Without spoiling too much of the in-depth story, the player controls Lea, a newcomer in the MMORPG “CrossWorlds”. Lea has a defective speech module which only allows her to say a handful of words, essentially turning her into a silent protagonist. She manages to learn the ropes with the assistance of other players, but also has the challenge of figuring out what is going on within her own life outside of the game. With a left turn here and a twist there, the story is fascinating and pretty outside of the box.
The gameplay and art style are very reminiscent of classic games like The Legend of Zelda, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger, but also newer retro-inspired games like Cosmic Star Heroine and Hyper Light Drifter. But the combat is what makes it really stand apart from those formerly mentioned games. With the ability to change elements, dodge, dash, guard, shoot, and melee, there is a lot more variety than the others. And on the point of shooting, this is a major emphasis and unique factor throughout the game. Referred to in-game as VRP’s (Virtual Ricochet Projectiles), balls can be fired, charged, and bounced off walls. This is integral for combat as well as the numerous puzzles throughout the game.
Combat is varied throughout the game and does a great job of keeping players on their toes. While some enemies have simple attack patterns and can be defeated with brute force, most have weak points that have to be exploited, before really unloading once you “break” their defenses. Bosses follow this same pattern, but they typically become more aggressive or expand their moveset once you’ve dealt a certain amount of damage to them. This leads to a lot of experimentation, trial and error, and plays into the strong puzzle mechanics within the game.
The art style doesn’t separate itself as much, but it isn’t derivative either. With its unique setting, the characters and several environments stand out from the pack. Traversing from the plains, through the mountains, across the desert, into the jungle, and the numerous dungeons the game has to offer, visual variety is bountiful. For further evidence of this, check out the gallery below.
But is it enough to justify the time and purchase?
CrossCode nails the SNES RPG aesthetic 100 percent. But in reality, it is an homage to those beloved 90’s JRPG’s with its own distinct flavor. The first ten hours or so are really magical and really feel like something you’ve never played before. Optional combat is a great feature for those who don’t want constant enemy encounters to hammer them down. And since the player can choose when to engage in combat while exploring, they’ll always have the upper hand. This makes for a nice “battle when you want and for however long you want” system. Combined with the game’s emphasis on leveling up gear over leveling up your character, this cuts down on unnecessary grinding.
Difficulty sliders customize the game’s challenge. Default difficulty maxes everything at 100%, but received damage, enemy attack frequency, and puzzle speed can all be lowered individually if the challenge is too great.
Even though the game highlights exploration, there is a lot of backtracking from hard to reach items and missed “jumps”. A pretty friendly fast travel system helps to alleviate this, but it’s still frustrating and tedious. Probably more of a personal complaint than a valid criticism, but the game feels too expansive. Too much exploring and too many sidequests that don’t really pay off for the time investment. In general, everything feels unnecessarily elongated. Areas that should be five screens are ten. Dungeons are the same with one puzzle after another that reward the player’s ability to solve them with yet another puzzle.
Overall, CrossCode does the overwhelming majority of things right. However, the game definitely drags in certain areas (especially the dungeons) and has frustrating platforming elements, which mar the experience. But anyone who wants a heavy dose of nostalgia that’s finished off with a smooth and refined finish should look no further than this gem of a game. If you want even more nostalgia, you can preorder a physical copy of the game on PlayStation 4 or Switch here.