CrossCode is an early access indie title being developed by Radical Fish Games. While, the words “early access” can send shivers down the spine of gamers, there is nothing to fear when it comes to CrossCode. This is a PC exclusive indie title that is worth looking out for in the future.
Despite being in early access, CrossCode plays like a finished product. The game is a 2D action RPG that is a call back to classics such as Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. It takes place in a future where technology has made it possible to create a virtual world which that players can physically enter. The protagonist is a girl named Lea, who happens to be stuck in this virtual world. She also has amnesia and is unable to talk because of a glitch in the system, a unique take on the silent protagonist trope. As of now, the story doesn’t progress too far as the developers want to save that update for the end. However, the writing is very witty and clever, with lots of references and easter eggs to find. Supporting characters are also very fun to talk to and some even join you to form a party.
However the star of the show is the gameplay. This game plays like a dream. Character animations are smooth, quick and exciting to watch. Moving around and platforming with an auto jump feels great. CrossCode combat is entirely action-based. Lea has two modes of offense, melee combat with chakrams (a circular disc with a sharp edge on the side to cut people down!) and ranged attacks which have her shooting lots of balls out her hands (her character class is the famed “spheromancer”). The melee attack is a 3-hit combo that is great against a wave of enemies but can be hard to use against more mobile enemies. For these pesky foes, you can use the right analogue stick to bring out an aiming line and fire away those balls. By aiming at one spot for a while you can charge your attack to shoot out a bigger ball that can rebound off of surfaces. Lea is able to move around while aiming, but you can’t move while shooting or charging your shot.
You can also learn some special skills that can turn the tide of battle. For example, one of the ranged special skills let you shoot out a supercharged big ball that pierces through enemies. Or you could opt for a ground pound that knocks back enemies and creates space for you to move. There a lot of different skills to choose from, all of which are useful in their own way. As you progress through the game, Lea unlocks the ability to enhance her attacks using elements. These can grant you advantages over enemies, such as using fire attacks against ice enemies. However use it too much and Lea will burn out, and you are stuck with the normal balls for a while.
On the more defensive side of Lea’s arsenal, you have a short dodge (that you can chain up to 3 times before a cooldown) and a block. The block is great for homing projectiles that you can’t dodge, and if you get a perfect block, no damage is received. But most of the time you will be trying to dodge enemy attacks. The 3 dodge limit forces you to use them efficiently, so you can’t just spam the movement. You don’t get invincibility frames while dodging so you have time your movements carefully. As with your attacks, you get some defensive skills such as a temporary shield or a fire barrier. These defensive moves tie in well with your attacks, to keep every fight engaging and challenging. CrossCode encourages players to use both offensive and defensive movements to get the most out of Lea’s abilities.
To match the great combat, enemies are also very fun to fight. Every enemy has their unique attacks and varying movement patterns. This makes every new enemy you run into a challenge of its own as you try to figure out the best and most efficient method of defeating them. The game also encourages you to keep fighting monsters for as long as you can. Every time you start a fight you can see bar with a letter grade (D, C, B etc.). You can keep increasing this grade by continuously killing enemies without stopping. The rarer items are much easier to get at the higher ranks so there’s an incentive to get better at the combat system to collect ‘A’ rank drops. The enemies themselves are found roaming around outside of towns and villages. Most of them aren’t hostile and only start attacking when provoked. But some of them can take you by surprise and shoot first, so you have to be on your toes.
Boss fights in this game are excellent. From the giant beasts to the one-on-one duels, there is a lot of strategy and skill involved in the fights. The giant bosses have multiple phases, which are indicated by partitions in their health bar, so you know can easily identify what stage of the fight you are in. But it’s the duels that push the gameplay to the limits. The very first fight with another character is a fast-paced and exciting battle that requires usage of Lea’s various attacks and defences.
CrossCode also has beautiful pixel graphics and isn’t afraid to use colour. The environments feel bright and immersive. Take the starting area for example, Autumn Falls. The floor is littered with fallen leaves, while trees continue to shed more of said leaves as you platform your way through the path. Or the Bergen Trail, that starts off as grassy, but gradually collects snow as you climb higher. The character and enemy sprites are also very nicely animated and this helps to keep the action moving along at a good pace. The world itself isn’t seamless as there are transitions between screens, but each area is fairly large with lots of secrets to find. The map tells you how many chests there are in an area so you can keep track of your exploration.
Other than killing monsters and looking for loot, you will also be solving puzzles and doing some platforming. There is no jump button in the game, instead Lea will auto jump when she walks off an edge of a platform. This can take some getting used to, but the game eases you into it by having some simple jumps and then introducing some of the tighter ones. CrossCode also has a lot of great puzzles to solve in dungeons reminiscent of a Zelda game. However they feel a lot more creative in some aspects. Remember the charged ball shot that rebounds off walls? Well, that mechanic is used very cleverly for a number of different puzzles. The elements you gain also play a part in the puzzles, for example the fire element can melt ice and cause certain objects to explode. The puzzles do get progressively harder, with some of the easier ones introducing new mechanics that are used in more complex ways. This approach is far superior to having a boring text based tutorial as it lets the player experiment.
Character customisation is a staple feature in RPGs and CrossCode is no exception. While you can’t change Lea’s clothes, you can still equip a lot of items to boost stats and gain new abilities. Other than equipment, Lea also has a skill tree of sorts known as circuits. This basically works like a branching skill tree with multiple pathways to select, each having different perks. Aside from your basic circuit, every element also has its own circuit which you can customise differently. This effectively gives you multiple builds to work with, some might have more attack while others focus on defense. You can also reset your circuits if you feel the need for 1000 credits, which is fairly easy to come by.
CrossCode is looking to be another promising indie title. It has the perfect balance of challenge and fun. The game is very polished despite being in early access, and the constant updates and communication from the developers is a good sign. Even if you aren’t a fan of early access, CrossCode is worth at least adding to a wish list. The game is scheduled to release in its entirely in 2017, and will be a great addition to the amazing line up of indie RPGs.
For more information visit the official site of the developers, Radical Fish Games.