With the release coming up fast on September 27th, it was about time Bandai released a demo for Code Vein. Released on September 3rd, the demo comes in at a whopping 8 gigabytes. I knew I was in for a wild ride when I started the download.
It was… something, alright.
I’ll start with a disclaimer: I’ve never played a single Soulsborne game, so some of my impressions may be redundant/simply symptomatic of the genre that Code Vein advertises itself as.
From the onset, the game throws you into a character editor with a massive amount of options — enough that I started to suspect that a part of the large filesize was dedicated to that alone. Needless to say, I had a great deal of fun customizing my character to a specific look.
As soon as I was done and typed in my name, the game threw me into a tutorial with no preamble. I was in a brightly lit platform with a seemingly omniscient and ethereal woman giving me instructions on how to use my various abilities. It was enjoyable enough, if a little uninspired. I will say, however, that I appreciated the chance to get to know the mechanics of the game before I was faced with a real enemy.
Standard RPG Gameplay With A Cool New Look
The actual mechanics of the game were like the tutorial: enjoyable, if a little uninspired. I was given an option between three “Codes” to begin with, which were the game’s codeword for classes. Each Code has specific stats and abilities, with some codes allowing for the effective use of heavier weapons or more powerful abilities, and so on. Abilities can be learned and mastered, after which they can be used no matter what Code a player has equipped, as long as the prerequisite stats for the ability are met.
Players unlock abilities and level up through collecting “Haze,” the game’s hybrid currency and experience point unit. This is more of a creative step outside the standard RPG formula, albeit a little restricting. Players earn Haze by defeating enemies, after which they can spend them at “Mistle" save points to buy abilities or level up. Later on, they can also use Haze to buy or upgrade weapons and armor with merchants.
Having to choose between buying/mastering abilities and leveling up for better stats was a novel dilemma, but I feel that having to choose between that and having better equipment was a bit much. We’ll just have to see how it actually balances out in the full game.
Otherwise, the gameplay follows a pretty standard, but fun formula. There’s a variety of weapons, ranging from heavy to light. Players use “Ichor” to use abilities or long-range attacks. The stamina bar is used for standard attacks and dodging, which wasn’t good news for someone who abuses the dodge button as much as me, but at the same time it forced me to get more creative with my approach to enemies.
For a game that advertises itself as “story-driven,” it sure is light on it. Or too heavy-handed, depending on the moment. The story couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a light justification for the aesthetic of the game, or a real tear-jerker. It sort of threw me into the thick of things and gave me bits of the premise either on the fly or through a convenient, “Oops I have amnesia. Please explain the lore to me again Mr. Nice Nameless NPC.” Then it gave me this Oliver lad, who was likable enough, but predictably ended up turning into a monster that I had to kill.
Upon his defeat, he dropped a crystal that another character warned me not to touch. So, naturally, I picked it up immediately. The crystal sent me to this weird dream/memory sequence of Oliver’s, detailing his sad life and what led him to that point. Which was… sad, I guess? The game simply hadn’t given me enough material to actually care about this dude, so I was just left with the feeling that I should have felt worse for him than I did.
Sorry, Oliver. The only NPC I ended up forming a real attachment to was Io, a.k.a. The Girl In White.
Bad Female Character Design
After I completed the tutorial, I woke up in the arms of a girl who was encouraging me in a soft voice; already an A+ opening, I needed to see nor hear more than that.
And I wish I hadn’t! The camera panned to her full outfit, and, well. Can someone please tell the devs that big boobs in a flimsy dress don’t stay perfectly spherical and voluminous without some serious structural support?
She also seemed to have no desire other than to stay at your side, and while she definitely knows more than she’s letting on, this does make her a bit of a damsel. It was unfortunate. I am constantly tired of women being portrayed as emotional objects with no agency in games. But I also loved her! She was nice, and she took care of me. She won my devotion in less than thirty seconds.
Needless to say, I was a bit conflicted. If she were the only female character given this treatment, I could probably have overlooked it. But, alas, when I got to the Hub area and met female characters other than Io and myself, I realized there would be no merit or creativity to be found in the female character designs of this game.
To be fair, I suppose I should have been warned during character creation. The clothing options were telling. Male characters had totally normal, if a bit flamboyantly boyband-ish options, while female characters had to choose between boob windows and miniskirts. The most tolerable option is a BDSM turtleneck with leather straps that emphasize the boobs uncomfortably. Mercifully, the armor covers up the worst of the visual tit-crimes. However, in the hub, my character didn’t wear her armor, and worse: her run animation made her look like a schoolgirl in a dating simulator, not a powerful vampire destined to save the world.
I get that this is an anime game, but can we be done with the dual sexualization/infantilization of female characters already?
Enjoyable, If Uninspired
All in all, it’s a pretty cool game so far. The gameplay is a good balance of conventional and creative, and the whole post-apocalyptic sci-fi vampire aesthetic is poppin’. It’s just massively marred by a tediously gratuitous amount of boob (congrats, Code Vein, you can join the legions of games with blatantly unbalanced gender presentation). The only way the games can really fix this is by giving the female characters normal clothes and normal walk animations, or imposing the same sexualization upon the male characters. But, as the game is releasing soon, this is more or less an impractical hope to have. Instead, I’m just praying that the game is good enough to overlook this lack of creativity.
Dear Bandai: Next time, if you’re gonna keep putting boob windows and heels on characters? We wanna see it on the dudes too. Bring on the himbos!