Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Have you ever wondered what your MMO would feel like if it weren’t actually an MMO? What if it were more 16-bit SNES retro styled? How about combining both ranged and melee in a funky hybrid of both real and virtual? Well then, I think it’s time to take a look at CrossCode.
CrossCode takes place in a sort of virtual reality-esque world of Shadoon, where your main character, Lea, is experiencing some memory and speech impediment problems. With the help of some not as virtual assistance, Lea is sent off to the “playground” where virtual avatars explore and beat up monsters and discover the secrets of the “Ancients”. Admittedly it can be a bit of work to figure out what is “virtual” and what is “real”, but that provides a sort of charm that games like .Hack// drew a clear line for.
As you explore Shadoon, or “the croissant”, as it’s colloquially called, you have a number of tools at your disposal. Like, actually quite a few. You have two types of attacks, melee and ranged, with the ranged attack having a rapid fire and charged shot, as well as a dash, guard, and skills that can be used with the ranged shot, melee attack, and even dash. As you progress trough the game you will also pick up elemental chips that allow you to use that element in battle. Overusing it will cause an overload, and you need to switch off the element to “cool down”. Each of these elements, and the non-elemental one, all have their own specific skill trees to progress through as well.
While that describes the combat, you will also spend a large chunk of time simply exploring. In this 2D top down style adventure, it feels like there’s a heavy emphasis on “parkour”, as you will be running and jumping off ledges, cliffs, into lakes etc. Areas are divided up in separate “screens”, and usually have multiple height layers to them, with a bunch of platforms and ledges at different heights. Sometimes traversing screens this way lets you access a different part of another screen you can only get to from a higher area, othertimes you’ll be rewarded with items.
Speaking of items, you get five equipment slots: two weapons, a chest armor, a helmet, and shoes. Each piece of equipment not only increases base stats, but they can also have skill effects attached to them, such as “melee damage up”. Equipment can either be found in chests, bought at a vendor, or exchanged for with drops you collect from enemies and the local plant life. A lot of these items you will probably acquire while completing quests for various characters.
Like any good MMO or RPG, there are NPCs that will give out quests, as well as “player characters” that will give you tasks that reward more actual items instead of exp. You can take a large number of quests at any given time, so you don’t need to worry too much about running out of quest space. Additionally, there’s a method to keep track of your active quests by setting them as favourites, and then you can pull them up while walking around by pushing in the thumbstick.
Unfortunately there are a couple of glaring issues with CrossCode, at least on the switch. While the combat is pretty smooth all around, I had some really serious issues with the menus. Not that they are bad, or unhelpful, rather they lag like I’m trying to play CrossCode on a 30 year old toaster. While the most commonly used menus only lag a little, the most egregious offender is the botany tab. Yeah, you can access page one, but if you try and switch tabs? Crashes the game. While not strictly speaking necessary, it does keep track of a certain quest completion progress, making it rather…frustrating, to say the least.
One really nice thing I liked about CrossCode is they have these little challenges, where you will get either confronted in a PvP battle, or Emilie will challenge you to a race through a dungeon. You can either win or lose these which is a nice little added feature, although I suggest playing how you have fun first and foremost. Speaking of Emilie and her dungeon races, dungeons are pretty standard fare for what you’d expect out of something like a Zelda title. Don’t underestimate them though, because even the first dungeon had some points i stood there thinking “how the hell am I supposed to do this????”. I managed to beat Emilie, so it couldn’t have been that bad, but I’m pretty sure it was scary close.
Let’s talk a bit about the soundtrack and art style. The soundtrack is really fitting for CrossCode’s style. It essentially combines old school type tracks, those that you would expect from the more 16-bit like graphics such as Dragon Quest, and combines those for what you might hear in a similar themed MMO or similar style game. The soundtrack is really well put together, and does a really good job of matching the ritual, locale, and feeling of the game. As I’ve mentioned a few times, CrossCode is more retro styled in nature, but far from detracting from the experience, I found it added to it. It’s got that “MMO style original Trials of Mana” sort of feeling to it, only with constant HP healing out of battle, a more fast paced combat system, and some dungeon puzzles that make you want to flip a few tables.
While there’s a lot I really love about CrossCode: its wide array of functions like the party combat directives, interactive maps, some rather well thought out boss fights, and neat challenges built-in to the game, there are definitely a few drawbacks. The super aging menus are a big issue for me, especially since the one constantly causes a crash. Not going to lie, this freaked me out a little since I hadn’t saved in a while, but thankfully the game autosaves every screen transition, otherwise I would have been livid instead of just slightly peeved.
Item-ing is also a bit of a nuisance. While you can collect most of the stuff required to trade for gear, you can also exchange for items to exchange for items that you can use to trade for equipment. Yes, that sentence is correct. The character banter that you can hear from part members is pretty cool as well, and doesn’t repeat forever looping the same dialog every two minutes, but is usually limited in what you can get. Another point of contention for me is that enemy levels can vary wildly, and some aspects of the game aren’t particularly noted very well. For instance, there are these snowmen in the second area that will probably be well above you level first time you see them. For the lack of explanation, I had this in the first dungeon.
Basically, the game tells you that guard breaking is a ting, but neglects to inform you that some enemies can only be guard broken under certain circumstances or from a specific direction. Add to that that the “columns” you need to move in dungeon puzzles can activate certain square shaped floor panels, but you aren’t told which ones, or that it’s even a thing. Yeah you can figure it out, but it took me ten minutes because I put the columns on the wrong two floor panels, and didn’t bother with the third until I started getting fed up. Some of the switches are also a pain to hit, and if you use the rapid shot instead of the charge, you run the risk of “double tapping” the switch, essentially deactivating it when you want it on purely by accident.
I’ve always been a huge fan of .Hack because it let me play an MMO in my solo single player style, offline, and, on my own time. CrossCode I feel has taken this a good notch higher and between the dialog, the dungeons, the exploration, the customizations, the puzzles and the visuals? It knocks it all out of the park for a hell of an experience that shows that the developers truly used their seven years to create something incredible.Pierre-Yves 2018 CrossCode Review
Overall, despite a few drawbacks and the infernal botanics menu, CrossCode is a really solid title that made me habitually forget I was playing it by myself. The characters are all pretty interesting and unique, the dungeons and puzzles are challenging but not impossible, and the combat is smooth. While there is a lot of menu lag and some of the quests can get a little frustrating, ultimately the latter is something you have to deal with in any RPG, and the former can be generally ignored by staying out of certain menu features. CrossCode is definitely worth checking out, and now that it’s on the Switch, you can bring it with you too. If you’re any fan of .Hack// or Trials of Mana, take a look into CrossCode, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.Score: 8 / 10