At first glance, you may shrug off CrossCode as “just another indie” game. You may think that the developers at Radical Fish Games are trying to cash in on the trend of paying tribute to RPGs from the 90s. This won’t recapture the same magic you find yourself thinking of. Well, you can safely put those doubts to rest because CrossCode does that and more.
CrossCode is a top-down action RPG similar to 2D Legend of Zelda games. The setting is actually a virtual reality game called CrossWorlds. A game inside of a game is not a unique theme. It doesn’t have to be unique to be good though. In this futuristic VR world, you play as an amnesiac and silent protagonist, Lea. While others are playing the game for fun or glory, Lea has a more personal reason. Which I won’t tell you since I expect everyone who reads this review to play CrossCode.
You may have noticed I called Lea amnesic and silent. Two of the most dreaded cliches of JRPGs. Somehow, the developers have made these overused concepts not only palatable but enjoyable. Lea is silent because of a malfunction in her speech module. It turns out this is a legitimate bug in the virtual game. Since the other characters actually acknowledge her inability to speak it never broke the immersion. Seriously, why did it take so many years to make a silent protagonist actually mute? It’s genius!
The story’s tone is reminiscent of Chrono Trigger and I can think of no higher praise. There’s a balance of light-hearted and serious moments. CrossCode takes you on an emotional adventure that makes you laugh and cry. That’s what a good story should do! The supporting characters enhance this feeling. They make up for the fact that Lea can’t talk and you’ll come to love them all. Even the ones you might dislike at first.
For the lore hunters, CrossCode packs a substantial encyclopedia. There’s information on characters, the in-game history of CrossWorld as well as the fauna and flora. This sort of feature is more common now, but it’s heartening to see an indie developer do it so well. Especially when you have AAA games like Final Fantasy XV taking months to make a (mediocre) bestiary.
Playing CrossCode reminds me of something special. It’s that sense of complete immersion and being sucked into a game. This game reminds me of the hours I spent on Chrono Cross and Suikoden II, two of my favourite games. It’s that feeling of being so sucked into the game world, you lose track of time. It’s a little scary, but still a lovely feeling.
As an action-RPG, CrossCode had to bring something fun to the table. There are few things worse in video gaming than bad combat. Fighting in CrossCode is a great time though. The defining trait is how smooth the controls are. Moving and attacking with Lea always feels responsive and tight. Whenever she dies, it feels like you messed up, not the game.
In the game (inside CrossCode), Lea’s class is a spheromancer. Her melee attacks are done with chakrams that have a wide reach. Lea’s ranged attacks have her shoot balls at enemies. If you aim your attack, you can shoot a much bigger ball. The charged shot can also rebound off walls, which the game will expect you to use during some bosses.
During the story, you will collect elemental upgrades for Lea’s attacks: Fire, Ice, Wave and Focus. These strengthen your basic attacks allowing you to exploit any foes with an elemental weakness. You have to be careful though since using them for too long will cause an overload. During this time you can only use the neutral attacks, putting you at a disadvantage.
An important aspect of the customisation is the circuit system. This is basically a skill tree, but there’s one for each element. Everytime you level up you get points for five circuits (one for each element and a neutral one). This ensures you don’t have to pick and choose. The tree eventually branches out with the introduction of skills.
The skills are like augments for your basic movements: melee attacks, projectiles, guarding and dashing. Each element has its own skills and you get to choose between two options. For example, for the ranged one, you can pick either a rapid-fire homing attack or a large rebounding projectile. The level of depth in the circuits is mind-blowing and will offer players the ability to personally curate their gameplay experience. Expect to spend a fair amount of time getting everything right.
Outside of combat, CrossCode has a mountain of content, most of it worthwhile. The main story missions take place in large, thematic dungeons. These are full of strong enemies, bosses and clever puzzles that make the most of the gameplay. Your rebounding charged shot turns into the key for opening new paths. It’s amazing to see how many different ways the developers have used this one, simple mechanic.
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