With – a bit of pride – I finally completed Code Vein in 43h (with 76% achievements). I am not saying I have – beaten – the game. Simply, because it was surprisingly easy to get through, and beside some choke points, with a lot of dirty cursing on my side, it was a quite pleasant ride. Mainly, because you are not alone on this journey and you can have a partner with you. Seemingly, this made a big difference.
In addition, this has also been my first ‘Souls-like’ game. I never had the ‘guts’ to invest time in any Souls-game, because I was never sure if I can bring up the concentration and most of all the patience to try and try and try. As my main playtime in the day is almost entirely in the evening/night, this was not my imagination of how I would like to enjoy my free time after a full day of work.
As of writing this, I am not planning on exploring the end-level content or another New Game+. I am actually a bit tired of it and am not motivated to re-run the whole game again.
So in brief, what is Code Vein.
You are a memory-lost Vampire sort of Revenant who is in a city-area encapsulated with Red Mist that makes it impossible to escape. The city has been ravaged after a battle against the Queen and these Vampires have been created from humans via a parasite to fight the Queen (and the Lost, Revenants who succumb to frenzy) as they now conveniently always ‘resurrect’ and do not die, at the cost of their memories. You soon meet Louis, who looks like an Anime interpretation of Louis right out of Interview with a the Vampire, and his harem of she-vampires and his best bro Yakumo. Later you add even more she-vampires and another bro and move forward in the story and across biomes & places, arriving some-when at the final battle wondering how you got there, what the heck is actually going on here and why it’s already over.
Still interested? Well, this sums up a crazy story of a lot of JRPGs, but as every connoisseur knows what they are in for when it comes to the story-telling (Huh?), tropes (there is an Onzen(!) in the main hub) and framing in this genre – this is great. And well me … enjoyed the ride a lot. Out of many reasons mentioned above and below.
Spoiler: The combat mechanics only play a minor part in it.
The story as outlined above and the connected game mechanics are terribly confusing at first. There are Blood Codes (classes), Blood Veils (shrouds to wear that look like rugs), Vestiges (spiked things containing Blood Codes), and Gifts (skills) embedded in the overall background story, that were awfully hard to grasp and understand. Also there is the Queen (who?) and Silva (important guy you never meet) and Blood Beads (for everybody to survive) and Mistles (to resurrect and save) that are all relevant to understand the setting and overall framing of the story. This took me quite a while to separate and grasp what is what and what this all is about and the heck these people are talking about…!
The moment you learned the vocabulary and better understand the who is who and what is what, the more the game opens up to you and the better you can enjoy the variety, how the game delivers its’ story. And there is one really awesome part of unlocking new Blood Codes and this is done by restoring Vestiges (and? did you check above?).
This unlock is done via a very cool remote dream-like scene, in which you relive the lost memories of their owners. You can walk around in a gloomy, often destroyed, corridor drifting in darkness mid-air and observing the scenes played out for you. You can never really see the characters in detail, they all look like figures burned to ash, similar to mummies from Pompey. And as in memories; you know what has happened, but cannot remember the exact details.
For me, this was the best part of the game, because the developers took a lot of effort to deliver the emotions, drama, violence, decisions and anxiety of all protagonists. I always play JRPGs with Japanese voice on and here the voice actors were doing an awesome job. It makes you to want to know more about this characters’ story line and it always concludes and leaves you with unanswered questions in your head. To get more information, you have to talk with the others about what is going on, and only then, slowly, the full story becomes more and more complete.
The cut-scenes are also mostly great and rarely cringy, me as the silent hero standing around gloomily; clearly sayin’: “Let others do the talkin’. I am here for the looks. And the fightin’ afterwards!” But there is action, there is drama, there is love and there is atonement. Great.
So why do you complain about the story then?
Well, as so often in JRPGs, the path is awesome, the goal is disappointing. There is some story kind of twist around three quarters in, but I felt rather ok’ish with that and it did not play out well in the end. There were many promises made at the beginning, that did culminate well towards the final boss fight and ending. I expected disappointment out of experience with other Japanese games, but I was still… quite disappointed in the end. Mainly because of the great story details in the memories and the cut-scenes.
There is not much to say about combat other than that it just works. You will need some time to adjust and learn the tricks, dodges and damage windows of bosses, but it just works. There is some quirkiness once in a while when it becomes hectic, I cannot place my finger on, but overall it’s all fine. Again, this is my first souls-like game – so I am happy and will not complain.
What is also great are the different weapons and animations. I mainly played with the Two-handed Sword (for life!) and a halberd later for more damage and speed, and both play distinctively different, but somehow same’ish. Fine for me. Also, admittedly, I did not care much for the stats at all. Dexterity D+? Strength B+? I had no clue what this is for and I never had any nerve to learn more about it. I made my way to Fextralifes’ Wiki, searched for some builds and said: “Great. Thank you very much!“
What I really enjoyed in Code Vein was, that there was hardly any extra-crap to collect. There is some exploring to be done (but not too much), some hidden stuff to be found (but not too much), some boxes to open (but not too many), some extra dungeons to be cleared (but not too difficult) and some gear to be exchanged from the NPCs with materials that drop anyway. What a pleasant relief! What an experience, when developers are not wasting my time and artificially extend my playtime for nothing.
I still did some extras here and there and checked for some achievements to be done while I am around. But there was nothing that made me collect hundreds of flags or whatever garbage someone left behind and me coming along and treating it as treasure. What. A. Relief.
This was also one of the reasons I did not tire out too much during playing Code Vein. The areas are large and complex, but again: not too much. Each area can easily be done in around 1 – 2.5 hours, depending on how much you want to explore and listen to others talk. Great packaging and pacing, and this helped me a lot to smoothly complete the game.
I am done with the game for some days now, but already my thoughts were circling around doing some more stuff here and there and maybe even do a New Game+. I uninstalled the game though, so I am not really sure if I will go back anytime soon. But, I guess, this is anyway already the perfect post-game experience.
Code Vein is doing so much right and leaves not much to complain about, if you know what you are up to. Even until completion, it leaves this lingering taste of: Yes I would yearn to play some more again, but I know this ‘more’ is probably too much.
Like Vampire Louis, who enjoyed a nice drink of blood, after reading a poem to his victim.