Soulsborne: Anime Edition

HIGH Yakumo. Or maybe Eva? Nah, it’s gotta be Yakumo.

LOW The combat’s just average, and there’s a ton of it.

WTF Who thought walking through dozens of memories at a snail’s pace was a good idea?

Code Vein‘s been a long time coming. Originally planned for release in 2018, this anime take on the Souls formula has built anticipation during its numerous delays, and it’s finally here. I can say that it was worth the wait, but it’s not a runaway triumph either.

The storyline revolves around a bunch of vampires — sorry, ‘Revenants’ — who are trapped inside a hostile part of their world cordoned off by an impenetrable barrier known as the Misama. They’re also slowly going insane due to a lack of available blood sources.

After creating a custom protagonist from the exceptional character creation tool, players are thrown into Code Vein in the least auspicious manner possible — starving, barely able to walk and on the edge of permanently slipping into a murderous frenzy. Fortunately, there’s an anime girl with a large chest and inappropriate clothing at hand to prevent this, but we’re soon forced into an eternity of thralldom instead.

However, in an entirely expected twist, the main character has… the power to save the world! Yes, the protagonist can clear away concentrations of miasma at select points dotted around the map, allowing the embattled Revenants to venture out of their prison. They’ll fight ferocious enemies, and along the way they’ll also absorb the memories of fallen Revenants. It’s a decent narrative conceit which allows them to learn skills and information from their fallen owners — one which also has a notable effect on the story for players who like to explore thoroughly.

While recovering these memories is a neat twist, Code Vein‘s overall storyline suffers from common anime tropes — things like extolling the power of friendship, delivering inspirational speeches and delving into the pasts of characters in intensely sappy, melodramatic fashion. Honestly, it’s so sappy that it makes it hard to care about much of what happens (except when it comes to Best Boy and ultimate bro Yakumo.)

Mechanically, Code Vein is a third-person stamina based brawler which anyone familiar with Dark Souls or Bloodborne will be right at home with. Players can choose from an assortment of weapons, ranging from oversized two-handed warhammers to dinky little bayonets, and then they’ll engage whatever shrieking horrors the world throws at them — and carefully, if they wish to survive.

There’s also an assortment of classes, known as Blood Codes, which allow the player to swap their playstyle at will. Even better, skills from one Blood Code can be mastered and utilized with any other, so flexibility in character build is actually extensive here — from slinging spells at distant enemies to bulking up on HP or two-handed attack power, there’s a suitable approach for every type of gamer.

It’s dangerous to go alone, however, so helpful AI companions are always available to lend a hand — and lend a hand they do, given that they’re incredibly reliable. They’ll heal the player when downed, engage enemies in an intelligent fashion, take a hell of a pounding before dropping out of the fight, and generally prove their worth in a multitude of different ways. Human players can also be invited for online co-op, though the effectiveness of these companions isn’t as guaranteed.

While the vampiric, dark art style of Code Vein is kinda awesome, it does fail to sell its world in one crucial way — I simply never came across any ‘Oh Shit’ moments while playing.

Despite attempting to portray its world as a merciless, terrifying nightmare, it often comes across as a lighthearted knockabout, even when taking on the deadliest enemies or gazing upon the most hellish vistas it has to offer. This lack of gravity isn’t helped by the lightweight combat, which suffers from a lack of heft — smashing someone with a warhammer should have skull-crushing impact, but it often feels like whacking them with a stick. More work on enemy hit reactions would have done wonders.

The environmental design averages out to being decent, with dull sewer style areas butting heads against gorgeously-rendered snow-capped mountain hideaways. While some of the map layouts feel a little too much like sequences of long corridors populated by enemies, they all feature an abundance of secrets to discover, as well as a number of sidequests that pop up in previously-completed areas.

In the end, Code Vein may not be all that we might have hoped for, but I enjoyed my playthrough and didn’t want to stop before credits rolled. In fact, I was so invested that I actually restarted my game twenty five hours in after realizing that I could influence the storyline through my actions, and had no regrets in doing so. Despite the fact that it doesn’t reach the top of the Soulslike genre, it’s a worthwhile entry that lays very fertile ground for a sequel that goes further.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Shift and Bandai Namco Games and published by Bandai Namco Games. It is currently available on PS4, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 55 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed with the best ending. One hour of play was spent in co-op multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Partial Nudity and Violence. It’s not particularly extreme overall — the rating basically boils down to the characters looking good and enemies getting stabbed.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are audio cues for nearby enemies that do not have a visual cue. Subtitles are available and can be customized to show up only during gameplay, only during cutscenes, during both, or they can be turned off completely. They are a little on the small side during gameplay, however and there’s no way to resize them. Also, FYI that turning off cutscene subtitles also cuts off subtitles during memory walks. This is weird because it’s technically more of a gameplay sequence than a cutscene, and also inconvenient as the dialogue volume during these moments tends to be lower and more easily drowned out than elsewhere in the game.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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