Anime Dark Souls is the term that’s been thrown around when describing Code Vein leading up to its release. It’s a game from the creators of God Eater which takes the art style of that franchise and places players into a post-apocalyptic world to navigate with a rule set that’s largely been aped from the Dark Souls series. In theory, this should be an incredible game and it is … at times. The reality is that it’s a beautiful game that plays the role of a cringey Dark Souls impersonator.
Code Vein is rather impressive in some spots though. The action RPG introduces some interesting characters across the course of the 30+ hour campaign. It does take you to some beautiful locations, setting a compelling premise that has humans and revenants trying to survive a calamity that’s brought about blood lust to the world. You’ll get glimpses of how things used to be in the world of Code Vein prior to this event, but for the most part you’re fighting your way through this post-apocalyptic dystopia. There’s plenty of backstory and details regarding the many different characters that’ll meet. More importantly, there’s an interesting universe that’s been created here. Code Vein strays somewhat from the zombie end of the world trope to their own unique vampire-themed disaster. Shift really does nail things from the story front when it comes to the general theme and cohesion of the world. From the safe haven of your home base to the monster infested areas that you’ll visit, everything gels together to a level that Dark Souls hasn’t really achieved in that series. That, and presentation, however, are about the only things that Code Vein does better than the popular From Software series it tries so hard to be like.
Code Vein is also quite impressive in terms of the amount of customization you can do. There’s plenty of ways to create your own character to take into this world, and furthermore, there’s an incredible level of customization when it comes to character builds as well. This customization allows you to fully tailor each aspect of your character from the way it looks to the way it plays and this is definitely a level of detail that we’ve never seen from the Souls series itself. Code Vein looks like God Eater. The art style and presentation draw heavily from that series. That said, to call Code Vein an Anime Dark Souls is a spot on description, at least that’s exactly what this is trying to be. It uses many of the gameplay rules from that series and really tries to shoehorn them into this world. The results are less than impressive. Where Dark Souls strengths come from solid core combat and the ability to break players spirits only to build them up through small victories throughout the experience, Code Vein feels flat almost all the way through.
Code Vein takes from the Souls series almost all of its gameplay systems, it takes many of its presentation aspects as well. From small things like sound signals to fonts and notifications, there’s plenty of familiar parallels between the two. If you went through a checklist of things to lift whole cloth from Dark Souls, Code Vein doesn’t miss any of the important beats. And there are small similarities as well, with things like title screen, fonts, and many other similarities that go far beyond the core gameplay systems. Sure, Bandai Namco publishes both games so it’s a in-house copying, but boy does Code Vein look the part of a Dark Souls game. So much so that if you weren’t any wiser you may think that this is a From Software game. But that’s all it really does, is look the part.
It’s far, far away from Dark Souls in terms of combat and boss design. They get the level design mostly right when it comes to the world that’s been created, but it doesn’t have the connected feel that the Souls games have. Each of Code Vein’s level are a puzzle that needs to be solved through exploration and combat. With each enemy that you kill or treasure that you’ll find you’ll earn points that can be used for upgrades. Die and you’ll drop them where you lay. If you want them back you’ll need to fight your way back through a level to get them or they’re lost forever. There are times when things feel great in Code Vein, but more often than not combat feels loose with wide open windows for dodging attacks. The parry system feels somewhat off and hard to master. A general lack of enemy types and recycled environments don’t do the game any favors either. With the core combat feeling lacking, everything sort of falls apart in one of these games. To top things off you always have an AI companion in the game and it makes the moment to moment gameplay feel a little too easy. There’s really no mastery curve, and like a bad button mashing beat ’em up, I found myself bored with the combat in the tail-end of the game. Code Vein’s only real trick is that things get a little bit harder when you’re not tag teaming single enemies. At which point the game goes from frustratingly easy to frustratingly hard as enemies just juggle you about. The tight dodge timing from the Souls series and the intricate dance of dodges and parries just doesn’t feel relevant here, or necessary in most cases. This is especially true of boss encounters where there just aren’t any standout battles. Sure, they look good. But, they just don’t feel that great to play or offer the type of challenge that Souls fans will enjoy.
The gameplay itself in Code Vein is lifted full cloth from Dark Souls. That means you’ll be collecting “Souls” which in this game is called “Haze” and you’ll need to use it level up your character at a “Bonfire” which is called a “Mistle”. These mistle save points allow you to fast travel or level up your character and spend your haze points. You can fast travel back to your home base to purchase different items from vendors and level up or upgrade your weapons and armor. It’s very much a Dark Souls game in its progression elements.
There are some new ideas here. Finding Mistle does allow you to reveal a mini-map of the surrounding area. This allows you to track down different treasures more easily. You can track your footsteps of where you’ve been. You can even visit a Hot Springs area in the Home Base which will allow you to recover half of your lost Haze if you can’t make it back to the area to recover it yourself (This is pretty helpful if haze gets left in a boss fight area). There’s also a dungeon master within your Home Base that allows you to play through areas called “The Depths” if you find the maps of these areas on your adventures. This serves as a way to get haze or items alongside the main story path. The only problem we had with this is that these Dungeons are a little basic and incredibly easy if you’re over-leveled for them.
Code Vein is a game about memory of a previous life and it does introduce a large cast of characters. Those characters are represented by different fighting styles and you’ll constantly be unlocking new ones throughout the game. Characters you meet on your journey or those back at your home base will give you their blood code, which you will then have access to customize and use as your own. These Blood Codes have different unlockable passive and active abilities and these are unlocked through finding them during exploration in levels. We found over 20 of these codes in the game and it really does change the way you play the game. There Codes for casters, or close quarters combatants. There are codes for ranged attackers or agile stealthy builds. When you couple that with a variety of different weapons and blood veils (armor) to use, AND the character customization tools there really are quite a few ways that you can build out your character.
Where most games struggle to live up to the From Software standard, Code Vein does fall short as well. There’s really no sense of mystery to this world. That feeling of dread you had when facing that ultra-hard boss in Dark Souls just isn’t here in this game and with that it doesn’t deliver that same sort of feedback and feeling of accomplishment that the Souls does. It’s not an easy task to make a Souls-like. After all, Dark Souls has become one of the most well regarded series in the ARPG genre. While Code Vein looks the part, it doesn’t quite get there from a gameplay perspective. There are some things that you can copy when making a game like this, but Code Vein really misses the mark on some of the most important aspects.
If you go into Code Vein thinking that you’re going to get something on the level of any of the Souls games (or Bloodborne) you’re going to be a little bit disappointed. The lackluster combat is at odds with an interesting premise, great presentation, and deep character customization. It’s hard to pass up on it as a God Eater fan, but you’ll have to wade through a ton of mediocre combat to get to the good stuff here.