CrossCode Review: A Surprising, Expansive Adventure
At first, CrossCode looks a lot like your typical RPG throwback. Stylized, 16-bit graphics greet you from the get-go with catchy chiptunes that quickly draw you into an expansive world rivaled only by some of the genre's beloved titans.
You assume the role of a hero eager to find out the source of your short-term memory loss, while also taking part in some fun gameplay consisting of unique puzzles, challenging platforming, and some really beautiful pixel art.
The game continues to surprise, even twenty hours in, and reissues its already understood mechanics to make them feel fresh. The developers truly crafted a wonderful game, though a few flaws still cut through.
CrossCode throws you into a future world where the MMO, CrossWorlds, is the game everyone plays. Players assume all of the controls of their avatar with their bodies, able to speak and move for them by using some unknown virtual reality equipment.
You assume the avatar known as Lea, an avatar who has no memory of who they are behind the digital mask. Several of the starting NPCs know she's a unique case of a player, hinting at a grand mystery awaiting her as she steps off the tutorial boat and embarks on a journey to remember who she was. Because she doesn't know who she is, she can't speak, creating a loophole behind the silent hero trope.
To jog Lea's memory, she's forced to play through the game where the player's goal is to complete through the main quest called Track of the Ancients, where players uncover the mystery behind the beings that were there long before anyone else. Lea picks a handful of friends along the way, and just like in a traditional MMO, she gets the opportunity to join a small guild to help her out.
The developers crafted the world to feel like a constantly-moving MMO, including having "players" going through the world around you intent on completing quests. Though, after a time it's clear they're moving on a track and they don't fight with any of the monsters around you, the background details were added to make it feel authentic. The development team nailed it.
In the game, it's mentioned there are five classes to play from. You do not get to choose this as Lea is a pre-made avatar, and I felt a little robbed from this experience. I would have enjoyed getting to dive deep into the RPG aspects of this game, choosing my character's appearance, class, and perfecting her stats. But this linear experience demands to have certain aspects chosen for you, and it doesn't take away too much.
Gameplay and Puzzles
CrossCode provides you with two methods of attacking: range-based and melee-based. When you have a keyboard and mouse, you change between these two based on how you aim at the enemies on screen.
There's a quick-attack button on your keyboard, but you'll mostly ignore it. It's far easier to use your game's reticle than it is to remember what key it is. The range-based attack is called Orb, and they're the main way you interact with the hundreds of puzzles littered throughout the game.
The combat was a straight-forward affair. Beat an enemy until their health is zero. When you defeat a group of enemies you'll receive a battle rank based on how difficult they were. You'll have a bar on the top of the screen where you can continue to fight other monsters in the area, gaining more battle rank up to the rank of S. You'll receive more experience points and better loot if you do this, but you won't gain any health between fights.
To make fighting easier, you'll find instances to 'break' an enemy during combat. Breaking an enemy is basically stunning them, causing them to freeze up and they can't react for a number of seconds. The developers make this unique by forcing you to find different ways to break certain enemies. Some of them are broken by simply attacking them while they charge for their attack. Others require you to use a specific element to break them, thereby making your neutral attacks useful against them. The break mechanic doesn't get old, and even twenty hours in, the developers used it with a refreshing tone.
If you're not a fan of puzzles, you might not want to pick up this game. Not only are there puzzle-filled dungeons, which can take you an hour if you're not careful, but each new area contains platforming and orb-based puzzles for you to solve. While you do not have to do all of them as some of them provide you with great equipment, many of them are forced on you and prevent you from continuing forward.
The developers don't try to trick you through the puzzles. The puzzles were made in an obvious way for you to quickly grasp the mechanics and proceed forward. Although, the one-hour long puzzle dungeons were a bit much. There's a good amount of combat added to these dungeons, but it's easy to get lost in them and have to take a break immediately after you're finished.
The 16-bit RPG Art
The wonderful art shines throughout the experience. The various avatars, the season-changing worlds, and the unique monsters populated everywhere make every new sight an appealing experience. You'll forget you're playing a PC game and think you pulled out your old school PlayStation for old time's sake. The gameplay feels the same way, too.
There's a few times this art becomes troublesome when you're dealing with the platforming puzzles. You may think you're jumping on the ledge, but you miss by just a hair, and its enough to send you tumbling down. It also works in your favor when you need to remain on a platform and you're barely hanging off the side so you can make it to the next jump. There's a handful of cons with the chosen art, but you'll find far more pros and the art doesn't get stale.
It's Still An MMO
Because its an RPG disguised as an MMO, you'll feel the massive world gets a little lonely at times. Even when your companion consistently comments on your lust for battle or about the new area you've unlocked. You'll want to take a friend with you through your quests and show them what you've been looking on. But as you might expect, there can be a fair amount of grinding.
This feeling typically arrives just before a big fight. Right before a dungeon, your companions will ask if you're truly ready to tackle whatever lies behind those threatening doors. There are so many side quests for you to do before you enter it, you'll feel you need to take a step back to go take care of them. You can ignore most of the side quests and proceed into dungeon after dungeon, but you'll feel a far more difficult challenge if you don't do so.
You do need to grind XP to level up and stay within the appropriate limits of the game. No, it's not as bad if you were to play World of Warcraft, but it take an hour or two out of your time from your main quest to stay within the limit. It does pull away from the experience and make it feel like a necessary element. Those who love to be completionists and check off every box will have a blast running through every little detail of this game.
CrossCode is a wonderful game. The developers painstakingly added numerous background details to make the experience feel genuine and the mechanics don't feel stale, even thirty or forty hours into the entire game.
There's a lot to do, a good story, a handful of great characters to meet, and the combat feels like a challenge. You may bash your head against a wall attempting to figure out the puzzle-dungeons, but when you figure it out you're going to feel accomplishment and excited to move on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.
[Note: The developer provided the copy of CrossCode used in this review.]