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Code Vein, Bandai Namco’s Souls-like action RPG scheduled for release on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (Steam) in 2018, had a new demo- The “Second Blood Version” which promises a more “exhilarating” experience than the previous demo shown at Tokyo Game Show 2017- Available for attendees at Dengeki Game Festival 2018.

After a short loading screen showing the control layout which the player almost certainly cannot finish reading in time, the demo throws the player into a dark cave with a CPU companion, a lady named Mia armed with a rifle. Though no further explanation is immediately available, examining glowing spots on the ground pops up messages which give a barebones explanation of the basic controls and systems (“press L2 to parry”).

Glowing mistletoe located in specific spots, once activated, serve to heal the player, replenish their regeneration items, act as respawn points, and allow the player to level up. Blocking has the player still take significant damage, and this coupled with the fast-paced gameplay means that the game feels closer to Bloodborne or Nioh than any of the actual Souls games. The attack buttons being relegated to square and triangle on the PS4 controller also makes the game control similar to Nioh. Holding R2 and pressing a face button allows the player to use a blood ability (though this is barely explained in the demo, and I could not find a menu that explains what the abilities actually are), and the left and right D-pad buttons cycle through items while down lets the player use them. As the regeneration item- Code Vein’s equivalent of the Souls estus flask- counts as an item, this means that the player has to hit down to heal, and necessitating them either taking their left thumb off the analog stick and so cease movement entirely (which can be fatal during a boss fight), or holding the controller in an awkward claw grip so that they can move and heal at the same time.

The demo also included something that is stated to be not in the actual game- The option to warp directly to the boss from the mistletoe. The boss in the demo is the Queen’s Knight, a towering dark knight with a shield and massive sword. In its first phase it mainly uses a combo consisting of two slashes and a shield bash that it does not have to see to the end (against me it used two slashes the most, with one slash and the two-slash shield bash combo being equally rare), a stab that has deceptively long range due to the size of its sword, and a stinger that can send it to the other side of the arena in an instant which is easily dodged due to it being projected clearly but seems to kill instantly. At roughly half health the Queen’s Knight takes some time to power up (unlike bosses in the Souls series, the boss takes highly reduced damage- almost none at all- during this animation, but in exchange does not have the usual body explosion that kills the player instantly) and then starts using a new move in which it teleports above the player and does a downwards slash, and it can also chain multiple of these in a row (the end effect is not dissimilar to the somersault slash of Dark Souls’ Artorius).

The demo had a 15 limit time limit, and I spent roughly half of it fighting the boss, the furthest I got being getting it down to a quarter of its life bar. The gameplay is generally solid, though I could not help but feel that hitting enemies did not have the same satisfying feedback as the Souls games; I felt like the player’s sword seems to just go through enemies rather than actually hit them. The backstab mechanic also seems highly redundant due to how difficult it is to get one, and blocking seems nigh useless in boss fights. Though I was not particularly impressed with the combat against regular enemies, however, the boss fight did seem balanced enough and was quite enjoying. It was unfortunate that many of the game’s systems are not adequately explained to the player (something that will certainly not be a problem in the finished product) and understanding its mechanics better might very well make for a more enjoyable experience; I personally gave up on trying to figure out what the R2 abilities did, and fought the boss without them- Being able to actually use abilities in the fight would probably have made it much easier.

I was unable to try out the previous version of the demo shown at TGS 2017, but this version supposedly makes several improvements to the game. Though the game is already playable, one hopes that further polish can be done to help make it stand out.

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