Over the last four years I grew to become a huge fanatic of RPGs, and the ones that always seem to take me by surprise are the indie titles. I could go on another rant on how small developers try to find ways to work around limitations and strict budgets, but we’ve heard that speech several times by now so I’m just gonna skip it. We have turned based indie RPGs like Hylics 2 and Lisa, 2D soulslike RPGs like Ender Lilies and Death’s Gambit, and a couple that took inspiration from classics like Disco Elysium and Divinity: Original Sin 2. (Last one is hard to determine whether or not it’s an indie game.) We’ve seen numerous indie RPGs, but there’s one outlier I have been meaning to play for awhile. One of the more underrated indie RPGs out there and considered by those who play it to be one of the best. That game is CrossCode, an action JRPG developed by Radical Fish Games and published by Deck13. Yes, that Deck13. The guys who made The Surge and Lords of The Fallen. Anyways, CrossCode began development in 2011 and around 2016 is when the developers opened up an Indiegogo campaign. With it came a short demo showcasing what CrossCode would possibly be, and a lot of players were amazed with the quality of their work. CrossCode was a game that was pushing for above and beyond, and the final product is proof of the love and content packed into it. The crowdfunding campaign managed to reach its goal within a few months, and later the same year Radical Fish Games put CrossCode up for early access. Adding more chapters with time until the final version released in 2018.
CrossCode took inspiration from the best of the best. Xenoblade, Chrono Trigger, there’s a ball throwing mechanic influenced by Yoshi’s Island of all things, quite a bit of anime influence, and there’s a huge whiff of Zelda found within. On one hand you have a game promising a lot, but on the other hand you have a game that could lose itself during development for all it’s trying to be. The thing about games incorporating tons of elements, or influences in this case, at once is that it’s either they do everything decently, poorly, or really well. To do everything it aims for really well takes a lot of time, care, energy, and thought. However, the game had been in development for a very long time and thankfully CrossCode managed to stick the landing. It wasn’t a popular indie title as 2018 was chalk full of indie releases such as Celeste and Dead Cells. Yet, it was a meaty experience that could rival the size and quality of many Triple A games at the time. It was a game with heart, and it garnished positive reception from critics all around. IGN Japan gave CrossCode a 9.5/10 and deemed it one of the best games of the year, so obviously it was doing something right. Everyone who seems to have played CrossCode has called it a masterpiece and ranked it high among the indie landscape. I had to play this game. Bought it earlier this year and I was almost not a fan of CrossCode. The game was charming, but it wasn’t doing enough to pull me in. Octopath Traveler 2 was out at the time, so I put CrossCode on hold and planned to come back to it later. Recently I sat down to plow through it and just a few hours ago I managed to roll credits. Is CrossCode as good as people say it ist? The answer is “yes, absolutely” and I cannot believe I didn’t play Crosscode any sooner.
CrossCode has quickly become one of the best indie games I’ve played in awhile. It’s up there in my top ten, sitting alongside Hollow Knight, Hades, Shovel Knight, Disco Elysium, Outer Wilds, Return of The Obra Dinn, etc. It managed to exceed my expectations despite the simplicity it had going on, and while there are a few flaws especially near the endgame it doesn’t hold it back from being called a masterpiece. CrossCode is a game I want people to try no matter what their preference is. It’s special, and in today’s review I’m gonna be discussing why I love it so much. It’s a lengthy game with a complex narrative, but I’ll refrain from spoiling anything storywise so that everyone can enjoy going into it blind. Let’s discuss why CrossCode is so compelling, and why it utterly deserves your attention. So let's log in!
Our story follows a blue haired girl awakening within the confines of a ship. She has no memory of who she is or how she got there, but someone manages to contact her. A digitalized screen pops up only visible to her, and on the screen is a man speaking through a headset. The man’s name is Sergey Asimov and he wants to help Lea recover her memories, and in return he wants Lea to help him out with a few tasks. Currently they are traveling on a ship, but not a ship sailing across the seas of earth. Rather an inhabitable moon known as Shadoon. I guess mankind has managed to invent space travel in this universe, but it’s not really important to the story. Shadoon was used to create a massive playground for a game company called Instatainment, and using the money and virtual technology they had they created one of the most successful video games known to man. CrossWorlds, a game where players could jack themselves into a fantastical world by using specialized gaming equipment, and go on a grand adventure. CrossWorlds was a brilliant concept and it was backed by the greatest minds Instatainment had to offer. Sergey believes that Lea’s memories are hidden in CrossWorlds, and by progressing through the game they can uncover areas that are related to her forgotten memories. Lea, wanting to know more about herself, decides to follow along with the plan and learn how to interact with people.
Unfortunately, Lea has no skills in vocabulary and cannot speak, which limits her ability to ask for help and explain her circumstances. Sergey begins programming individual words one by one for Lea to use. As Lea gets excited learning new words, the ship is attacked by a powerful being. No one knows who the attacker is, but he claims to know Lea and that she is part of something big. The crew members of the ship manage to find the attacker off for as long as they can for Lea to escape via a teleporter. Lea makes it to the playground and immediately starts playing the game, and luckily she manages to make a friend instantly. Emilie, an orange haired girl with a cheery attitude and is open to conversations with Lea. The two begin playing together and having fun playing the game. However, Sergey reminds Lea of her goals and tells her not to lose focus. Hopefully by playing CrossWorlds, Lea can obtain the gear and powers she needs to fight fiercer foes and eventually locate the core of her memories. She’ll discover more about her past, and what she truly was may be surprising. Learn the truth, but learn how to be human. What it means to feel and be surrounded by loved ones.
CrossCode is an action JRPG where you explore, fight enemies, level up, obtain better gear, and try to complete the many quests assigned to you. At first I thought this was a Zelda-like, because the game has a top down perspective, it had pretty simplistic combat at first, and it has dungeons filled with puzzle and gimmicks similar to that of older Zelda titles, However, upon playing the game further I discovered it was a confident action RPG with tons of mechanical depths buried beneath the surface. Let’s talk about the combat first, because CrossCode manages to 1-Up the many top down action games out there. It’s the best I’ve played since Unsighted, and I actually might like it more. You hack away at your foes using the many attacks and combos available. Enemies are quite beefy when it comes to health, so staying aggressive is encouraged. Getting to pounce on them and striking their weaknesses whenever you can. Stunning them for critical hits and making difficult fights much easier.You gain experience points whenever you kill foes, but one thing that builds up whenever you kill enemies in the overworld is a ranking meter. This will influence the amount of experience points and items dropped from defeated foes, and the more enemies you kill within a specific time frame the higher this meter goes. The max rank is S, and that’s when you gain a hefty amount of experience points and item drop rates are 100%. You don’t have to have a high rank all the time, but it’s a nice reward for engaging with combat.
Everytime you level up your character stats increase, but you also gain Circuit Points. These can be used to purchase skills and stat boosts on a skill tree, and there are a total of five of them. The skills you unlock are not arbitrary perks you see in other RPGs. No, these are improvements to Lea’s stats beyond just leveling up and you are going to need them as the game gets harder. You can upgrade attack power, maximum health, range attack power, defense, elemental resistances, and combat arts you can use in the field. CrossCode had this cool system where the more you attack an enemy, the more skill points you generate during combat. These points can be used to trigger combat arts, and these can be quite powerful when used right. Whether that’s a whirlwind that deals several strikes, a flurry of projectiles, a huge bouncy ball, a protective barrier, and etc. It is another system that encourages engaging with combat and adapting a quick playstyle, which I love. As I said, there are five different skill trees and now we onto the four elemental unlocks you get throughout the game. Ice, Fire, Electricity, and Wind. They can be triggered at any time to apply elemental effects to your attacks, and you are gonna want to switch between them a lot as certain enemies are resistant to all attacks besides the element they are weak to. Each element has their own unique combat arts and skill tree, and thankfully skill points you unlock through leveling up are distributed equally. For example, level up once and all skill trees are given one Circuit Point. Every buff you obtain stacks and this gives you choice on how you want to build Lea. How to optimize her stats so you can stand a chance.
All of these elemental upgrades are unlocked through the game’s core dungeons, and they are a test of skill and puzzle solving. They all focus around certain gimmicks and the functions of each power. Use your skills wisely and you can exit the dungeon with your newly obtained treasures. While exploring the world you uncover secrets, boxes containing items of use, NPCs who may assign quests, landmarks for fast travel, and the occasional townships. Here you can purchase new equipment for Lea which boosts her stats even more, healing items to use during battle, and even trade. There are standard shops where you can spend earned gold, but then you have the traders who sell you much better equipment but require specific items. Some items can be looted throughout the world, but others will have to be obtained from traders who also want specific items. This creates a system where you gather what you need to get better gear, and that’s kind of cool. We’ll talk more about the trading system near the end. Finally, the bosses of CrossCode. These are powerful goliaths with huge health pools, high damage attacks, and different phases. They are a test of what you learned throughout a dungeon, and your mastery of combat. They will take numerous attempts, but once you nail them down you’ll feel victorious. Besides that there’s nothing else I have to say. Hopefully, you can uncover what Lea was destined for.
CrossCode is magnificent. It’s way better than I anticipated, and in many key areas it managed to surprise me. Let’s start listing off what I like about the game first. The combat is addicting and above all satisfying. Your attacks are fast, have impact, and core design choices like building up combat arts through attacking continuously and the ranking meter help create an aggressive yet engaging combat system. One that rewards those who are willing to get combo mad while also still requiring them to master enemy maneuvers and dodge their blows. Every enemy is unique, and just when I thought a particular foe was troubling me I figured out how they worked and when to strike them. The RPGs mechanics are pretty compelling. I normally hate skill trees and most of the useless crap on them, but CrossCode managed to incorporate a leveling system that gets you to branch off different paths of a skill tree. Something I wouldn’t normally do in other RPGs as I’d stick to one category. Everything you unlock is an improvement to what Lea can do, and there’s a couple occasions where you’ll have to switch between two combat arts. Whether that’s to have a better combat art equipped or gain different stat boosts, and that helps encourage experimentation. The exploration is wonderful as the overworld is filled with numerous secrets to uncover, and there’s a bit of verticality in the world as you platform around. It can be difficult at times as it’s hard to tell the elevation of the landscape around you, but it’s fun.
The pixelart is gorgeous with vibrant colors that sparkle towards the eye, interesting locations to uncover, fun NPCs to interact with, and much more. Music is great with tracks that help set the mood. Whether that’s to excite you during combat, help you feel at peace when exploring the world, or make you feel emotional during an important story moment. Speaking of the story, it’s quite brilliant! I won’t say it’s a perfect story and that everyone will like it. There’s a lot of twists and turns, and it gets really confusing near the end. I really enjoyed it though, because it kept my interest to see what was lying at the end. The secrets surrounding Lea, the world, and where she truly comes from. It’s also an exploration of friendship, developing kindness, and learning to have meaningful relationships despite certain limitations holding us back. Lea is mostly mute and I like how she attempts to communicate with those around her. It felt a bit representative and I appreciate it. I love all the characters who partake in the story. Emilie, C’ Tron, Apollo, Lukas, and everyone else are all likable characters despite some of them getting on your nerves at times. I thought the plot twists were cool and the ending leaves off on a satisfying note. Even after completing the game there’s still a plentiful amount of content to do, and there’s an expansion that was released two years ago that continues off the main story and brings a more satisfying end to the plot. It took close to around 30 hours to beat CrossCode and I would say that was time well spent. For twenty dollars you get quite a bit of game.
There are quite a few flaws though and some of them made it hard for me to give CrossCode a perfect score. I said combat is great and most of the design elements help create an aggressive, active, engaging loop. Most of what you fight is well balanced, and even if a boss was kicking my ass I would say it was for fair reasons. However, everything around the jungle temples have this weird difficulty curve. Enemies are either designed to cut you down quickly, and foes who are counterintuitive to what combat is designed around. There’s one enemy type later on, samurai bugs who move quickly and have to be parried. These enemies troubled me the most, because the game did a pretty bad job conditioning the player into parrying and none of the foes you face so far require parrying to beat. This goes against the fast aggressive combat loop, and forces the player to play slowly and time perfect blocks which don’t always work. There’s also an enemy that’s quite literally pink Pikachu, and it’s a foe who puts up a hurtful barrier once you take it down. Preventing you from hitting it at all or risking health just to kill it. Bosses also started to get really out of hand later on. They got cooler, but it seemed like instead of designing a good fight they justify flooding the screen with attacks and projectiles. Imagine this running on my little Nintendo Switch and the many framerate drops from all the particle effects. Quest design started to get annoying during the late game, and as puzzles incorporated new mechanics and got bigger they also got more confusing. To the point I gave up on some and just looked up a guide because I realized they were a waste of time. CrossCode has a huge endgame problem, but you know what other game had the same problem? Elden Ring. It had a terribly balanced endgame with a weird difficulty curve, terribly designed bosses, and poorly thought out ideas. Yet, I consider it a 10/10 because the goods outweigh the bad
My other complaint with CrossCode is that its trading system is useless. I never partaken in it as I always had enough gold to afford good gear, and most healing items I ended up using were picked up from doing quests or exploring the world. Besides those complaints, CrossCode is a masterpiece. If the endgame combat encounters and puzzles trouble you then you can tune them down using the accessibility options available, which CrossCode has a plentiful amount. Despite the crippling flaw I just explained, I a giving CrossCode a 10/10 for being incredible. Again, 10/10 does not mean perfect but it does mean it’s a very strong recommendation. I think anyone who plays this game will be able to fall in love easily and appreciate all it has to offer.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!