Like Tapping a Vein with Adrenaline

It’s not a secret that two mediums I enjoy are Anime and Dark Souls.  Anime for me is a fun escape, going into different worlds and learning the trials and adversity of its main character (notably, I’m a big slice of life fan, so not too much at stake for those characters).  Dark Souls scratches my competitive edge: daunting tasks overcome by perseverance and dedication to your specifically tuned craft.  While Dark Souls and FromSoftware’s additional titles in its genre are coated with a similar Gothic Horror theme, I never expected the two mediums above to combine together, nor did I really believe they needed to.  There were games like Monster Hunter and God Eater that could scratch the itch well enough without actually hitting the source.  But in September of 2019, Code Vein, Bandai Namco’s emphatic “fuck you” to my above statement, was released to the masses, and if there’s any game that can wear the crown of “Anime Dark Souls” this is the clear winner.  

Code Vein starts your created character on a path of the amnesic, unknown as to whom or what you are, only to be kidnapped by human-like beings called revenants.  Revenants are humans who have been brought back to life through a process of transferring blood parasites from an all-powerful being known as The Queen.  While the parasites grant re-birth from death, so long as one’s heart isn’t destroyed during battle, it leaves the revived revenant with a piece of their memory lost, and an ever-longing thirst for blood.  If that thirst is not quenched, revenants will soon frenzy, growing ever violent and out of control, until they become a Lost: monstrous beings with no mind and an unquenchable pursuit for death.

Revenants hoping to escape this fate are met with not only murderous Lost around every corner, but a blood shortage (in which Blood Beads are acquired through specific trees associated with The Queen, it’s a long story), and a thick red mist dubbed The Miasma that surrounds the general area.  The Miasma quickens the thirst, and turns any revenant into a Lost if near it too long.  After some twists and turns, it’s up to your character and a rag-tag bunch of revenants to rid the area of the Miasma and save the citizens from the blood shortage to garner an long-awaited age of peace.

And who’s going to bring in that age of peace?  Whoever you can dream of thanks to a surprisingly robust character creator that rivals some MMORPGs on the market.  This was 100% made for people to dream out their waifus and husbandos doing battle, but the amount of customization and detail is pretty staggering, and unlike most games where character creation offers a different shine when the character reaches the in-game engine the two sides stay almost identical, which is a lovely change of pace.

Once your revenant is set Code Vein begins to put weapons and armor in hands, and there is about as much customization in how you play as to how you look.  Weapons range from quick and agile swords, to massive hammers and greatswords, to flashy polearms and bayonets, each carrying different combos and styles of light and heavy attacks.  Armor isn’t your normal plates of metal and iron, but Member’s Only jackets and form-fitting overcoats and dresses; you’ll soon lean into how ridiculously stylized Code Vein is, don’t worry.  Genre combat-standards like parries and backstabs play a more important role in combat and enable that customary big slap of damage, and evicting an enemy’s blood from their body powers your ichor.

Ichor is condensed blood used by revenants to perform special moves.  You want to cast lightning strikes or ice showers or blood spears?  Keep that ichor filled.  Need to perform a devastating combo to add an emphatic end to a long-damage chain?  Ichor time.  Ichor is returned when blood is spilled, whether through basic attacks or through previously mentioned tactics.  With Code Vein’s high-tempo combat it is essential to keep the blood flowing, and it’s a give-and-take system that keeps you close in the fight.

Your revenant will spill this blood across 15 areas throughout Code Vein’s world, from war-torn cities destroyed by The Great Collapse, to snowy mountain tops with buried enemies waiting to pounce, to a literal city on fire.  On cue with the genre’s punishing difficulty, these areas are worse for wear and environmental hazards are plastered throughout.  Keeping an eye out for cliff ledges, quicksand that steals your ichor, the aforementioned city on fire, and enemies around every corner will be par to the course for you and your partner.

Wait, partner?  Yep.  Code Vein assembles a cast of NPC partners that can accompany you into battle.  Each character carries a very different style of combat, but each one can fit the puzzle pieces together to create a horrifying picture for your enemies.  Since your chosen partner is also a revenant themselves their memory is about as shot as yours.  Luckily, you can collect tiny clusters called vestiges.  These contain memories from various characters, which not only are a neat way of supplying backstory and lore to the world, but also unlock new abilities for your blood code.

When you want to excel in a certain style of combat, or use a particular weapon and armor set, a tailored blood code will be your first step.  Blood codes are in layman’s terms your “builds” in Code Vein.  Instead of picking a set style and building upon it Code Vein allows blood codes to be swapped on the fly, allowing for complete overhauls in gameplay on a moment’s notice, and it’s really, really well done.  Each blood code has a set of passive and active skills, 4 passives and 8 actives can be equipped at once, that can be mastered by either a continuous use of said blood code, or buying out the skill with haze (Code Vein’s “souls”, which are also used to level up your character) and a few specific items.  Mastering the skills allow the skill to be used on any blood code, allowing for almost limitless customization, and a fine-tuning of your style of combat that really should be admired and used in future titles.

Review is continued on the next page.