Another action RPG, another Dark Souls disclaimer and forewarning. This review contains quite a few mentions of the words Dark and Souls in this particular order. This is mostly in reference to the similarities Code Vein has to the critically acclaimed series by From Software and not to say that Bandai-Namco’s latest anime-styled title doesn’t stand on its own merit. On the contrary, Code Vein has demonstrated multiple times throughout my roughly 30 hours with it that its choice of borrowed mechanics is a smart one that avoids reinventing the wheel. Beyond the inspirations, the game contains a whole slew of ideas that not only differentiate it from the Soulsborne games but improve and elevate some of their aspects that made them a household name in the gaming sphere.
The story of Code Vein is as anime as it possibly gets. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, mankind is on the brink of extinction due to an event known as the Great Decline, turning a good portion of the survivors into Revenants. In good anime fashion, Revenants are essentially vampires with a different name. They thirst for human blood and are immortal unless they go without their crimson beverage of choice for too long. Besides fresh human blood, the not-exactly-vampires of Code Vein can opt to get their fix from Blood Beads which grow on mysterious white trees. As with most anime stories, there are good Revenants who take the tough route of feeding themselves via the rarer to find Blood Beads while there are still those who choose to hunt down the few remaining humans and turn them into their personal blood bags. As the protagonist of the game, your uniquely designed Revenant is caught by a band of not-so-nice Revenants who use weaker ones to prey on humans and enter dangerous locales to acquire Blood Beads. A tutorial dungeon and one boss later, you join forces Louis, Yakumo and the rest of their group of do-gooders to investigate the source of the Blood Beads and put an end to divide. Oh! And there’s a mysterious bodacious yet innocent female Revenant who tags along with you. In a nutshell, Code Vein’s story is anime bliss through and through. Love or hate the repeated tropes, there are some intriguing moments and emotional gut punches that are well-paced, offering up a decent story that doesn’t bore but it’s definitely not its greatest strength either.
I mentioned earlier that in Code Vein you can create your own unique Revenant and I want to emphasize the level of uniqueness, for the game has one of the richest and robust character creators I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Many websites, including us in our two previews, have gushed about Code Vein’s staggeringly comprehensive Build-an-Anime-Character studio and for good reason. From head to toe, you can customize every aspect of your character to make them look any way you desire. From multiple hats to multiply your dapper levels to layering hairstyles to get the right gravity-defying look, a big chunk of my 30-hour playthrough was spent styling and tweaking my anime vampire persona. And that wasn’t just at the beginning because Code Vein allows you to alter your appearance any time and as many times as you wish. All you need to do is access the mirror at your Home Base and your back down the wannabe mangaka rabbit hole. I think I spent more time on deciding if my character should wear her fingerless gloves on both hands or have one be barehanded than with any gameplay-related decision. It’s nuts and this is partly thanks to the gorgeous graphics engine, a clear upgrade from the same one used in God Eater 3. Code Vein is customization heaven and that doesn’t just run skin deep.
Beyond their craving for human juice and immortality, vampires and Revenants have their differences in their abilities as well. While the former transform into bats and possess superhuman strength, the latter are instilled with their own set of skills in the form of Blood Codes, Code Vein’s interpretation of character classes. Luckily for us, the main character is a sort of Uber Revenant who can absorb other Blood Codes to acquire their Gifts and perks. Almost every Revenant you encounter has his or her own unique talents that make up their fighting style. Louis, for example, who possesses the Prometheus Blood Code, is a well-rounded melee fighter with a balance of offensive and defensive Gifts. Yakumo’s Blood Code called Atlas, on the other hand, is on the tankier side offering access to heavy armor and defensive Gifts. There are quite a few Blood Codes to collect from ranged-styled such as the Hunter to spellslinger types such as the Caster. These Codes can be switched out at will and can be enhanced by unlocking more Gifts. What’s more is that frequent usage of each Gift eventually leads to them being mastered, allowing for the mixing and matching of Gifts across different Blood Codes. This is a powerful feature as it enables you to build your own class of your dreams. The game encourages frequent Blood Code swapping as you’re not required to level them up individually. Like I insinuated earlier, Code Vein should probably be retitled My Ultimate Anime Character.
This freedom of customization perfectly complements Code Vein’s other core strength, which is its gameplay. In my earlier previews and articles, I placed the game’s combat speed somewhere between Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, an opinion the final game has made me take back. After having switched between several different Blood Codes, it’s clear that this allows for yet another layer of customization with the speed at which you can dispatch Lost, the enemies in the game who are Revenants that have succumbed to their thirst for blood and didn’t manage to quench it soon enough. If you prefer the slower more methodical approach to combat in the Dark Souls series, then melee-based Blood Codes such as Prometheus, Atlas, and Fighter and ranged spellcasters like the aptly-named Caster will make you feel right at home. For Bloodborne enthusiasts, there are faster classes such as Assassin and Hemdal will be ideal choices. As mentioned earlier, too, the possibilities are staggeringly endless once the mixing and matching of Gifts begins. Gameplay-wise, Code Vein goes for the throat thanks to its endless variety of playstyles and its satisfying abilities and mechanics. Almost all Gifts require a certain amount of Ichor, the game’s version of mana, to be executed and each Blood Code has its own base Ichor stock level. Killing enemies awards a small amount of Ichor back but the best way to keep your stock levels up and increase its capacity is via your Blood Veil attacks. Blood Veils are the singular piece of armor you can equip in Code Vein and while they don’t offer much in terms of customization aside from the few different styles that exist in different colors, they make combat an involved decision-making affair. By ending a combo with a Blood Veil attack via the right shoulder button, your Revenant will absorb a larger amount of Ichor. Backstabbing is also a great way to not only absorb Ichor but to also increase your maximum stock. It’s also exceedingly satisfying as the animations are some of the most spectacular in the game. Combining normal attacks with Gifts and Ichor absorption is the key to maintaining your deadliness at high levels. Combat is also frequent enough that you quickly forgive the game’s bland and linear level design, the game’s one big shortcoming.
Code Vein has all the trappings of a Soulsborne-inspired action RPG without being blatant about how it makes use of the formula. It manages to differentiate itself beyond the anime paint job with an extremely flexible class system and addictive combat. Even though its story is the sheer definition of anime cliche and its level design could have used a bit more space for exploration, the game’s strengths are great enough to keep the entertainment factor at high levels. Playing online is as straightforward an affair as using a quick menu and you’re ready to take on foes with others in an instant. If you’ve been hankering for some more action RPG goodness while waiting for Elden Ring and you’re either an anime fan or don’t mind the art style, the Code Vein will surely whet your appetite for a good long time. If you’ve never played a Soulsborne and you’ve been wanting to jump in but felt intimidated to do so, Code Vein’s NPC partner system and easy co-op play make it the perfect introduction to build up your confidence.