Dark Versus Light Adventuring: Code Vein and Cadence of Hyrule

Welcome to Save State, where we acknowledge that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but we don’t know how to store codes in our veins. If there’s anything Code Vein could teach us, it would be how exactly you can inject a Gameshark or Action Replay- both of which would be far safer than bleach. In the last couple weeks, I was made aware that I owned Code Vein but had yet to play it. “Anime Dark Souls” is what the game was sold to me as- which I love each entry of the Soulsborne games, so I figured it was finally time to sink my teeth into Vampire Waifu Simulator 2019.

Code Vein is clearly inspired by Dark Souls in some very obvious ways- though with notably less polish. The visuals are great, with the characters themselves being quite gorgeous looking. Code Vein boasts a pretty great character creator- you could make anything from a convincing Train Heartnet from Black Cat to Vocaloid’s Hatsune Miku in its creator, though the outfit options are pretty scant which is pretty disappointing, though there are a ton of accessories you can throw on to make a truly unique character. While Code Vein’s character creator is better than basically any in a Souls game, the game is also set in a kind of post-apocalyptic scenario where you play as immortals who are on the verge of losing themselves and becoming Lost, you can rest as mistle plants (bonfires), and the combat is somewhat similar to boot.

The story of Code Vein is pretty simple- you’re the chosen undead who is suffering from memory loss. Wait, no, you’re a revenant who awakes without any memory of his or her former self, a revenant being an almost vampire like creature that, if they die, they lose a portion of their memory which can crystallize into valuable items you’ll come across throughout the game. To stay sane revenants need to consume blood, but humans are few and far between in the post-apocalyptic hellscape of Code Vein’s world. Without blood, revenants eventually lose their sense of self and become violent hollows, erm, Lost, doomed to wander the wastes for eternity. Due to special protagonist powers, you become the only one capable of ending the suffering of revenants, so you embark on a journey to find a source of never-ending blood to benefit all revenants- most likely the set of any Tarantino movie.

Combat in Code Vein is very similar to a Dark Souls game if you’ve ever played one, though the combat lacks the weighty feel of Fromsoft’s games. Similar to God Eater (by the same developers as Code Vein) the combat is a bit faster paced than the games from which it is inspired, and a lot of impacts lack the visceral weight you’d expect from landing or taking hits. Your ichor total effectively functions as your MP, as you can gain ichor back by attacking enemies with your weapon or by performing powerful drain attacks, which not only replenish ichor but raises your cap for it as well. Because ichor can be restored between bonfires/mistle, this means that a lot of players will be mixing melee combat with stacking buffs- pure caster builds that don’t make constant use of melee attacks are much harder to do in new games of Code Vein than in Dark Souls.

There are a load of different builds you can make in Code Vein, and one interesting thing is that you never really have to strictly dedicate yourself to just one. You gain access to blood codes as you progress through the game, functioning as the different classes- they each have their own stat bases, bonuses, and active and passive abilities you can use to further specialize called gifts. Many gifts can be mastered by killing enemies while they’re equipped, which then lets you use those gifts on other blood codes so you can make even stronger set ups. One benefit to Code Vein’s system is that it’s really difficult to make a loadout that is just flat-out awful, and even if you use all the wrong things in your build, you can just quickly swap to another one.

Beyond your class choices, you have your weapon and blood veil that you can wear, upgrade, and augment as well. Your class choice from a blood code dictates what stats you work best with, so using a blood veil that enhances those stats or shores up weaknesses you have can be pretty vital. Different weapons also scale their damage off of different stats, so two-handed greatswords will generally prefer strength, but bayonets may use dexterity- this means you’ll generally pick your class and blood veil based on what weapon class you’re going to be using. There are one handed swords, two handed greatswords, spears and polearms, hammers, and bayonet rifles, and oftentimes even weapons of the same class will have different move sets. For example, the Impaler spear will use a series of rapid jabs, while the Assassin’s Sickle weapon from the same category will use sweeping horizontal swings for its weak attacks, so even if you don’t like one weapon of a particular group, you may actually enjoy a different weapon of that type due to them having different move sets.

For the most part, exploration in Code Vein is great. There are occasionally areas where you’ll get jumped by monsters you couldn’t see coming because they were around a corner or something, but those issues are not so common that they completely ruin the experience. The largest complaint with Code Vein’s enemies would be in their variety: You’ll be seeing a lot of the same foes in each and every area- such as there being maybe four enemy types across an entire location you will spend an hour or two in on your first visit.

So far, though, Code Vein has been a great time and there really aren’t too many complaints that can be made. Acquiring new blood codes and mastering gifts to allow their use on your other codes is great fun and the variety is always nice, because more codes and blood veils increase the viability of different strategies. It’s a joy every time you stumble across a new vestige while exploring, as they can give new blood codes or let you unlock new gifts in your current class- and trying out new strategies is pretty simple and flexible since you don’t get locked into stat increases, so you can try out everything until you find exactly what you like.

Another game that popped out of my backlog this week was Cadence of Hyrule. This is a game that I originally played through once with my wife back when it released, but it was shelved after that- no playthroughs in other modes or runs with downloadable content, either. It came to my attention that Cadence of Hyrule actually had multiple new characters release, new music packs, and more, so I felt like it was time to take a trip back to the rhythm-focused take of Crypt of the Necrodancer Presents: The Legend of Zelda Macarena of Time.

For those unfamiliar, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a rhythm-based roguelike that’s incredibly unique- top down roguelikes such as Shiren the Wanderer, Izuna, etc., have a system where when you move, the enemies move. In Crypt of the Necrodancer, enemies move to the beat of the music, and you need to match that rhythm as you progress through randomized dungeons, acquiring power ups, useful trinkets, and unlock new items that may make your next run of the game easier. There were loads of songs, tons of characters to unlock and play as, and a tremendous amount of replayability. Cadence of Hyrule, made by the Crypt of the Necrodancer team and published by Nintendo, features a lot of what made Necrodancer so incredibly alluring while giving it the iconic Zelda coat of paint.

Players who don’t like or are bad at rhythm games can turn the rhythm system off entirely by enabling Fixed Beat Mode in settings, turning Cadence of Hyrule into a more classic roguelike in the vein of Shiren the Wanderer, as opposed to only having one character you can do that with in Crypt of the Necrodancer. So if you want to play as Zelda without worrying about missing beats, you can. As someone with experience with Crypt of the Necrodancer, I preferred to play the game as intended by attacking to the beat of the music tracks, but it is nice that the option is there for higher accessibility for newer players to this type of game.

Cadence of Hyrule has multiple modes you can choose from- story mode lets you play through the game as a mixture of traditional 2D Zelda and Crypt of the Necrodancer gameplay. The overworld map is somewhat randomized, but you venture through the world, battling enemies, solving puzzles, collecting gear like hookshots, boomerangs, and pieces of heart, and defeating four very clever bosses that give you key items that you can use to make your way into the final confrontation of the story. The Bass Guitarmos Knights (a play on a perennial Zelda enemy, the Armos Knight) provide a different challenge than Gohmaracas, so it’s nice to see the level of creativity exercised in creating the bosses and enemies for this game. Many regular enemy types should appear familiar to Crypt of the Necrodancer players; while the enemies are all Zelda-themed, the skeletons of Necrodancer are basically the Bokoblins in Cadence.

The story mode provides an extremely unique experience even in comparison to Necrodancer, as you’re always improving in one way or another as you explore the reaches of Hyrule because your store of equipment doesn’t go away when you die. If you acquire the hookshot, you still have the hookshot when you resurrect to continue your adventure. One of the free updates to the game allowed you to play as Octavo and also introduced a new game mode, Octavo’s Ode, which lets you play as the villain of the story. Mechanically, Octavo plays similarly to Melody from Necrodancer, and his unique game mode largely is the same game as story mode but with some different portions at the end. Still, for a free update, that’s quite nice. The paid downloadable content introduced six new characters, one of which gets his own unique game mode in Symphony of the Mask. Symphony of the Mask allows you to play as Skull Kid in a much more difficult rendition of the game in a future Hyrule dark world, and you acquire multiple masks as you progress through the game to give you different abilities like swimming through deep water or shooting projectiles.

There is also a mystery mode, which really randomizes things, a dungeon mode that gives a more traditional Crypt of the Necrodancer experience, and a couple more even beyond that. Each run should take you about 3-5 hours, with it taking far less time if you don’t acquire every single item in a single run. The future Hyrule area with its new puzzles can also be accessed in story mode with other characters, and will likely add a couple hours if you want to explore everything it has to offer too. There are new songs which provide a lot to a game with such a focus on music, and you can choose from fantastic guitar renditions by Family Jules or techno and dance remixes by Chipzel and A_Rival, and you can mix and match the music depending on what you like best for every type of area in the game.

Cadence of Hyrule has a ton of replayability even without the downloadable content- if you like the game, the DLC is definitely worthwhile as it provides new ways to experience a great title and add even more to do. If Cadence of Hyrule isn’t already your thing, then you definitely don’t want the new characters or map, because the lot of them just give more ways to experience the game, but with a spin on it or just with more difficulty (in the case of Symphony of the Mask). All in all, Cadence is a great game both with and without the downloadable content, though the DLC itself is more for those who already adored what the base game had to offer.

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