Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s iconic series, has become so ubiquitous and influential in the realm of video games it basically changed the industry. These days there’s a “[Something] Souls” for everyone. Prefer Lovecraft and monsters to knights and dragons? Well, it’s Bloodborne for you. Dig on scifi? Well, friend, The Surge series beckons. How about a samurai aesthetic? There’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice just waiting for your twitchy digits. And now we have Code Vein, which could easily be pitched as “Anime Souls” or, if you’re feeling feisty, “Dark Souls for weeaboos!”
Set in an apocalyptic, attractively cel-shaded future, Code Vein tells a story that is somehow both undercooked and bafflingly convoluted. Your player-created-character wakes to find themselves bludgeoned by leaden slabs of exposition, before being given control and instructions to find blood beads and fight monsters. Happily, once the NPCs stop banging on, the actual gameplay itself is much more comprehensible. It essentially involves you killing monsters, collecting better armour and weapons and learning new skills in the various classes you can summon at will. The amount of in-menu faffing you can get up to in this game is astonishing, and fans of deep diving RPG management will be in absolute fiddly heaven. On the downside, while the combat apes many of the best aspects of Dark Souls, it lacks that fine touch, that necessary precision, that sets the title apart. That said, Code Vein is a much easier proposition, giving you a choice of AI partners who are actually pretty useful in combat and can be tweaked to suit your play style.
Your biggest barrier to enjoying Code Vein, however, will hugely depend on your tolerance for anime nonsense. If you’re a fan of giggly vampire schoolgirls, metrosexual cheekboney blokes with perplexing hair and endless monologues that feel like beat poetry read by someone suffering from recent cranial trauma, you’re in for a treat. However, if you’re a wee bit anime agnostic… you might not get the charm. Within the opening minutes of Code Vein, a scantily clad lady – with boobs so big they jiggle when she frowns – appears, and talks at you at length, rarely getting anywhere near a coherent thought. Pay close attention to this moment, because variations of it will appear throughout your 30ish hour playthrough.
Code Vein is a strange, imaginative and frustrating proposition. It’s mostly fun, and certainly delivers an engaging world, but if a little more attention had been paid to combat precision – and a little extra work done on the story and dialogue – it could have been a legitimate classic. As it is, the mixture of baffling lore, stilted dialogue, boobtacular fanservice and item management will likely appeal to a very niche crowd who, admittedly, will embrace it like their brand new waifu.