A Whole New Charming World
CrossCode is a 2D indie action RPG reminiscent of SNES/PS1 era games such as Zelda or the Mana series with some of the trappings and dressings of an MMORPG sprinkled in a la the .Hack games. The developer, Radical Fish, toiled over the game for several years and it really shows; delivering an entertaining experience from beginning to end thanks to its charming characters, lovely pixel art, jaunty rpg tunes, and deep gameplay options.
The game starts, like many RPGs have, with a brief prologue teasing out some of the larger plot before plopping you into the shoes of the main character, Lea, a mute with a convenient case of amnesia. You’re introduced to a voice in your head, Sergey, who reveals that you’re actually a player avatar in CrossWorld, an MMO by Instantainment; the company Sergey works for. Sergey explains that he placed you into the world in hopes of uncovering your memories and helping out the real-world player behind Lea. Shortly thereafter, the boat Lea is on is attacked by an immensely overpowered character leaving one to wonder what is really going on as the player makes their way through some tutorials and onto the main game world. The story of CrossCode is truly greater than the sum of its parts as the way everything comes together as the plot unfolds is quite engaging and emotionally satisfying, despite the set-up not appearing to be totally original. This isn’t to say the game doesn’t have a couple of its own unique twists on things. For instance, one of my favorite tidbits is that the world in which the game takes place actually exists in real space. CrossWorld is on a moon of a distant planet that people connect to via some Avatar-esque system. As a result, the player avatars and (some of?) the environments are all formed by this weird malleable, programmable instant matter. This isn’t just a fun interesting bit of lore that but also goes into explaining how the player is able to respawn from long falls, why they can’t swim, and how instances work.
As most people who have dabbled into MMORPGs might know, one of the defining characteristics of many MMOs is the social aspect. CrossCode absolutely nails it by utilizing classic MMO social systems like private chats, parties, and guilds as the means of interaction between the characters. On its own this wouldn’t mean too much but, thankfully, CrossCode boasts an excellent cast of characters that you’ll come to know and love as you journey to uncover Lea’s past. In addition to getting to know more about Sergey and his motivations, you’ll be introduced to the spunky French girl Emilie, the nerdy know-it-all C’tron, the dependable Lukas, the arrogant Apollo, and more as you join a guild and meet other “player characters” along the way. These characters vary in depth and prominence but each will add their own unique flair to the game and maybe remind the player of “characters” they’ve met online before.
On the gameplay front CrossCode offers a well-rounded experience with a lot of layers; there should be something to appeal to almost anyone. In combat you have four basic abilities in the form of shooting energy orbs for range, close range melee strikes, dodge, and block. As you progress through the story, you’ll unlock 4 elements that you can swap between at any time that give your attacks additional properties. If that wasn’t enough each element (including neutral) has skills to amplify those basic actions; these skills can be leveled up to 3 times giving the player a huge number of options in combat. This on its own would likely be enough to get excited about yet what really pulls it all together is the wide variety of enemies and bosses throughout the game that really challenges you to choose the appropriate strategy and actions for each encounter. However, this can also act to its detriment if you get too stuck in trying to play one specific way.
If character customization is your cup of tea CrossCode has got you covered. As you level up you unlock skill points to invest in FIVE different skill trees, one for each element. These trees branch off in a few different directions each, allowing you to focus on different stats and skills for each element. This means you can make your fire form a heavy hitting bruiser with a melee focus, your electric form a crit focused rapid firing shooter, your ice form an impenetrable tank, or whatever combinations curtail to your playstyle. With these options the combat can become extremely intricate as you weave in and out of these forms to take advantage of enemy's weaknesses to certain elements and playstyles. Luckily you can balance out your build and playstyle by inviting different characters to your party to fill in gaps or compliment your builds.
If you’re really looking for side content in your RPGs there are a ton of MMO style sidequests to undertake, NPC trading to partake in, treasures to hunt, and a plethora of achievements/challenges and gear to farm. Additionally, they recently updated the game to add a post-game arena offering a heaping handful of combat challenges.
Or if exploration, dungeons, and puzzles are your bag then you’re in luck cause CrossCode has got it all in spades. The overworld is filled with sidequests and hidden chests that can have you pouring over every inch of the beautifully crafted environments. Personally, I was a huge fan of various jumping/platforming puzzles that lead to far off chests or other goodies. Despite the isometric camera not lending itself to platforming prowess I found these platforming puzzles to be very satisfying to solve even if the reward was often lack-luster. As for the dungeons proper, they are truly special; the shining crown jewels of the overall CrossCode experience. Each of the several dungeons could serve as a textbook study of nicely designed dungeon experiences. They typically start with a slow introduction of a few new puzzle mechanics in a simple controlled test. They then start ramping up the difficulty by mixing and matching the various mechanics in new and interesting ways. Eventually the dungeon will introduce some new element to you that will completely change the way you’ll interact with the dungeon’s mechanics. Meanwhile, the dungeon has been throwing new enemies and minibosses at you which will eventually crescendo into an exciting proper boss encounter to close everything out. It’s not unusual for these dungeons to take upwards of an hour, so they’re pretty meaty experiences but they never feel like they’re too long or too short.
CrossCode is a labor of love with a well-crafted well-rounded experience that’s packed to the gills with various gameplay systems and an engaging story. This all comes wrapped in beautiful spritework. The environments are varied and beautiful. The characters, portraits, and giant enemy models are charming, highly detailed and backed with smooth animations. The music is filled with jaunty tunes that reminds me a lot of Ragnarok Online and classic MMOs of that era. This is to say that the music, while not particularly mind-blowing, are enjoyable and compliment the areas well without having anything that stuck out as legitimately bad. Fans of action RPGs and emotional storylines shouldn’t hesitate to play this game (unless you're waiting for the Switch version).