Looking back on Code Vein

Considering how often we covered the very anticipated release of the “anime Dark Souls” back in September of last year I feel it has been very late of us to report our feelings on the rather special title. From the company who brought us the infamously bleak and harsh world of Dark Souls, we were sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into. As someone who was new to these harder titles I found Code Vein easy to sink into what with its appealing anime-esque dystopian world, and plenty of waifu and husbando to feel bonded to on our dark and emotional journey. Yes, it is as easy as that to get me into such a challenging game! But how difficult is this souls-like title?

A game that anyone can ultimately get into, no matter its design

Where better to start than here when discussing Code Vein? At this point I am sure all of us know that Code Vein was designed to be another ARPG similar to the Dark Souls series. And I even mentioned how uncomfortable and unsure I personally was when venturing into this punishing world where multiple deaths are certain to happen to secure victories. Often termed as a “dying game” due to the nature of these challenging titles where dying can often be just as painful to the player than what our very own player character keeps succumbing to, it’s also always more gratifying and glorious when you achieve your objective no matter how many pitfalls prevents your progression.

The game not only offers a grand story involving high stakes and emotional turns and confrontations, but it has a total of 3 endings, from bad to neutral, and its true good ending. This is obviously a major bonus to make our purchase well worth the buck for over 200 hours easily reachable when going for a full story and experience. Furthermore, when we consider how many hours this title keeps us both entertained or screaming at for, its end game content does not disappoint with a new game plus. With each play-through cleared, the option of increased difficulty appears for the player to either accept or decline. The game increases the strength of every enemy with each play-through, and by the fifth play-through specially the challenge jumps significantly. This makes Code Vein even more appealing as a Souls-like title for newcomers for replayability while also catering to veterans of the genre at the same time.

And when it comes to how much the game caters to different gamer’s tastes, the realism of the title is a talking point. Despite its extremely anime appearance we all absolutely adore here, its story heavy content will please those less inclined to play the title due to its art style. The presentation of its plot is not as over the top as you would expect from a title such as Devil May Cry, notorious for its effortless style in being corny yet cool. Code Vein’s appeal was meant to target not only those who enjoy more obviously Japanese inspired art styles, but its story is grounded more so as to be playable for everyone for its deep, emotional plot and level-headed presentation.

Support through this lonely world

For how much I have already complimented the title for its support for those less inclined for bloodshed, it does not end there. There is a notable significance in bonding with your supporting characters which relates itself to the more laid-back portions of the game as down times, much like the always available hot springs to enter for some cooling down after a long and hard battle. By giving gifts that your comrades likes, your friendship level with them increases which awards you points in exchanging with them for some helpful goodies. These can range from healing items, unique material for weapon improvements, and most importantly, a duplicate weapon of their very own for you to wield. So by merely exploring the world and locating such normal, everyday items we would see very little value in today it makes the characters feel all the more relatable and human. It even feels rewarding for those who are less skillful with these challenging games to feel inclined to merely explore in order to possess beneficial items and focus on character bonding over fighting.

Even outside of this beneficial exchange, the developers put a lot of time and consideration in the all important exploration of dungeons. The game overall feels a lot less lonely and bleak than any other Dark Souls title thanks to your choice of a companion (who will most certainly come to your rescue time and time again). There is a lot of dialogue spewed from your companion which I found as a nice reminder that your journey may feel hopeless but you have support throughout despite it being a bit too excessive at times. And for those who are gifted at these Dark Souls like games, do not fret. You can choose to explore alone, upping the isolation and most importantly the difficulty. Significantly, might I add!

This sense of unity and fellowship can be felt by being linked to other fellow players as well through the multiplayer function. You can play with your friends or strangers when it comes to the side dungeons, making them even less isolating of a journey in a dystopian world or as a chore considering how similar the dungeon designs can be (my one complaint!).

A story worth sinking your teeth into

Code Vein was originally developed with the overseas market in mind, and you can tell once you break through its anime surface. Even in its story, the revenants can be understood as the universally recognised concept of vampires, and nicely ties into the “dying” nature of the game. Its perishing, realistic world crossed with these consistently dying yet unwillingly living vampires is a design choice to correlate to the player and establish an easily understandable world worth fighting for no matter where you are established.

It’s one reason why I gravitated towards the title initially, but what helped seal the deal is how many parallels I could draw to an iconic otome title hakuoki, both sharing engaging plots to do with the strength of humans compared to the superiority of the supernatural. While Hakuoki leans heavily into the romance side when it comes to its blood thirsty, monstrously strong characters known as furies, it’s a similar story element shared with Code Vein’s vampires who need blood to not only sustain this almighty strength but to also avoid succumbing to it. Even more similarities can be drawn from these two very different titles, as they both put emphasis on their main characters feeling and appearing closer to monsters, but find happiness and strength through being human. Where Hakuoki showed this with new obstacles for their love interests to overcome to find themselves once again after becoming a fury, Code Vein puts importance in showing a world where everyone has their own goals and wants but are all still linked through facing the same dark reality and struggles in this harsh world.

Collaborative art by Taiki

A souls-like unlike what you would expect

Not only is its gifting function brings in another familiar mechanic to the title similar to a JRPG (Persona, anyone?) but its blood codes is the game’s term for classes, where players can choose on the fly to change up their characters’ strengths or stats for boosts. Add on the variety of different blood veils and weapons and you’ll be seeing how brilliant its customisation is.

Additionally, the skills and gifts functions adds another layer of strategy to the Souls like formula. It’s only one reason as to why Code Vein stands out as another Dark Souls title. Not only does this add variety into the possible battles and outcomes, the amount of class and weapon choices opens up many different and viable ways to fight depending on your own play style, or as a better pick for a certain boss. This is notable as it sets up the title as being more of a traditional JRPG, where retrying by changing up your play style feels a lot less punishing as it can even lower the amount of retries necessary to complete certain stages/bosses. You can even notice how similar the title is in comparison to the developer’s GOD EATER series when it comes to such customisable gameplay mechanics.

And speaking of customisation, we finally come to what is arguably the most infamous part of the game and also the element its own developers are most proud of. The character customisation is often a source of consistent praise within reviews of the title, with reddit being a perfect place to treat your eyes to see how truly customisable its creator system is. It demonstrates how much time and effort has been put into the various, overwhelming amount of options in it, because who doesn’t want to run around a dystopian world wielding a Claymore as Overwatch’s D.Va?

Closing thoughts

Iizuka has said to hope that they can build this new IP even further, and I pray that this certainly won’t be the last we’ll see of Code Vein. Because even if it’s been a long enough journey as it is, I will always be ready for even more that its hopeful world and charismatic characters has to offer. Or maybe it’s just because I want to spend more time with Oliver Collins? It probably is.

Lilia Hellal
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