It takes a lot for an indie to stand out as special in today's gaming scene and with that in mind, here's the fantastically original CrossCode.
CrossCode is set within a futuristic world where reality and fantasy mix via an MMORPG known as CrossWorlds. Although the story begins with a different character, you primarily play as the untalkative Lea as she becomes acquainted with her video game world before heading out on an epic quest. Along the way, she'll meet many distinct characters that'll end up being her rivals and friends and sometimes even a mixture of the 2. Although there is no voice acting, each character's lines are delivered in a distinct manner to emulate accents and dialects which reminded me a great deal of Chrono Cross. Plus, the 16-bit visuals look a lot like Chrono Trigger's so it's safe to assume that the developers are big fans of the Chrono games. On top of the awesome retro visuals, a fantastic soundtrack complements the game world with music that's lighthearted and reminiscent of early PS1 RPGs. In the end, it looks and sounds absolutely spot-on.
The core gameplay of CrossCode mixes many elements of both classic and modern games. Retro gamers will be delighted by the overhead action adventure setup that's a lot like The Legend of Zelda as well as the rewarding RPG elements which involve levelling up and equipping stronger gear. Meanwhile, its modern inspirations include action-intense combat with twin-stick shooting and clever puzzles. Speaking of which, the controls are very simple and mostly consist of tapping 2 buttons while using the left stick to run around and the right to aim. By performing a combination of running, aiming, and the 2 buttons, you can aim and shoot, deploy melee attacks, dash, and raise a shield. Although this sounds extremely simple, combat manages to remain exciting, challenging, and ultimately fulfilling.
CrossCode's campaign alternates between exploring the large world as well as traversing its puzzle-oriented dungeons. The former incorporates quests which you can receive from NPCs that are dotted around the world and are mostly concentrated in towns. There are a lot of them to master and once you check one off the list, you'll be rewarded handsomely for your efforts. The dungeons are a lot more linear in nature and involve some exceptionally clever practical puzzles. To be frank, I didn't struggle much with any of these although they managed to remain rewarding nonetheless. You'll also be confronted with hordes of enemies in arena battles and bosses which can really give your thumbs a workout. Needless to say, the blend of gameplay elements is nothing short of impressive.
As you progress through CrossCode, you'll often need to take a break from forging ahead in order to become more powerful. Although this may lead you to believe that grinding is necessary, it really isn't because there are so many quests to undertake that you can become distracted from the main adventure for hours and still have loads to do. While you're at it, you can explore the intricate maps in order to discover new areas and treasures which is undeniably rewarding to do. Once you're ready to continue, you'll likely be impressed with how much you've grown, especially when you topple a boss with ease that you previously couldn't defeat.
Although I love nearly every component of CrossCode, I wish that character progression involved more than merely levelling up and equipping better gear. There is a skill tree known as Circuits that you can unlock nodes on to acquire stat boosts and special moves but it simply doesn't add up to enough. It would have been great if you could have different loadouts to utilize in unique situations but you rarely have to change your strategy in combat anyway which is another disappointing element. In other words, it feels like the combat and character progression aspects are missing a layer. My only other complaint is that traversal can be confusing, especially when you need to run between and behind buildings to discover essential areas. Plus, it's sometimes hard to tell what you can jump on.
CrossCode is one of the best indie games out there. Its blend of old-school and contemporary gameplay elements is phenomenal and the wonderful cast of characters and distinct story are the icing on the cake. I highly recommend it.
- + Masterfully mixes action adventure gameplay, RPG elements, and twin-stick shooting
- + Wonderful graphics and music
- + Lots of quests and secrets
- - Combat and character progression could use more intricacies
- - Traversal can be rather confusing