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The game takes place sometime after an event known as The Great Collapse, where monstrous horrors began to appear around the world.
To combat these horrors, humanity began creating super-soldiers known as Revenants: corpses reanimated by a genetically-engineered parasite.
The only downside to being a revenant is that they require human blood to stay alive… un-alive?… undead?… whichever.
You play as an unnamed Revenant that awakens in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where revenants fight over blood beads (an artificial blood source). Before too long, your character joins a group of well-meaning Revenants set on discovering a way to create more blood beads, so everyone can stop going all Mad Max on one another.
I sort of avoided this title for a while, mostly because when it came out I was unacquainted with Soulsborne games, and — indeed — was intimidated by the genre as a whole. After finally playing some of the From Software games, Hollow Knight, and Ashen, I decided that it was probably time to start giving some of the other games in the genre a shot.
So, I bought Code Vein, and It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
You see, it’s basically a Soulsborne game on the inside, but it wears the skin of a traditional JRPG. While these two elements are not necessarily diametrically opposed, it was certainly interesting to see how they worked together.
Story Mode Activate
While most Soulsborne games opt to follow in From Software’s footsteps and have their story be mired in mystery and lore, Code Vein instead decided to put the story front and center.
You don’t have to wonder where you are or what your goal is, because the game tells you outright. There are even characters who don’t talk in riddles and cutscenes that don’t herald the arrival of a boss.
This is because everything on the story/graphical end of the game is handled like a typical JRPG. From the environments (which can be a labyrinthian pain in the ass) to the way you gather a party of fairly-archetypal characters, to the overt fanservice, it’s all reminiscent of games like Persona or any of the thousand Ys games.
This actually worked pretty well, except that I kept thinking that every time I touched an enemy I would get pulled into a battle screen.
Unfortunately, while I enjoyed this focus on JRPG elements, I felt that the gameplay wasn’t as polished as I would have liked. It felt a little clunky, and at times I found myself wondering if the game wouldn’t have been better as a classic JRPG.
The other downside to having a JRPG story in a Soulsborne game was that I would get frustrated when a boss held me up.
Usually, within this genre, the story takes a backseat. So, getting crushed by a boss a couple hundred times doesn’t really matter, because the fight is the point.
In Code Vein, if I get trounced by a boss, I’m being held back from the rest of the story.
The Buddy System
One of the big ways that Code Vein differs from the usual Soulsborne fare, is that — much like Ashen — you can choose to have an AI helper throughout pretty much the whole game. I really liked this, because I didn’t have to worry about finding an ally to summon, or hoping that a particular boss had an NPC available to help me.
This feature was basically a difficulty setting. If you want to play on hard, you tell your buddy to…
If you want easy, you keep them with you… though, depending on the boss, it was more like having a medium difficulty.
The only issue I had with this mechanic was the constant prattling of your companion. After an hour of hearing “I really don’t like tight spaces” or “enemy ahead” or “you’re low on healing,” it started to get grating.
I did, eventually, find a setting in the options menu that turned off their dialog, which made traversing the environments far less annoying.
A Cornucopia of Customization
I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time creating my character in any game with a character creation menu, and Code Vein was no exception. In fact, I may have spent more time in this character creation menu than I ever have in a game.
Usually, most of my time spent creating a character is within the sliders and options that affect the way the character’s face looks. This was not the case with Code Vein, where your face shapes were relatively limited, and there were virtually no sliders to play with.
No, I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing with accessories.
The accessories were small items like hats, glasses, hair extensions, and about five other categories of bric-a-brac.
The reason I spent so much time with these is that you can put the accessories literally anywhere on your character, resize them, change their color, and change their orientation.
This led to my first character being decked out in so much glowing crap that they were hard to look at during the first few cutscenes.
I had to go back and create a much less shiny character so I could stand to look at them for more than a few seconds.
While, in my case, this was pretty ridiculous, it was also pretty amazing that I could customize my character to that extent.
Cracking the Code on Classes
One of my least/most favorite parts of this game were the Blood Codes. These are essentially the character classes that are available to you. When you start the game, you have three available that boil down to fighter, mage, and rogue-ish.
What’s neat about these “codes” is that you can change them at any time, and personalize the passive and active abilities of each, so that when you switch codes, you switch movesets along with them.
When you get further into the game and start meeting new characters, you will start to acquire different and varied Blood Codes. Each comes with a different set of active and passive abilities that you can learn simply by buying and equipping them. Once you’ve used them long enough, they will become permanent, and you will be able to equip them regardless of the Blood Code you’re using.
Basically, if you’re using a caster Blood Code, but want some abilities from a more martial class, you can work toward making those abilities usable by your caster class. This allows a fair amount of customization as far as your class goes.
The worst/best part about this whole game mechanic is that it inextricably links the story and gameplay mechanics.
You see, some Codes are not complete when you get them. To unlock the restricted abilities, you need to find Vestiges, which house the memories and skills of the Revenant that lost them.
In theory, this is a neat way to give you story and access to abilities. However, when you unlock a Vestige, you have to go into a segment that forces you to walk really slowly as a bunch of dioramas give you fragments of a character’s story.
There was seemingly no way to get the dialog to move faster and — when the segment is over — you have to walk slowly toward a nearby door…
This led to me skipping these segments entirely and just relying on people’s reactions to the memories to give me the gist of everyone’s backstories.
If they’d just let me jog at a normal place, or made them little cutscenes or something, I would have been fine with it.
A Sanguine Soiree
Overall, Code Vein is a fair Soulsborne game, elevated slightly by the way it was approached. I really enjoyed getting an actual story with plot points, and characters, even a couple of twists and turns.
While it was bizarre to see a JRPG gutted and stuffed with all of the things From Software is known for, it was also heartening.
Unfortunately the gameplay, while fun, wasn’t given as much love as I would have liked, the ending was lackluster, and the overall level design left me wanting.
I’m giving Code Vein a bloody 6.5/10. While I don’t think it is a perfect marriage of the two genres it endeavors to emulate, I found this game had a charm that was hard to ignore, especially for anyone who loves From Software and JRPG’s.
My only real gripe with this game is the outrageous designs of the weapons. Seriously, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, who’s going to take the time to make a sword out of thirty -ix pieces of metal and weld them together into something so damn cool that it actually goes around and becomes lame again.