Despite fantastic reviews and strong word-of-mouth, CrossCode went virtually unrecognized in the “Best Games of 2018” lists. Yet this game had been on my radar for most of last fall as it transitioned from early access to a full launch, and when it went on sale during GOG’s winter bonanza, I picked it up without a second thought.
Perhaps it was the “Cross” part of the title and the retro pixel art that drew favorable comparisons to Chrono Cross (intentional or not by the developers, it’s where my mind went). In any case, it wasn’t a wasted purchase; this is a pretty fun action-RPG that plays like an incredibly polished SNES title with a few modern sensibilities thrown in.
Plus, there’s an added bonus for MMO players: While single-player, CrossCode takes place in an MMORPG — just one where players remotely pilot robotic avatars on a far-away planet. I stared the game as a blue-haired avatar (who, as the game reminded me, could really be anyone behind her) who had no idea who she was or what she was doing in the game. Amnesia intro! That’s pretty classic. But there is something sinister and serious going on underneath the MMO trappings, and Lea the avatar goes on a quest to find out just what.
When it comes to RPGs, story and combat are two elements that devs have to get absolutely right or it’s not worth playing for me. CrossCode uses an action-RPG system similar to Diablo’s clickfest, which is generally fine with me, although sometimes it got way too precise with fight mechanics to be as fun as it should’ve. The story was far better, using cute and funny dialogue moments and colorful areas to bring this unusual tale to light.
If I had to point at one element of CrossCode that didn’t work for me, it would be its heavy reliance on puzzles. Some areas require navigating landscape puzzles to proceed, and these got tedious as I had to do bank shots and figure out what secret angle had to be accessed. Maybe I’m growing more impatient for time-wasting puzzles in my middle age than I was in my youth, or maybe I’m just seeing them for what they really are.
Aside from that, everything in the game is really top-notch. Menus are snappy and clear, the world is a visual treat, and the music is serene and engaging. About the only thing I really wanted from the get-go was an on-screen mini-map and/or quest direction markers, as constantly pulling up the map to see locations was a bit annoying. Sometimes it wasn’t fully clear where I should be going, and I was surprised that an MMO-themed game in this day and age didn’t have these standard features.
For MMO fans, there’s the additional treat of encountering all sorts of mechanics, tropes, and in-jokes related to our genre. For example, a friend early on won’t party up with me because he was too high-level and would make our content trivial. I passed by another person who was fretting that raid members hadn’t shown up yet, and so on.