CODE VEIN

The God Eater team gives the Soul­s­like genre a wel­come shot in the arm

EDGE - - HYPE - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Bandai Namco En­ter­tain­ment For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease 2018

Well, this is em­bar­rass­ing. Imag­ine you’re strug­gling to beat a Dark

Souls boss. Some­times, you run it close, and as you fail you get a sense that you’re grad­u­ally learn­ing the fight, inch­ing ever closer to­ward vic­tory. Yet at oth­ers, you just make a mess of the bat­tle and a fool of your­self. Imag­ine that this is one of those ses­sions where there’s far more of the lat­ter than there is of the former. Then, imag­ine you’re play­ing it in the build­ing where it’s be­ing made, un­der the watch­ful eye of the game’s pro­ducer and di­rec­tor. As our char­ac­ter is dis­patched, once again, to the af­ter­life, we briefly wish the world would open up and take us along, too.

Dark Souls runs vividly, ob­vi­ously through Code Vein’s, well, veins. This is far from the first game to bor­row from FromSoft­ware’s en­thralling dun­geon-crawl­ing tem­plate, but it’s rare to hear a game’s cre­ators be so open about their in­spi­ra­tions. It’s equally un­com­mon for de­vel­op­ers to be quite so frank about the ex­tent to which they have strug­gled to adapt to a genre which didn’t re­ally ex­ist, and cer­tainly not on this scale, un­til a decade ago.

“In this genre, the as­sump­tion in the de­sign of the game is that the player is go­ing to lose,” says game di­rec­tor Hiroshi

Yoshimura. “It was nor­mal once – in the Fam­i­com era, it was nor­mal that play­ers would lose. But it is no longer the case; these days we’re too gen­er­ous to play­ers, usu­ally.

“That’s new for us. But how much can we do it? We are strug­gling to find a sweet spot. When the player is beaten, we want them to feel like it was their fault, but that they learned a les­son, so they want to try again. That’s the mind­set we want to im­part to the player.”

The so­lu­tion to that puz­zle cer­tainly doesn’t in­volve toning down en­emy strength; the boss bat­tle is ab­so­lutely bru­tal (Yoshimura needs a few goes to beat it him­self) and in the pre­ced­ing sec­tion, reg­u­lar en­e­mies hunt in packs, and hit hard. In­stead, Yoshimura and team are opt­ing to give the player a broad set of cus­tomis­able tools – and with it, the sug­ges­tion that vic­tory may be only a few menu tweaks away.

The most im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous of those tools is the Buddy sys­tem, which sees you head into bat­tle with an AI com­pan­ion who fights along­side you, of­fers words of en­cour­age­ment (and, in the case of our Buddy, Mia, a fine line in sar­cas­tic sass) and even alerts you to trea­sures or hints at strate­gies that may help in im­por­tant fights. NPC pals in sit­u­a­tions like this are of­ten caught be­tween two stools – their cre­ator’s de­sire for bal­ance mean­ing they are nei­ther over­ef­fec­tive nor en­tirely use­less, and are merely sort of there. But Mia’s an able fighter, and dur­ing our many strug­gles against the boss, re­vives us when we thought we’d been killed.

That sounds over­pow­ered, cer­tainly, and feels it when she does so again, and again, pick­ing our corpse off the ground four times dur­ing a sin­gle fight. But there’s bal­ance to it. The re­vive power is a Gift, one of a suite of eight abil­i­ties bound to cooldowns, and you can use it too when your Buddy falls. But do­ing so shaves off a chunk of your own HP, and restora­tives are in sorely lim­ited sup­ply. Other Gifts boost de­fense or at­tack power, fire pro­jec­tiles or ap­ply el­e­men­tal buffs. Once again, it’s a pow­er­ful sys­tem that’s smartly bal­anced; in ad­di­tion to juggling cooldowns, you’ll need to en­sure you have enough mana to use them. Your stock is re­filled by sim­ply at­tack­ing, but you can also in­crease its limit with a suc­cess­ful parry, or by land­ing a slow, but pow­er­ful blood-drain­ing at­tack.

It’s smart stuff, all in all, and com­bined with the abil­ity to re­spec your char­ac­ter at any point, and as of­ten as you like, means the pain of fail­ure is off­set by the knowl­edge that you’ve plenty of tools to po­ten­tially tip the odds back in your favour. That’s no use at all in a demo build, of course. Our au­di­ence does its best to gee us up. Pro­ducer Keita Iizuka praises our stamina man­age­ment, while Yoshimura purrs “nice” ev­ery time we dodge a string of the boss’ at­tacks. We still fail, but no worry. What we’ve seen here is more than enough to en­sure we’ll be back.

It’s rare to hear a game’s cre­ators be so open about their in­spi­ra­tions

Mia is just one of the NPC Bud­dies who’ll ac­com­pany you on your jour­ney through this mys­te­ri­ous, vam­piric game­world

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