As I said in my Code Vein review, Bandai Namco's vampiric dungeon-crawler excels at the most surprising things but fumbles the basics. Its superb character customization helps make up for its lackluster combat, and its memorable story is told through endearing characters who liven up an otherwise boring world. It's janky and clumsy and has some big problems, but I dig it. I especially dig the story of Louis, which still occupies my thoughts thanks to an early interaction which pierced my heart in a way I never would have expected. Never in a thousand years did I think anime vampire junk food would channel my most painful memories in a meaningful way, but it did, and I felt uncharacteristically compelled to share how.
*Not-insignificant story spoilers ahead. Nothing about the ending, but if you want to go into Code Vein totally blind, turn back now. It won't break my heart, I promise.*
The story of Cruz
Code Vein is about Revenants, humans infected with BOR parasites that turn them into superpowered vampires. The catch is that Revenants lose most of their memories as humans, and they have to consume human blood or they'll turn into demons called the Lost. Revenants were made to be used as soldiers in the war against the Queen of the Lost, whose immense power and uncontrollable rage was a threat to all mankind. However, you soon learn that the Queen herself was also the result of a BOR experiment. Before she lost her humanity, the Queen was just a young woman named Cruz, cursed with dangerously high BOR compatibility.
This is explained through a short cutscene fairly early in the game which explores the latent memories of Louis, who was Cruz's close friend before he became a Revenant. It recalls a time when Cruz and Louis were still human. However, Cruz has already been infected with BOR parasites at this point, and her body is violently rejecting them. She's bedridden in utter agony, and her voice work conveys this with blood-curdling authenticity. Voice-acted crying usually sounds fake to me, but I'll be damned if Cruz's pain-wracked sobs didn't tighten my chest.
Cruz is not the only tragic character in the scene. Louis repeatedly visits as her condition deteriorates, and each visit is sadder than the last. He struggles to comfort her, and he's powerless to help her. He's frustrated and scared. He has no answers for the questions Cruz rightly asks, namely: "Why does it have to be me?"
Right up to the end, Cruz rebels against her fate, but it's inevitable. She laments that she can't beat the monster inside her, and she fears what it will one day do to her and the people around her. She eventually begs Louis to kill her, both to escape her intractable pain and to avoid turning into the Lost. The terrible, dramatic irony is that, from the game's opening, we know Louis couldn't bring himself to do it. The rest is history: Cruz becomes the Queen and launches the war that catalyzes the events of the game, leaving Louis drowning in a sea of regrets.
Louis forgets this after becoming a Revenant, but you, the player, rekindle his lost memories. It's a defining moment for Louis' character arc, and it reinforces how the power you wield can impact the lives of others. More than anything, it's a horrible, shitty situation – and broadly speaking, it's one I'm intimately familiar with.
This is how it feels
So, a bit of background. My sister is incredibly important to me, and she's the unluckiest person I know. She's had spinal issues since she was 13 years old, and so she's dealt with chronic pain for most of her life. I can't even begin to tell you everything that's wrong with her. I've lost track. Severe scoliosis, spinal cysts, nerve degeneration, auto-immune disease – she's a walking cocktail of rare disorders which are rarely seen even in people three times her age. She's had multiple major operations, many more minor ones, and countless visits to the emergency room. Her condition severely limits her work and lifestyle choices, and her medical expenses are obscene because this is America. Barring some unforeseen miracle, she will battle all of this for the rest of her life.
I couldn't help but see my sister in Cruz, and the similarities were so unexpected and uncanny that they zapped me out of my brainless anime coma and forced me to take Code Vein seriously in a way I otherwise wouldn't have. Because setting aside the anime vampire stuff, on a fundamental level, they're both women battling painful curses they didn't ask for and don't deserve. Likewise, Louis reminded me of myself in his interactions with Cruz. He hesitates and stumbles and can't find the right words. I hated him as a reflection and pitied him as a character. And once I had that thought, the whole sequence took on a different meaning for me, and I buckled like a lawn chair in a hurricane.
I know exactly how it feels to visit a loved one bedridden with agony. I know exactly how it feels to have that loved one beg for death because they are simply in that much pain. And I know exactly how it feels to be unable to answer the impossible question, "Why does it have to be me?" It's frustrating and scary. It's horrible and shitty. It's 1am in a hospital room in the ER, which you've visited for the second time this month because today's pain was especially severe and you needed something to get on top of it. It's joking about yet another medical setback, because if you don't laugh you'll have no choice but to cry. It's betting on the present and trying – and routinely failing – not to worry about the future.
I know that my pain is nothing compared to what my sister continues to endure, and that it pales in comparison to the fear and worry my parents go through. And I know that there's no good answer in situations like this. There's often no answer at all. That's the worst part. All you can do is wait and hope for the best and keep visiting, just like Louis. In a world of fantastical stakes and trope-y anime characters, Louis' actions made the most sense to me because I genuinely knew where he was coming from. It was a small but believable detail, and again, this really helped sell me on Code Vein in a way that no amount of world-ending disasters ever could.
Because of this scene and the way I experienced it, I was more receptive to the rest of the game's messages. I paid closer attention to Code Vein's story because it had already proven to me that it could portray tough situations with tact and sincerity. For my money, nothing else measures up to the impact of Cruz and Louis, but there are tender moments in other character arcs too. Many of these are hidden in collectible Vestiges – more on those in the review – and they deserve to be seen. The familial story between Mia and Nicola is already one of Code Vein's high notes, and since I was emotionally invested in the game in general, it hit me twice as hard. I also really like Murasame's backstory, which is another strong example of how your command over memories can relieve people of regret and trauma.
I never thought I'd write a feature like this, and I certainly didn't think a game like Code Vein would prompt it. It is cliche anime nonsense right down to the bone marrow (and I do love it for that). But that heartfelt scene with Cruz and Louis managed to cut through all of that nonsense to deliver a touching, relatable moment I'll never forget.