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