"If your game plays like a mix between Ys and The Legend of Zelda and looks like Secret of Mana, then surely you're off to a very promising start."
I have a soft spot for developers who have a passion project they have to get just perfect. Having first heard of CrossCode back at E3 2015, I took one look at the game and fell in love with it. It looked like a hidden gem from the SNES era — bright, bold, and colourful with loads of charm. I admire Radical Fish Games for their efforts. They've worked tirelessly on the project since then, and sadly, numerous delays have plagued the process. Luckily, it has long been in early access, and with the developers promising a release date sometime this year, there's no better time to check this out.
CrossCode is set in the middle of an MMO called CrossWorlds. You control the Lea, a cute, mute avatar guided by the programmer Sergey, who is simply expecting to explore the MMO and enjoy. Lea's class is a Spheromancer, a well-rounded battle class that has access to throwing lightning fast projectiles at opponents. Of course, things never go so simply in RPGs, as Lea suffers from amnesia. A chance encounter with a man known as the Blue Avatar forces her to discover the mysteries of her past.
At the time of writing this preview, CrossCode's narrative is only about 30% public. From what I've experienced so far, the plot evokes every bit of those SNES era games — it's simple, but it leaves you wanting more. Perhaps that's down to the setting. Setting CrossCode in an MMO allows for a different experience. You might not be online playing with thousands of other people, but NPCs will run past you, they'll attack other enemies, and they'll even comment on things happening within the MMO narrative. It's a take I'm excited to see more of. CrossWorlds also looks gorgeous to boot. It's clearly a love letter to the SNES generation, with pops of colour at every turn. The grass is lush, and the lakes are crystal clear. I could happily look at a game like this for hours, and I'm expecting this train of thought to continue as more of the world is unlocked as the game is released.
What's impressed me most about this game is the way it controls. I've found myself complaining about action RPG controls so many times, but CrossCode nails it. Lea can move in all directions, and she speeds across the screen with ease. Navigating your way around towns and landscapes is wonderful. You can climb up ledges and crates and tiptoe across banisters and railings to explore every inch of your surroundings. These also lead to hidden paths which uncover treasures and secrets. One small gripe I have, and this may be down to personal preference, is that there is no jump button. Much like earlier Legend of Zelda games, Lea will only jump when you move towards the edge of a ledge. This can sometimes lead to some clunky platforming, especially across the water, where you'll take damage.
Fortunately, any small gripes fade in contrast to the combat. Radical Fish has clearly taken the time and effort to perfect the combat controls so that Lea is tight and responsive. She has access to two basic attacks: a sword slash and the ability to throw spheres at her foes. She dodges by twirling through hordes of enemies, and it's easy to get wrapped up in combat. You can either go for extra quick attacks or take the time to charge up your moves for some extra damage and coverage. This is especially useful with Lea's throwing move, which causes the spheres to ricochet off of walls and cause further damage.
What helps spice up the combat more is that sometimes you'll have a friend along for the ride. You can manage your companion's AI to make them focus on defence, strategy, or brute force. It helps battles go even more smoothly and adds an extra layer of depth to the combat. If you partner happens to pass out, then you're left with the decision of whether to carry on as normal or run as far away as possible. Having party members doesn't always work with action RPGs, so I'm looking forward to seeing where the developers take this idea.
Outside of combat and exploration, like your typical MMO, you need to help Lea complete some sidequests. I spent most of my time in-game doing these. They vary between fetch quests, extra hard encounters, and investigations. These help to affirm the MMO-like experience, but at the beginning of the game I can see that some players would be overwhelmed. Early on, these quests heavily outweigh the plot. This is understandable, seeing as not all of the game's story is readily available, and gives you a chance to explore CrossWorlds that little bit more before the full version is released. While your objective screen tells you where to hand your completed quest in, their position isn't highlighted on your map. This lead to countless adventures just trying to find a particular guild, or what particular corner of the harbour my objective was hiding in.
It's not hard to see I've loved my time with CrossCode. There are some things that need to be worked on in order to make this game extra special, but that's why Radical Fish Games has taken so much time and care already. If your game plays like a mix between Ys and The Legend of Zelda and looks like Secret of Mana, then surely you're off to a very promising start, but I'm hoping it's got enough original ideas to stand out from the crowd. CrossCode is due out in the third quarter of this year, and with the brief summer lull in gaming, this looks well worth your time to pick up. I certainly cannot wait to experience the full game. Check back for a review when the game is released!