Code Vein, Bandai Namco’s latest Action RPG, has been likened to Bloodborne with an anime spin. While the comparison isn’t unwarranted - it’s in the same vein of gameplay mechanics - the game manages to bring a unique twist on the vampire genre and stand on its own despite some stumbling blocks. Less challenging, but more colorful than your standard Soulsborne, Code Vein is a more casual Souls-like game that still has enough creative gameplay and unique elements to assert its own brand - though it’s not a particularly polished one.
Surprisingly Balanced And Varied
Despite the persisting aesthetic in the marketing, Code Vein is not all broken city ruins and decrepit caves teeming with monsters. There’s a good variety in both regions, as well as boss battles. Each region after the first two presents a new environment with a unique challenge that encourages players to adapt their playstyle or how they approach combat. One region is a snowy mountaintop with treacherous terrain, another is a desert city with ichor-draining sand, and so on. Each boss has a vastly different set of movements that require close analysis and fast adaptation, and no single approach will last a player the entire game.
There were occasions later in the game where I had to change my build entirely to pass a certain boss fight, but thankfully, grinding to invest in a new build doesn’t take too long in the late-game regions. Overall, the difficulty curve was pretty even and I had fun taking the time to learn the attack patterns of new enemies in order to adapt to them, as well as picking through the wide variety of builds available to develop my own style.
It's not a perfect gameplay experience, though. There were two instances where the difficulty spiked for no reason and stalled my playthrough for hours. Not to mention that the game gives absolutely no guidance on where to go next to progress the story after completing a region with a few exceptions. Code Vein suffers from a severe lack of structured progression guidance in general.
A Colorful Vampire Apocalypse
Minor gameplay woes aside, Code Vein really is a gorgeous game. The scenery is imaginative and stunning, and it maintains a gothic aesthetic without sacrificing vibrant colors and vivid settings. The memory sequences that players have to complete to gain new Blood Codes are wonderfully ethereal. Though they follow a slightly drab formula at first, the game unveils some truly captivating sequences later into the game. The character designs are original: the game blends gothic vampire fashion with a bit of emo/punk streetwear flair really bring out a unique look.
That is, it does so for the male characters, and the male characters only.
I talked about my woes with the female character design in my preview for Code Vein, so I won’t say much more except that it only gets worse the farther you get in the game. Where all the men are dressed in fantastical but still functional clothing, all the female characters are given impractical, disheveled dresses or skin-tight outfits. There are exactly two female characters that are dressed and proportioned like normal people, and they're minor characters with a few minutes of screentime.
It was actually kind of annoying and made trying to pay attention to a cutscene difficult. Every time a female character was on-screen, I would inevitably lose focus and become engulfed in the ennui of having to look at physics-defying boobs that were completely unnecessary. The game operates on this false insistence that women's bodies are somehow so fundamentally different from men's that they must be displayed differently (i.e. in a consumable manner) and it took away massively from my gameplay experience.
What Kind Of Apocalypse Is This Exactly?
The story of the game itself suffers from being intricate but poorly executed. Maybe it’s the amnesia of the main character, but I had no bloody idea what was going on with the game’s setting until halfway through the plot.
Show-don’t-tell storytelling that weaves crucial information evenly throughout the story is all good and well, but the audience should at least be able to roughly place themselves in the chronology of the setting. Yes, the game eventually lays out a vague timeline of when things happened, but it takes too long to do so. I completely missed the emotional significance of some of the character events earlier in the game, and I just didn’t understand why people were living the way they were.
Not to mention, the subplot that culminates into the true ending makes no sense at all. Without spoiling anything, I have to say that I was completely confused as to why a certain character could do what they did to save the world and it just felt… entirely too convenient.
The thing is, I can appreciate Code Vein’s loose approach to explaining story elements that never tries to justify its over-the-top aesthetic. Stories like that, however, need a strong structure that works harder to not lose players’ understanding of the actual plot or their role in the in-game world.
A Solid B Negative
Code Vein is an enjoyable game with its own fair share of flaws. Mainly, it would benefit massively from more comprehensive player guidance and improving upon its atrocious female character design. Still, it manages to be a fun and colorful game that straddles the gap between a Souls-like game with a JRPG flair and a JRPG with a Souls-like influence.
3 Out Of 5 Stars
A PS4 copy of Code Vein was purchased for this review. Code Vein is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.