"The combat is easily one of the genre's best, mixing fast-paced attacks with ball-throwing fun."
After over three long years, the wait is finally over. CrossCode has been doing the rounds in Early Access since May 2015 and has won many fans due to its beautiful SNES-style graphics coupled with smooth, fast gameplay. I fell in love with it when I played it in 2017, so I was very excited to jump right back into the world of CrossWorlds, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.
The story begins with an avatar named Lea waking up in the MMO CrossWorlds, only to find she's lost her memory and cannot speak. Accompanied by a friendly real-world programmer in the called Sergey, the two go on a journey to recover Lea's memories, all while playing through the story of CrossWorlds. The first half of the game suffers from some slow pacing — with Lea making her way through the MMO, her story takes a bit of a back seat. When you hit the halfway point, the game takes some dark and heart-wrenching turns, some of which even shocked me, though the light humour peppered throughout the story stops things from getting too heavy.
Lea herself is a fantastic lead character, and one of the best examples of a mute protagonist I've ever seen. Early on, Sergey starts coding words into Lea so she can start conversations with people, such as "Hi," "Bye," and "Wait." Watching her interact with other characters is a delight. She's adorable, and by the end of the game, I really felt connected to her. The supporting cast doesn't get as much time to shine, but the standout of these is Emilie, a peppy newcomer to CrossWorlds. Her love of laser bridges and fear of bugs (there are a lot of bug enemies in CrossWorlds) made me laugh out loud numerous times.
CrossWorlds is an incredibly convincing MMO, with real raids and a bevy of lore and character classes. It also looks gorgeous. Areas like Gaia's Garden, with its huge overhanging trees and the large variety of fauna and wildlife, reminded me of Secret of Mana's Pure Lands. It really does look and feel like a late, great SNES RPG. Character models run around the screen effortlessly and the enemy designs are varied and suited to each location. Don't get me started on some of the game's huge bosses, some of them taking up the whole screen in glorious fashion. I love detailed enemy sprites, and this game is full of them.
If the locations are inspired by the SNES era, then the soundtrack definitely has its roots in the PS1 era with some catchy, head-bopping tunes accompanying Lea throughout her journey. The normal battle theme is excellent. (I felt myself tapping my feet away to the beat.) Lea's theme is a similarly excellent chirpy leitmotif that expresses her light-hearted and innocent nature. The techno-inspired beats and atmospheric temple themes really suit the game down to a tee, and I'll be humming along to them for a long time.
Once you get into the meat of the game there's even more to love. CrossCode's combat is a sheer delight: fast and frantic just like the Ys series but with enough variety to keep you addicted until the very end. Lea is a Spheromancer, which means she specialises in throwing spheres, but can also attack enemies at close range. Moving Lea around, aiming and attacking feels extremely responsive, while aiming ranged attacks with either a controller of a keyboard was a cinch. I discovered very quickly that brute force was never the answer and each fight had to be tackled differently, which meant no button mashing.
As you progress through the game you also get to swap between four elements in battle: Cold, Heat, Shock and Wave. Each of these has their own unique skill tree, call a Circuit, and you can build Lea into whatever kind of fighter you want. The best part of these circuits is the branching skills. Lea has four different attack arts on each of the elements — melee, ranged, dash and guard — and these can focus on either AOE or single target attacks. You can also swap between these branches whenever you want, at no extra cost. These charged arts are extremely satisfying to pull off and can be used to deal huge amounts of damage or save yourself in a pinch, and they look pretty damn awesome at a full level 3 charge too. Swapping between arts, elements and tactics made for a robust battle system that might just be one of my favourites.
There's one thing stopping the combat from being perfect, and that's many battles feeling a little bit like trial and error. Enemies will hit hard for a while, so getting their patterns down and figuring out their weaknesses will take some getting used to, particularly bosses. Some of them can also feel like endurance tests. While you can take two allies into normal battles with you, bosses and dungeons force you to play alone, making the extra party members seem superfluous and wasted. Upgrading your gear and grinding usually solves these issues, but the best gear is earned by trading materials, and a lot of these have low drop rates. This becomes an issue particularly towards the end of the game. However, once you have that gear and finally emerge victorious, you definitely feel accomplished.
CrossCode is also full of sidequests, but a lot of these are your typical fetch quests which involve gathering items or killing a particular monster just for a reward. Couple these with some of the rarer drop rates, and a lot of these quests can be sitting in your inventory for hours when, out of sheer luck, you might pick up that one item you need. There are a few standouts here and there, including a dubious-looking Oogie-Boogie look-a-like, but these are few and far between. The rewards for a lot of these quests are not worth the effort, save for the experience points.
Aside from exploring the beautiful overworld and fighting your way through the game, there are multiple Zelda-style dungeons complete with puzzles that involve precise aim and mastery of the elements. The first few dungeons can be quite frustrating: the first, the Temple Mine, utilises icy floors and moving blocks, two of my least favourite dungeon mechanics. The second, the Faj'ro Temple, took me well over two hours to beat as I got to grips with wielding two elements. These lengthy excursions can be exhausting, but each dungeon improved on the last, and all of them are excellently designed and really test your skills. Fortunately you can save at any time as well. My favourite dungeon has to be the So'najiz Temple, an underwater temple where all of the enemies are based on sea creatures. The magnet puzzles really clicked with me and it was the moment I truly appreciated how great these dungeons were.
Despite my niggles, CrossCode has lived up to my expectations and is a delightfully fun game. After finishing it for the first time I immediately wanted to jump back in. The combat is easily one of the genre's best, mixing fast-paced attacks with ball-throwing fun. It wears its SNES inspiration on its sleeve, and that appeals to me greatly, the only things slowing it down being few frustrating moments and a late-blooming story. What's most important to me is that the passion really shines through on CrossCode, from the music to the combat and world design. Do yourself a favour and pick up this gem.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.