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CrossCode Review

Old School Flair in a New School Package

CrossCode, developed by Radical Fish Games and published by Deck13, WhisperGames, DANGEN Entertainment, and Mayflower Entertainment, is positively elephantine in scope. Granted, it’s been in Early Access for three years, officially releasing feature-complete on September 20th. That time has certainly been well spent if the final product is anything to go by. You play as Lea, a young amnesiac girl trying to regain her memories by playing a fictional MMORPG by the name of CrossWorlds. As you level up, complete quests, and grind your way to the end, Lea discovers that all may not be what it seems in CrossWorlds.

CrossCode plays like a classic action RPG à la The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past or Secret of Mana. You have a handful of basic moves, attacks both ranged and melee, blocks, and dodges, which you can mix and match into different situations. A perfect block prevents all damage and can later be upgraded into a counter. Dodges can be used to cancel out of a combo. Ranged attacks can be charged to ricochet off walls to strike at enemies from odd angles. Each move also has super variants called Arts, and each Art changes depending on what element you’re currently using. The farther you progress, the more elements you have at your disposal. If you want to get to the end, you’ll have to master all of these techniques to one extent or another.

Dungeon Crawl

Your quest to slap around everything that moves until it explodes into loot will not be lonely. Lea is joined by a small team of fellow players, eight in total, to unlock the secrets of CrossWorlds. It’s also not all grind. Periodically, you will be tasked with clearing a dungeon to acquire a new element to help you progress. To spice this up, one of your party members, Emilie, challenges you to races to see how fast you can each complete the particular dungeon. In this world, dungeons are instances that disallow parties to run the dungeon simultaneously. As such, you, Emilie, and occasionally a third party member, will run separate instances of the dungeon in tandem to see who finishes first. Occasionally Emilie will chime in through private message to trade some friendly banter. You can also call your friends to banter with them while in the dungeon as well.

If there is a reward for winning these dungeon races, I wouldn’t know. Through my playthrough, Emilie remains undefeated. In my defense, the dungeons can be fairly difficult, especially if you’ve neglected some of the side quests for the sake of speed. Each plays out like a dungeon from a Zelda game. Each is themed around a given element, using its own set of rules and mechanics to block your way, forcing you to analyze puzzles and combine elements and mechanics in different ways to move forward. About halfway through, you acquire a new element, and a new upgrade tree to follow, and move on to the boss after completing more puzzles and fights.

The Hi Life

Now, I’m sure some of you read that opening synopsis of the story and felt it was a weak premise. Hear me out: CrossWorlds isn’t a typical MMO; it’s an augmented-reality MMO. In the time period that CrossCode is set in, a company called Instatainment has come up with what amounts to hard light constructs that they call Instant Matter. Players log in to an area called the Playground with Instant Matter avatars to fight Instant Matter monsters and throw around AR-fueled attacks. At first, this premise seemed a little hollow — why not just split the difference and make it virtual reality instead? Then it occurred to me that Disney is currently building an entire wing of their theme park to simulate a living Star Wars world. If people can get so into an experience like that, imagine how much more excited they would be with an added layer of AR immersion. Moreover, there are some spoiler-ific plot points that wouldn’t work with VR.

Speaking of spoilers, there’s not much about the story that I can talk about without venturing too far into spoiler territory. The plot twists and turns but never once feels contrived once you get the whole AR MMO thing under your hat. What I will say is that the stakes are rather low. The world isn’t at stake, no world governments are imperiled — nothing like that. It all comes down to the characters, their motivations, desires, and wants. In the end, the characters are so well written that it doesn’t matter. I, at least, was very invested in Lea and her cadre of friends.

SPEECHLESS

The star of the show is Lea herself, the mute protagonist. You find out that she’s mute almost immediately, the conceit being that her speech interface with the game is on the fritz. Sergey, your techie attaché, slowly adds words to Lea’s repertoire as the game progresses, leading to some hilarious interactions with some of the other characters. One of my favorites has to be before one of the later dungeons when the party prepares to race it. Lea smugly declares, “Lea wait,” beforehand, taunting her friends that she’ll wait for them at the end. Perhaps it would have had more weight if I had actually won any of the races, but I digress.

It really is a testament to the beauty and expressiveness of the sprite art, both the smaller avatars and the full-blown portraits, that they can make you connect with the main character with just a handful of faces and a few simple words. Lea is kind and considerate, smug and playful, strong and resourceful in equal measure. The rest of the cast is no slouch either. Emilie, your first companion, is fiery and driven. She and Lea play off of each other quite well as the two become fast friends in spite of Lea’s limited vocabulary. Lukas, Emilie’s friend, is laid back and stalwart. I could wax on about the rest, but then this review would end up being ten pages.

Full Dive

CrossWorlds itself is as much of the game as the meta-game-about-a-game CrossCode is. Radical Fish has developed lore not just for the world writ large with a small cast of characters that motivate the story, but also with the MMO the game takes place in. As you progress through CrossWorlds, you’ll learn about the Track, the moon you’re on called Shadoon, and the native denizens called the Shad. The world itself is huge, and the game tracks all of your discoveries and story beats through an encyclopedia.

Each character in the game represents a different class in the game world, designed after different shapes and the gods of Shadoon that those shapes represent. There are the melee DPS, sword-wielding Tribladers; the weighty, tanking Quadroguards; the speedy Pentafists; the ranged-spellcasting Hexacasts; and the jack-of-all-trades Spheromancers. Lea herself is a Spheromancer, allowing you to customize her skillset as much as you want to favor your own play style. Still, I found myself wanting to try one of the other classes, specifically Hexacast or Triblader, but that's not an option.

The game itself plays much like a single-player MMO. You can have a party of three, yourself included, and the AI is competent enough so you do not have to babysit them to ensure they survive fights. There are raids, the dungeons I mentioned, and a plethora of endgame content. Radical Fish were clever in how they kept their fan base entertained during the finish of CrossCode. After beating all the dungeons, Rhombus Square opens up, allowing you to go back through previous areas at higher levels and grind out content for more and better loot, which you’ll need for the final dungeon. With an arena mode, boss rush, and at least one hidden boss that I can count, I can see myself playing CrossCode for a while yet.

9

The Verdict: Transformative

CrossCode is a definite must-play for anyone with a passing interest in old-school games, action RPGs, or just a good story. Radical Fish’s passion project of three years definitely shows a high degree of polish and is worth more than its price tag would suggest. If you’re looking for a good time, it’s here, and it’s CrossCode.

John Gerritzen
Written by
October 04, 2018
Published in Action

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John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.

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