Let’s just get it out of the way right off the bat; Code Vein is far more than just “weeb-souls”, yet at the same time it absolutely IS Dark Souls in so much of what it is. It’s a little hard to really describe this game without giving a really lacking view of it though because of all the similarities it does have to the Souls series and how much it just unapologetically takes directly from it.
While the gameplay does pull a lot from Souls, the fact is it’s more of an amalgamation of all the best parts of Souls, God Eater, and even some Freedom Wars (mostly in character creation) all packed into one in every single aspect. Not just “It has a good story, unlike Souls” (which is true), not just “It has great character design and an amazing character creator unlike souls” (which is true), or even “HEY WAIT A SECOND, THAT’S LITERALLY JUST ANOR LONDO!” (which is true).
But even if you want to talk about the gameplay specifically then this is still extremely God Eater AND Souls, not just one or the other.
This is what new IPs should be, maybe not all of them – certainly some should be totally original concepts, but any that aren’t should be what this is. Instead of being derivative of their prior games or of popular other series, it clearly takes heavy inspiration yet it creates something totally unique and of its own making from those concepts instead of the usual copy paste reskin job you find out there. Calling Code Vein “weeb souls” is an insult to something that is far more than a simple reskinning of another series of games. Like I said though, it’s kind of hard to explain the gameplay without just saying what I did already – it’s like Souls and God Eater combined into one thing with heavy inspiration from both being reformed into something new that fucking works great.
I suppose I’d say it has the timing and “feel” of Souls combat where if you aren’t smart you’re somewhat fucked and every move you and the enemy make is calculated and purposeful. Also, it’s got all the same hilarious troll situations from enemy placement and little crevices to hide them in and have them jump out and knock you off cliffs. Yet, at the same time, it has the more visceral and actiony feeling of God Eater’s best most exciting moments especially in control and and responsiveness, and the pace of the gameplay as a whole is a middle ground between them. Bosses especially stand out to me as similar, yet different, with it feeling more like Bloodborne than a normal Souls title with a huge focus on evasion, speed, and dexterous attacks. It’s also, while still very challenging, much more forgiving than even Dark Souls 2 or 3, so while I say it has the same timing and pacing it’s also a lot less dying even if you fuck up.
One of the most obvious God Eater aspects of Code Vein has to be the weapons and the Blood Veils. The weapons are all fucking enormous and ridiculous, even the ‘small’ weapons are still fucking enormous and ridiculous. Some of the stuff is straight out of God Eater – and I don’t mean from the pre-order DLC but default in the game (pretty sure, as I found it in a chest in the world, not for sale from Muramase like the other pre-order stuff), most notably a hammer that has literal boosters on it so you can slide it real fast across the ground or slam down with an intense force and explode flames out from it after. Hell, I’m pretty sure this exact hammer is LITERALLY IN God Eater 2 or 3. All the weapons are like this though, they’re all very anime and very large and overly mechanical or animalistic – all on an extreme of either side of that, and the thing is they FEEL the way they should. There is a serious weight to all the movement in this game, especially swinging something huge like these two handed swords, hammers, and axes – they did a fantastic job of making you feel the weight of each movement and attack and it fucking feels great every time you do anything.
Even the only smaller weapon (usually, though later on they get pretty fucking big too) would be the bayonets which are rifles with, well, bayonets on them has the feel down perfectly. It’s quick, stabby, and shooty. It also feels really distinct so it’s fun to use sometimes because the play-style of it is so different compared to all the other weapons (speed, distance management, proper timed use of your dodge i-frames, many little bursts of attacking between pure evasion) and the idea of a game where you can use a rifle as your main melee weapon but also shoot it is kinda great, especially in a game so full of nothing but big sticks with giant things on the end.
However, unsurprisingly my favorite weapon type are the giant hammers – same with God Eater. If I can have a giant thing that fucks shit up in a game even if it’s slow then there’s a 90% chance it’s gonna be what I’m doing the majority of the game. I played pretty much every Souls game in full Havel armor with a big dumb fucking weapon that took a year to do one attack. I love shit like that. Yet here, even with my giant hammers and two handed swords, the pace of combat is a lot quicker than Souls and there’s a lot more thinking on your feet rather than standing there blocking while thinking about what to do next or waiting for a perfect opening – a lot more instinct driven rather than logically thinking out each step yet with the same mindset of knowing enemy patterns and spacing but due to being sort of instinctual you’re a lot more active in combat. On top of that you have a shit ton of skills to pick from through the different Blood Codes (classes, basically) you earn throughout the game’s story that you can mix and match to create your own ideal set-up, and these skills dramatically change the gameplay from the barebones combat system of Souls as well.
The Blood Veils are also distinctly God Eater. I mean you literally devour the enemy with them in the same way you’d do it in those games for basically the same benefits, though honestly a lot more cool looking here – especially the scorpion-esque tail one which is fucking badass. The cool zoomed in special thing you can see from time to time when backstabbing or counter-parrying is really great too. This brings up another thing I almost forgot that I don’t recall if Souls has – but parrying and basically getting an auto back-stab out of it is absolutely a thing and, while it’s nearly impossible (especially if not using the claw hand type of blood veils which seem fastest at it) to actually time it right with how long it takes, is real goddamn cool.
One of the most obvious God Eater and totally not Souls at all things though is the fact you can (and you should) always have an AI partner with you, as most of the main story characters are available as options to take with you as your singular partner into the treacherous world outside of home base. My favorite partners are all spoilers aside Yakumo, who I used up until the first spoiler character was available to take with me. Sadly, Muramase is never available as a partner – I was always hoping that’d change, but it never does. Even when you see her past she never is shown with a weapon, so they didn’t even think that far ahead – same with Davis, the government army guy, they just outright avoid ever showing any gear aside their basic default clothes and no weapons.
Lets discuss some other game aspects real quick too. Graphically the game is gorgeous – I played on PS4 and so I’m sure it can look even better on the Pro or on PC but even there it looks so good. More important than the graphical technical quality, what I’m really talking about is the look of this game; it’s stunning – I’m talking absolute fucking Kino at times.
The designs of the locations, of the world as a whole, of the characters, of the outfits and weapons, it’s all phenomenal and all perfectly done for the overall feeling and theme of the game. It’s cool, it’s sad, it’s ugly yet beautiful and all while giving you a sense of “place” as this seemingly takes place in what would have been, before the great collapse and fucking up of biomes and actual land itself, probably New York, yet it is something you can only guess at from the architecture and street designs as well as the types of destroyed vehicles scattered about.
The music fits pretty much in the same category and, after finding out who composed it, I wasn’t surprised. Go Shiina who you might know from, equally as unsurprisingly, God Eater soundtracks, Tales of soundtracks, Ace Combat soundtracks, and even some anime – for a very recent example he worked alongside Yuki Kajiura on the Demon Slayer OST which should be obvious upon hearing some of the tracks in this game especially given he was the one who made the insert song in episode 19. I wouldn’t say the entire OST is amazing or anything, but the great tracks are fucking great and will stick with you even after you’re done with the game. Most notably “Tears of Passion”, “Requiem” which is used to fantastic effect in the game with the boss it’s associated with – beginning from silence and growing louder the closer you walk on a long barren desert path, “Extremum Belli” which sounds straight out of Demon Slayer, and of course the song for the all important vestige memories – “Memory of the Lost”.
So, now with all that out of the way, the BIGGEST difference from Souls is absolutely that this has a story and not “well fans made this shit up from a few load screens so its totally canon and deep!” (though this does also use load screens to drop a lot of lore and world building on you). No, a real story, and it’s not fair to say it’s just noteworthy due to being different from Souls, this is a point that stands all on its own because what a fucking story it is. Not only does it have story, it presents a massive amount of it to the player in a really unique, cool way that is just phenomenally well done and really gives a fantastic tone and mood to the game as a whole. The story itself is also really good and pulls you in with everything just being totally fucked. This is sadboy hours the game at every turn, there isn’t a single happy thing for anybody at all and you trudge through these screwed up or less often at least bittersweet memories of your friends and the dead constantly.
But that brings me to one of my favorite things about this story. It’s in a really unique moment in time that most stories never touch on and it gives it something special both from that uniqueness but also because it’s just a cool ass setting for stories that is heavily underused. I considered writing out a short summary of the lore but that would spoil learning about it on your own while playing the game; but the part that makes this so special is basically mankind was put through a major extinction event which resulted in them desperate for a way to survive, which lead to them happening upon a way to bring the dead back to life. And keep doing that again and again, with the only side effect being losing their memories while gaining near immortality and special abilities – and the only downside being that due to the way this was being done was through a parasite that fed on human blood so they needed plenty of that and with the death of humanity happening it wasn’t exactly easy to come by. That event hasn’t been taken care of by the time the game comes around either, nor the problem from the soldiers going mad. For that matter, NONE of the problems are remotely taken care of even by the end of the game even in the “true” ending, you don’t really solve anything – you just keep it from getting worse for the time being.
Anyway, from making this army of pseudo-vampires to fight it another symptom did come to light, which made those undying turn into monsters if they did not get enough human blood to feed the parasite. To try and solve that problem while still fighting the other problem they tried finding a way to fight against the parasite taking total control when it starves, and those experiments lead to another mass extinction event to coincide with the other one, instead of saving anyone they ended up creating something that ended up destroying even more of the already dwindling population on the planet. That problem WAS taken care of though, just before the game takes place, but from the results of it the already fucked situation which was already made more fucked is now even more fucked with almost no humans being left, the area being walled in by an impenetrable mist, and a blood drought leading to more and more people to turn into beasts.
This is a post apocalypse story within a post apocalypse story within another post apocalypse story and where the world is still at risk from the original threat that is still ongoing, where the parasite-injected people are stuck in a certain area of the world, and where blood is becoming rarer and rarer with more and more people becoming Lost – and where everything has gone so wrong because of trying to save it every step of the way. It’s fucking fantastic, and watching all of that unfold through the memories of others is just such a great concept that was executed pretty much flawlessly. This isn’t “AN ANCIENT EVIL AWAKENS” this is bad shit fucked things up out of nowhere, then trying to fix that bad shit humanity totally fucked things up worse, then trying to fix THAT made it all unbelievably more fucked – and now here you are. There are no evil bad men or crazy scientists in the lore (not to say there isn’t one of the latter in the game but he had canonically nothing to do with any of the other events) or how the world became how it is, it was all genuine desperate attempts at protecting the human race and people’s loved ones, and it just all kept going wrong. The fact it never spends time really explaining anything (aside Project QUEEN and its aftermath) and that the story isn’t some shit about being a hero that reforms humanity and saves the planet and shit is so great.
As for how that story is told, the first time you come across a vestige was the moment I fell totally in love with this game – especially once the music started – and knew this was going to be something special. Apparently the demo had this same moment and people all felt the same, it truly sets this game apart from anything else and it’s such a great way to really get the player invested in this world, these people, and this story. The first one you ever find/see comes about from the first boss you face in sort of a Demon Slayer fashion; you kill this boss, a nice guy who was helping you as best he could but became one of the “Lost” from a damaged mask. You go through his memories, you see the man he was, you see the life he had, you see this pseudo human being when he was still trying to survive and ultimately knowing his end because you were there for it. It’s beautiful in a way, and I never once got tired of seeing these. They are all just incredible and the way those vestige worlds are designed is beyond perfect for the tone, and the music is so fucking sad.
All these memories are genuinely touching little murals of someone’s life, and they are extremely effective. As you get further in the story of course they maintain that but also start becoming a lot more than just random people’s lives, but important explanations of what the fuck happened to this world through the memories of those who were there but usually simply from those who felt the impact of it rather than were involved in it. Not once does it ever get old, and not once does it ever let up from being so screwed up either. This is a heavy game that doesn’t ever let up and they found every single way to make it as depressing as possible. You’re immortal but if you don’t get human blood you become a monster that can never stop suffering until the end of time and trying to kill those you worked so hard to protect, you’re immortal but every time you die and revive you lose the only thing you could hold dear – your memories. And humanity has been stuck on a path to destruction from it’s own desperation to save itself from beasts of unknown origin and then beasts of their own accidental making. It’s so goddamn bleak and that doesn’t stop at any point.
There are also a lot of big hints that this game isn’t just “similar” to God Eater, but takes place in the same world around the same time. This includes everything from the design of the world, clothes, and weapons to items you can find like Bugarally dolls, Bugarally being an adventure TV series in the world of God Eater. Mostly irrelevant, but a cool possibility. However, this leans into an aspect I already mentioned I love about the writing here – this isn’t a game set on explaining much of anything, its the story of your character and the people you meet and the current immediate state of things. It’s not about saving the world as much as it tries to make you sometimes feel, it’s not about fixing what’s happened, it’s not about explaining the history of the place or the situation on the outside of the misty veil keeping you all stuck here. You don’t conclude the game by magicking away the Horrors and Lost and undoing the rampant vampirism, and you never find newspapers or something explaining the history of the world and whats going on outside and shit like that. It reminds me a lot of the really unbelievably amazing world building in Sora no Woto, not quite on that level but in that same direction.
I keep saying they’re good but never really talking about them, but the thing about the cast is almost anything I can say is spoilers to their vestige stories or to events in the game – so it’s really difficult to say much of anything aside “they’re good!”. I suppose my favorites will do. I totally love Muramase, she’s fucking cute and I really was interested in finding out why she could no longer fight. What really got me with her though is that 100% of the time she has her mask on, even though it’s never necessary, she just wears it for fashion and actually it’s worth mentioning that this entire game super appeals to my very niche love for girls with their faces somewhat obscured – especially with things like these masks.
But anyway, I thought she might have some disease that makes her extra sensitive to the mist, but no, she just likes it. I realized this once I found her in the hotspring with it off (she has a big cute scar across her nose too that is usually hidden), but also once learning her backstory – it really is just cuz she wants to wear it cuz there’s nothing else explaining anything about it.
I also really liked Io from the moment you first get control of the game aside the tutorial. You wake up with this big titty cutie and she is already right away being sweet and taking care of you, reassuring you over and over while you, basically dying, barely fumble your way along that “it’ll be alright” and “we can go slowly” all in her cute soft voice before then waking up with your head on her lap while she is also asleep. This aspect of her really never changes and it’s always nice.
I don’t want to really get into the details, but the Queen is someone I really liked and felt like I cared about as well the more you learn, because as with everything in this game, her entire existence is such a sad story.
As for “you”, I think they managed making you an important special person in this world really well compared to the usual lazy jobs in games with silent or even just customizable protagonists and took full use of the lore to do it. But, again, spoilers so I can’t really say much – however one thing I can spoil a bit that I really loved is part of the fact your character is one of those typical silent protagonists who canonically talks off-screen but you never hear them outside of grunts, groans, moans, and in this case some lines you can pick for co-op communication.
That’s not what I loved, what it is is a moment that comes in in the cutscene before the very final boss of the game – it’s just a couple lines, but your character finally speaks immediately before the fight starts. It just felt cool and like a really well timed and well done little send-off for this story and “your” part in it. It’s not unheard of but I am surprised this isn’t done more often.
Overall, you get a game that is this absolutely fantastic mix of Souls and God Eater in terms of gameplay and aesthetics and then you have this really fantastic story, incredible implementation and presentation of that story, top tier world building, and great characters poured all over it. To call it something as simple as a Souls-like or a Souls clone without explaining further would be pretty dishonest and an insult to what it really is. It certainly is very Souls, but it’s so much fucking more than that and is absolutely something of its own design far beyond a mimicry of anything else out there. I absolutely love this game and have since my first moments with it. I completely recommend this to everyone, in many ways its one-of-a-kind as of now, and it is a strong contender for GOTY without a fucking doubt. I seriously hope they continue this into a long running series and not just a one-off game, and both the neutral and (especially) the true ending could easily lead into one, but for now we’ll just have to wait and see.