I am sure that some of you are old enough to have experienced the magic of playing a jrpg for the first time, back in the 16 and 32 bit era. I remember like yesterday how different the mechanics from all the games I played before were, how incredibly emotional the music was, how you had to take your time, killing monsters, becoming better in order to take on the epic bosses in an amazing story full of twists. For all of you that still haven’t felt that, this exactly kind of magic emanates from CrossCode, a 2d retro inspired action rpg by Radical Fish Games.
The moment you launch the game you are greeted with one of the most sleekest main menu screens an indie game can have. It screams of quality, from the animation of the main character to the ethereal music. The bright blue colors, the city hub in the distance, everything you need to know is on that screen, you are going on an adventure in a beautiful place.
In CrossCode you play the role of Lea, a girl that finds herself logged in a fictional advanced reality MMO world. She doesn’t know how she got there, she seems to have amnesia and unfortunately her speech module is malfunctioning, forcing her to communicate using only a few words. Her guide is a programmer, Sergey, who tries to point her to the right direction in order to find out who she is, what is her goal and also provide info on the world and the mechanics. Not the most unique concept, but the final storyline will be implemented with the official release of the game. Only then we’ll be able to know for sure how good it is, but for now it does the job to hook the player into the world.
You will get introduced to most of the aspects of that world, the characters and the mechanics of the game in the first hour of the gameplay. The tutorial will take at least that long and you will get hooked in everything that CrossCode has to offer. The battle system, the vivid and colourful world, the puzzles, the music, the characters, I really don’t know where to start. Everything is so polished that the work these guys did with their game might surprise you.
The visual style of the game is evocative of the 16 bit era, of the top down 2d Super Nintendo rpgs, but infused with an incredible amount of detail in every aspect of the maps, the characters and the general artwork. I can feel the inspiration from Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, Secret of Mana, but one hundred times better. The same goes for the music. The soundtrack can be a thesis on how to create emotional and powerful music that brings every element of the world to the forefront and makes it more alive. I can definitely see this original soundtrack becoming a classic for many players in the future.
According to developers, polishing the game mechanics is the most important thing in CrossCode and you can see that from the battle system, the level design and the environmental puzzles. The action battle system is a joy to play. You can attack, do powerful moves, dodge, use your energy shield and also use your ranged attack, all performed in an instant, in an incredibly responsive way. You can explore, then get in a fight without changing screens and immediately after you finish continue exploring, having a smooth experience in the process. There is also a shpere grid, similar with Final Fantasy X, that you can upgrade your character, making her more powerful, unlocking abilities etc.
Every part of the maps you will visit is filled with environmental puzzles, from the simple jumps that you will have to figure out to reach an item box, to the more elaborate ones in dungeons, that will have you moving platforms, using your energy sphere and other kinds of elements in order to solve them. They are not hard, they will not make you rage quit but they will definitely make you use your head and you will feel pretty good when you solve them.
At the moment this review is written, CrossCode is in the 0.9.5-5 Beta version with an expected full release early in 2018. With the final version we will have the completion of the story plus a full skill tree and more quests. The fact is that CrossCode, even in Early Access, offers more content than most of the games, indie or AAA, out there. I played for 11 hours and I am still level 19, just finishing the first huge story dungeon. There are a lot of things to do, side quests, exploration, platforming and more, and together with the fluid, fast paced and enjoyable battle system they will make the hours fly without even noticing.
There are a few things I have to point out. Firstly, the jump seems to be a bit twitchy, I found myself falling off a platform just because the platform was relatively small and I had to exactly time when I stop the movement of Lea. That happens pretty often, since the world is filled with environmental puzzles that you have to go solve by platforming. The good thing is that if you fall down, you will usually spawn to the previous platform or at least not far away from where you want to go. That is great because if this wasn’t the case, I could see myself loosing patience often. The other thing has to do with the quests. They feel all over the place, one moment you go around killing monsters for items, the other you hunt down a goat on rooftops. Some times they feel like quest ideas that, to me, they don’t really connect or enhance the storyline. That might change in the future with the implementation of the full storyline.
The quest one is a personal preference, many of you might not agree or care and you will be right in your own way because CrossCode is great as it is. I personally love story based games and I know that you can expand your world building with the correct use of side quests. I would like for more games to try and do that in the future, especially since the work that has been done in CrossCode is incredible. Both of these gripes don’t change in the least how good this game is, they are nitpickings that the developers might want to check in the future.
It is incredibly rare for me to recommend an Early Access game for purchase. There are only a few of them that do justice to this platform and CrossCode is one of them. The amount of quality gameplay and game time that you get out of it, plus the experience as a whole is definitely worth it. Definitely go and buy it.
You can buy CrossCode on Steam for the price of 19,99€.