At first glance CODE VEIN (developed by BANDAI NAMCO) appears designed to appeal to a niche audience. However after further examination (for better or for worse) that sentiment resigns to be true. Dubbed Anime-Souls for good reason, CODE VEIN contains Souls-like gameplay and a large injection of Anime. If you don’t like either, this won’t be your cup of tea. But if they are, then you might be in luck!
Now, how one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt. (This included). I enjoyed my time spent with CODE VEIN, both as a SoulsBorne player, and one who partakes in the occasional JoJo. CODE VEIN is far from perfect, but there were numerous positive aspects that kept me coming back right up until the credits rolled.
Let’s examine the product through the lens of metrics such as; Graphical fidelity, story/characters, content/length, controls and gameplay, then finally, sound design and cinematics.
Straight to the point CODE VEIN doesn’t look spectacular, but it is visibly satisfying. Environmental textures occasionally look bland and large masses of particle effects often cause frame spikes. Shading effects look good enough, but the use of lighting can be incredible at times. Reflections are sometimes jarring, but at the right moments greatly enhance the visual experience. Character models, clothing and equipment are quite detailed and effort was clearly put into their design. That being said, items of clothing often clip through each other. Blood Veils (armor) subtly blow in the wind and react directionally based on character movement, usually looking pretty cool. Hair looks fabulous.
The long load times make me excited for next-gen SSD. However the setting is alluring. From ruined cityscapes pierced by thorns and snowy fields, to vine infested complexes; the locations are intriguing. Granted, they could look a little better. Backstab animations look bloody glorious though.
Characters and Story
CODE VEIN’s characters are for the most part, anime stereotypes strapped onto a silent protagonist. Add a dash of the ‘power of friendship’ cliché, and you’ve got a cast! Despite the majority of standard characters, Jack and Eva do tend to standout as marginally more complex. Motivations tend to be fairly straightforward, if not convoluted for story reasons.
Throughout the games progress, players are encouraged to experience memories, or Vestiges from the variety of characters. These attempt to add depth to characters and past events, but provide little to no player interaction aside from walking simulator segments. At first I didn’t mind their inclusions as they added valuable context to the plot, and oftentimes were beautifully crafted. But there’s so many of them, that it becomes a repetitive task the player endures for a skill reward; rather than a willingness and longing to uncover the next piece of the puzzle. BANDAI NAMCO attempts to use this unique presentation of information as a storytelling tool, playing off of what knowledge the consumer is and isn’t privy to at any given moment. This contrasts Dark Souls subtle ability to inject plot into the tiniest of details and spark the curiosity of the player to want to learn more.
Not to say CODE VEIN has a bad story necessarily, but it certainly wasn’t a groundbreakingly impressive feature of storytelling, and there is a ton of ‘fan service’. I personally found the story unnecessarily convoluted, trying to match Dark souls level of complexity and intricacy with a far more blunt approach.
Content and Length
A completionist run of CODE VEIN took me approximately 40 hours, however another two playthroughs would be required for the platinum trophy. New game plus with an increased difficulty is also available. Players will traverse a variety of settings, and fight a multitude of different bosses. CODE VEIN has a massively expansive character creator that lets you make nearly any character you can imagine. This should be emphasized, the character creator is impressive. Build diversity is incredible with the ability to mix and match classes (Blood Codes) to suit any desired playstyle. It should be noted that bayonet rifles feel woefully underwhelming and likely require buffs, but for the most part abilities and weapons feel powerful.
The majority of CODE VEIN can be played with an NPC Companion, or Online Co-op partner, or without if a player chooses. Optional side quests through dialogue are available, if a bit vague at times. And “The Depths” are simple explore-able dungeon layouts that give players a little extra something to do. Their designs are generic, but it was nice to have additional content to dive into outside the beaten path.
Controls and Gameplay
Though it doesn’t take any dramatic risks with the Souls-like formula, it does have a gratifying gameplay loop that kept me coming back. CODE VEIN definitely isn’t as masochistic as other Souls-likes, which can be considered a positive for some, and a negative to others. The user interface is quite concise, and slicing your way through dozens of Lost feels satisfying. Once you get used to the controls, that is. After a few hours the controls become second nature but after other Souls-Like games – I had to break muscle memory.
Movement is crisp – if a bit choppy. And camera angles can be difficult at times, mostly when trying to look for ledges or find secrets and shortcuts. In some areas, falling may kill you more than enemy Lost. As previously mentioned about Backstabs, and as glorious as they are; even when seemingly under the proper circumstances and angle, they don’t seem to consistently trigger. I believe developers (for good reason) didn’t want an excessively wide backstab window, but by making it so small it had an inverse effect. You don’t get that sweet-sweet animation when you feel you earned it and the player feels slighted. Leveling and Stats are an interesting topic for CODE VEIN. Players do not level up individual stats, but the character as a whole. Strength, Dexterity, Mind, Willpower, Vitality, and Fortitude are effected by the Blood Code (Class) chosen, and stats scale accordingly.
Sound Design & Cinematics
The music for CODE VEIN is (for the most part) beautifully orchestrated and implemented, with the exception of a scene that had the tone of a Disney princess movie. That moment aside, the sound design is sombre when it needs to be, enigmatic at times, and hopeful when required. When the title screen opens up and the orchestra booms, you know what you’re in for. Abilities and attacks sound meaty, though larger weapons often sound like their missing weight.
The voice acting is very hit and miss for the English Dub, some characters sound lively and enthusiastic while others sound quite literally bored reading a script. Occasionally the subtitles do not match the spoken words, but these are minor details. The main cast sounds well acted however, particularly Jack, Eva and Io. Cinematics are far more abundant than your typical Souls-like, and a heavier focus on direct storytelling is apparent. The cinematic sections are very anime-esque, with your silent protagonist often just nodding or grunting in approval. I’ll admit though that some scenes have a unique personality to them.
Even through its flaws, I very much enjoyed my time with CODE VEIN. The game lacks polish but is built on a solid foundation and satisfying gameplay loop. CODE VEIN does not contain the same level of finish as the recent SoulsBorne games, but for anyone looking to scratch that itch, this will do it. By the time the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel that a CODE VEIN franchise has the potential to match the depth, complexity and polish of FromSoftware Souls-like products, even if it isn’t there yet. I liked CODE VEIN and I very much look forward to prospects of a sequel.
What did you think of CODE VEIN? Let us know in the comments. and stick around ABG for all things gaming. If you enjoyed this Review, why not check out our previous thoughts in Borderlands 3: Full Review.
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A Bloody Fun, If Imperfect Time
- Score: - 7.3/107.3/10
+Expansive Character Creator
+Highly Unique Build Diversity
+ Satisfying Combat Animations
– Too Much Cliche Dependency
– Bland Side Content