Code Vein can’t quite match up to the sleek combat and suffering tales of Souls, but stylish action and gorgeous anime visuals give it an edge.

While Souls-like creators From Software may not be dabbling in the Ashened world of Dark Souls anymore, that hasn’t stopped other titles from attempting to fill its space. From The Surge to Nioh and now to Bandai Namco’s Code Vein, there will always be something to fill the Souls-shaped hole in fans’ hearts.

This newest effort is certainly a stark contrast from the European styles of Souls’ medieval makeup. Bandai’s vampire-themed doesn’t exactly scream uniqueness as you traverse it’s underwhelming anime environments, but it does feel fresh. It may still grasp at attempts to emulate the overwhelming sense of decay that From Software so effortlessly perfects, but Vein’s world is more full of genericism and grating repetition than even the worst official Souls game.

As you can see, you’ll spend a lot of time playing with a co-op partner. It’s a fun addition to the otherwise lonely Souls-like genre.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some sense of improvement throughout the entirety of the game’s long and somewhat engaging story. For those who simply want a narrative to run through, Code Vein is thankfully less cryptic than the trendsetter it’s based off. Characters pop up frequently and you’ll get to learn a decent amount about them. While many of the female characters are certainly not dressed well for combat or the general wasteland, they are proven to be more than just eye candy through dialogue.

What’s most unfortunate is that Code Vein’s world is far from interesting. While its background lore does have enough nuggets of intrigue to keep you engaged, it’s only through the modicum of character strength that the cliché narrative doesn’t fall out of mediocrity. With dialogue sprouting repetitive buzzwords like a Roald Dahl witch sprouts warts, hands will slide down faces more than eyes will be glued to the screen.

At the very least, fantastic character customisation provides an experience that truly allows every player to create a unique avatar. A fantastic wealth of different options combined with a unique layering system allows cool, crazy, Eldritch and zany designs to exist within the game’s more serious world. The ability to swap out your character’s design for a completely fresh one at any time helps to keep your design fresh. It’s clear that the developers are proud of the customisation and they should be.

Combat, while deeply flawed, also allows for a heavy degree of freedom. Classes are non-existent, but class-like attributes are granted by the use of Blood Codes which then affect the skills that you can use alongside various stats. While the class-limited stats will at first bar you from using certain weapons with certain classes, late-game levels do allow you to mix and match more effectively.

Tweaking and crafting your character is engaging and fulfilling: out of everything that this vampiric title gets right, there’s nothing it gets more than player freedom. It’s refreshing: while combat is bland and grating and level design is largely uninteresting outside of aesthetics, the knowledge that I can always try new things is an experience many games fail to achieve.

Outside of evening, Code Vein deserves to continue. While this original entry stumbles its way through its meandering caverns with an edgy step, its sharp corners do require refinement. If Vein does well enough to grant a sequel then it would be much appreciated: a grander vision and more adept combat would provide a more engaging experience.

As it stands, Bandai Namco’s colloquially known Anime Souls isn’t exactly the title we expected. It’s looser in focus and feel; it knows what it is but it can’t commit. Top-tier customisation and intriguing characters do help to offset the grating repetition, but it can’t hold a candle to the series it’s emulating.

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