost, a process sped up by breathing the tainted miasma spewed by other Lost around them.
In Code Vein, everyone is trapped inside a dilapidated city surrounded by a Gaol of the Mists that keeps all the humans, Revenants, and Lost inside. People are miserable, with systems in place to harvest the few Blood Beads available and keep humans captive for their blood. Revenants fight one another and the Lost around them. Plus, the world seems to just keep deteriorating more and more.
Fortunately, every player’s avatar is essentially vampire Jesus. You can revive the withered Bloodsprings and make them start providing the live-giving Blood Beads again. You can purify corrupted crystals left behind by Revenants. You can use any Blood Code, granting you access to special gifts no other Revenants can all use at once. Also, you happen to have coincidentally fallen in with what seems to be the only group of Revenants who also thinks humans are friends, not food, and want to try and create a better world. The story might not always be 100% enthralling, but some of the party members grow on you as you unlock their memories and find out what led to them being apocalyptic vampires.
I Will Survive
Code Vein is the sort of game that feels like it wants to have people enjoy a more accessible Soulslike. It could absolutely be punishing, and sometimes you will feel like you are running from Mistle to Mistle (the equivalent of Dark Souls’ Bonfires) on a map of the city that grows larger as you conquer new opponents. If you rush in to attack an enemy, you could be setting yourself up for trouble, as your stamina drains with weapon attacks and eventually keeps you from performing your quick combos. Knowing when to dodge, guard, and parry will keep you alive. Every foe, from the basic mook to the extravagant boss, has its own behaviors to learn and exploit. Each space you go through could have an additional road through it, which you can see from your past footsteps until you reach a Mistle that helps you open up a map.
But, it also has plenty of things designed to give you an edge. The currency here is Haze, which you get from beating enemies, using certain items, or selling equipment. It can be used to level your Revenant up, unlock new passive or active skills tied to your Blood Code, or purchase more equipment and items. It’s relatively easy to earn, and it is up to you to decide how to apply it to make you more formidable.
The aforementioned Blood Codes are also a huge help. These are Code Vein’s classes. Most Revenants have one, but because you are essentially the messiah vampire, you can use any Blood Code. This means you’ll pick up some in the world or have your allies occasionally share theirs with you. You can switch between them at any time, each has its own loadout you can customize, and you can invest in them to learn new skills tied to them. Best of all, if you use certain enemies and Haze or actually equip the class and use it, you will eventually become more proficient in the abilities and be able to use them when you have other Blood Codes equipped, essentially letting you pick your own class.
All of these things can come together really well to make Code Vein feel manageable, even if a new foe could appear daunting. Consider the second boss, the Butterfly of Delirium. First, there’s a Mistle right nearby, which allows you to save, have a fast travel point, and resurrect nearby if you happen to die in the fight. Second, if you visit the hub again before challenging this boss, Coco the item vendor will share her Mercury Blood Code with you—which is critical for this fight, since it has a Venom Removal skill. The Butterfly of Delirium loves to poison you and your ally. Taking the time to learn and master this skill gives you an ability that can perhaps ward if poison for your group if you use it when not poisoned, and definitely heal your condition if the two of you are poisoned. Since the Butterfly of Delirium likes to fly away, then zip in, you could master one of the Caster Blood Code’s ranged spells to let you deal damage even when it is far away. It’s an example of how things just work.
You’re not Alone in Code Vein
One of the things that really helps set Code Vein apart from other Soulslike titles is how it keeps with God Eater’s traditions and tries to makes the NPCs who are a part of your cause an important part of your life. You’re never alone on your missions, even during the dungeon dive. Someone is always commenting on your activities and fighting by your side. It’s comforting, as well as another feature that might make people who normally shy away from such titles go, “Okay. I can handle this.”
It helps that these AI companions are typically competent companions who have sympathetic backstories. If you’re hurt, your current partner may use a skill to heal you or distract the foe so you can step back a moment to patch yourself up. If you are attacking from the front, they will attack from the back. Shockingly enough, you’ll find some of them were intimately involved with the actions that led to the world being in such a dilapidated and dismal state. But, even if you wonder about motivations or find they’re a little too squeaky clean, you can’t help but feel bad for them and want them to be happy.
Unfortunately, it is not as good at connecting you with other actual people. While I was playing ahead of launch, when things would naturally not be as populated, I never came across another person in my journeys. I’d set my distress beacon when I was in trouble. I’d turn it on when I wasn’t. I looked for others who needed help. I never came across another living soul.
But, even if I had already found someone else, there is a limitation in play that seems counterintuitive to the idea of working with others. In Code Vein, you can only send up your beacon and try to have one other person join you and your AI companion if you haven’t cleared that field. It seems like that could end up being disappointing. (Since I never found anyone ahead of launch, well, your guess at how it will end up being is as good as mine.)
Sometimes, Blood Gets Messy.
While the concepts behind Code Vein are sound, some of its ideas aren’t implemented well. There can be massive framerate drops drops for a variety of reasons when playing on a PlayStation 4. Maybe it is because the foe is the equivalent of 20 in-game feet away from you. I could walk into an elevator and it starts moving. Perhaps it is because there is a fence and part of a parking garage wall between you and the opponent. It could happen due a boss deciding to, I don’t know, use one of its standard attacks. Maybe it is because the camera and you are trying to move at the same time? It just happens.
There were also times when I felt like the AI for some Code Vein enemies wasn’t all there, if you catch my drift. My Revenant would be directly in an active enemy’s line of sight. Let’s say she’s around six in-game feet away. The enemy never notices me. It never comes close. It just stares at me until I trigger some sort of action. Only then, is it on. So on, in fact, that sometimes it seems like their attacks cut through you even if you think you did dodge. Maybe I didn’t realize where the hitboxes were or maybe it was the game showing some issues, but there were some times when I was certain I dodged, but I still took a hit.
Even expository segments tied to Vestiges could have been handled better. After you find one that could have a Blood Code or have Io restore a broken one, you’ll go through a black and white world where a part of the ally character or Revenant’s past is revealed. You are forced to walk through these segments, as the dash function is turned off. You can’t control the speed of the text. You have to wait for the voice acting to keep up. After each of the multiple segments in these dark corridors finish, you have to wait for pathways to the next clip to appear. If you choose to skip, you not only skip the current portion of dialogue; that whole memory is skipped. It makes for a very tedious experience, especially when it happens with characters you have no attachments to.
Code Vein feels like it wants to take the idea of community and important AIs and marry it with the gameplay and ideas prevalent in Soulslikes. It is a story-heavy affair that wants you to care about its characters, while also helping you find your way in a demanding world with thoughtful combat. There are some technical hitches along the way, such as frame rate drops and hits that land even if you dodged, but they’re the sort of problems that could very well be eventually fixed with patches. For now, it’s a largely successful experiment into some new ideas.
Code Vein review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.