Developer: Radical Fish Games
Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 9, 2020
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Perhaps the most well known adaptation of being stuck in a video game is Sword Art Online, but I’d argue .hack//Sign might contend for that spot as well. Both series have spawned several video game spinoffs but it’s been a few years since a .hack game. However, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris hit shelves on July 10, one day after CrossCode launched for the Nintendo Switch. The port to the handheld console is fantastic in every way possible. Its MMO world is one I would not mind getting trapped in myself.
For a system as small and portable as the Switch, it’s incredible to think that a game as large as CrossCode ever released for it. Radical Fish Games once said they didn’t think it would ever be possible until hedgehogs flew but thankfully that day finally arrived. And am I glad it did.
The game takes place in a MMORPG world called CrossWorlds. While it is a single-player game, everyone you interact with is either another character or an NPC. It can be quite confusing because everyone you do meet is technically an NPC from the player’s standpoint, but from the main character’s view, they are split between the two. It’s a humorous combination of puzzle solving and exploring complete with characters who make fun of the game, point out its flaws, and go about their daily real lives as well.
Expansive World of CrossCode
Perhaps the best part of CrossCode is its seemingly never-ending world full of unique characters, enemies, and items. It felt like playing Skyrim again, with hundreds of quests to follow and interesting people to talk to. Well, I say talk but main character and heroine Lea is mute the entire game. It’s only through the assistance of an NPC that she is given text prompts to speak with other characters. From your first encounter on the M.S. Solar the game hits the gas and never seems to let off. The training zone didn’t feel like a training zone. It felt real and tangible, like it was something I could explore in real life.
That’s the beauty of CrossCode. Yes, it is a 2D game inspired by The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, but everywhere I visited felt authentic and true to places I’d seen and visited in my personal life. Aside from all the deadly animals and enemies of course. The first town you visit was bustling with people and side quests I had a difficult time figuring out what to do first, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Part of CrossCode’s charm is doing what you like when you like. In that design, it felt a bit like playing Dungeons and Dragons around a table with friends. There is a main quest and I know I’ll get to it but what does this NPC over here want me to do? The world is open to explore and you are free to choose what you do next. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
Yet, all that running around searching for quests, items, and people is reminiscent of Morrowind. The third Elder Scrolls game saw the main character running around the world with nothing but a map and vague directions on where to go. CrossCode is the modern-day equivalent and that is a negative and a positive. While there is certainly plenty to explore, it’s the openness of the world that can get a bit overwhelming. But a little patience and practice goes along way.
CrossCode also features dungeons outside of its sprawling world. These instances play out like Zelda dungeons and each include their own unique puzzles and mechanics. There will be times Lea will have to fire ranged attacks at hovering buttons to reveal the way, while other puzzles are of the jumping variety. And like the boy in the green tunic, Lea the blue-haired must acquire certain abilities in order to gain access to a new area. It’s the blend of puzzle-solving and RPG elements that make CrossCode stand out as an RPG. One that I really wish would transition to a 3D model one day.
Combat in CrossCode
The combat in CrossCode is fast-paced and doesn’t hold back. There were several times I found myself running from a fight because things just got out of hand and I had to book it or I would die. Yet, dying isn’t the end of the line either. The one downside is you lose your combat rank and have to start over. Once you enter another part of the map the camera shifts into a new zone similar to that of Metroid. Lea has a few combative skills at her disposal and she can learn new attacks upon leveling up. Enemies within a certain range attack her when she initiates combat with them or she enters an area where they are hostile. CrossCode also features some of the best enemy designs included in any recent game to date. There are hedgehogs, bunnies, bulls, and a bunch of other normal everyday creatures.
Once combat starts Lea’s rank will climb up starting with D and running through C, B, A, S. The more enemies defeated in this time, the higher her rank soars. However, if she is defeated in battle or doesn’t engage with more enemies, the rank and initiative ends. The higher the rank the better gear that is dropped and the more experience she earns.
The boss battles are also nostalgic and feel great as well. The majority of them consist of a larger creature that changes up the combat system. The enemy may be confined to one specific spot while Lea focuses on firing ranged attacks at the creature of nearby buttons. Every boss encounter is challenging and keeps players on their toes.
The controls are one of the not so great features of CrossCode on the Switch. While moving around the map may be simple, activating certain abilities can be confusing. For instance, you will have to press a combination of buttons in order for Lea to perform a spinning blade attack while pressing a near similar pattern of buttons will have her fire balls of energy at foes. It is by no means difficult but I found myself looking over the button layout a few times. I also played the game on a Switch Lite and its smaller design isn’t friendly to people with larger fingers.
Inventory and Upgrades
When Lea levels up she gain access to new skills and attacks. The skill tree is more of a spider’s web and is chock full of abilities, enhancements, and upgrades. Navigating it, and the many menus, can be challenging to say the least. The Switch version has a lot of issues with opening menus and several times I found myself waiting a few seconds until they revealed themselves. I thought the game had frozen so I set it down and waited for a bit to see if that was the case. The wait times were never minutes but a few extra seconds slowed down the game a bit.
Lea will also gain access to elemental abilities like ice and fire. It’s this mechanic that harkens back to Golden Sun where characters used their connection with the elements to move forward. Many enemies can only be hurt by certain attacks and the game doesn’t tell you that beforehand. Likewise, she may need a fire ability to move through a dungeon but may need to level up more in order to unlock it.
The inventory management system is one of the most difficult things to get used to. Aside from finding items in the wild, you will spend a lot of time sorting through items until you find exactly what you need. You may be able to find a sword from an enemy but more often than not you will be trading items for gear. NPCs around the world desire items and will list what they want in exchange for gear. Sifting through your items can be time-consuming and at times aggravating due to the slow and confusing menus. The same can be said for the quest system as well.
I would be out of my mind not to talk about the soundtrack of the game as CrossCode’s soundtrack is stunning. Deniz Akbulut should definitely a composer to watch after the amazing job they did on CrossCode. Every track feels right at home with where you are in the story. From the puzzling sounds of Rhombus Dungeon, the upbeat and encouraging motif of Bergan Trail, to the boss battles; it’s a masterpiece.
The game also offers a physical boxed version/s that can be pre-ordered today from https://crosscode.inin.games/.
Verdict: CrossCode is a marvelous game full of heart. It’s intricately detailed and full of plenty of quests do complete and areas to explore. Its openness may be daunting at times but all of it feels like taking a trip outside in the real world. The world is alive and it feels excellent to be able to play the game on the go. It’s a game to which future developers should keep an eye on as it captures the idea of an RPG perfectly.
Meet Lea as she logs into an MMO of the distant future. Follow her steps as she discovers a vast world, meets other players and overcomes all the challenges of the game.Also: Lea can't speak. Nope, no heroic mime. She is actually mute.
- Detailed and expansive world
- Fluid combat with unique enemies
- It looks stunning for a 2D RPG
- Nostalgic factor that feels like popular RPGs that came before it
- Confusing menus
- Slow control response
- Dungeons can be a bit too much to handle