MMORPGs have always held little appeal to me. Primary draw of the genre has often been the player community which connects people from across the world. CrossCode incorporates this concept to craft a single player experience that is refined, charming, and engaging. Even though the game was created by a small development team, it's an adventure with so much to offer. CrossCode is the very definition of a passion project as it was painstakingly developed over a span of seven years, and it really shows. The game is filled to the brim with content, including a lengthy story campaign, diverse enemy designs, and many side quests. It really has a lot of bang for your buck.
The story revolves around a somewhat mute amnesiac called Lea. The game is tied to a futuristic MMO called CrossWorlds, which takes place in the real world. In CrossWorlds, players control avatars, who are like MMO characters, but materialize in real life. It's an interesting combination that unfortunately adds very little, besides making things slightly more complicated. The main story is a rollercoaster of highs and lows that I found quite enjoyable.
Diving deeper into the story, I was impressed by how our almost mute protagonist could still convey a wide spectrum of emotions. CrossCode certainly deviates from your typical video game narratives where the silent protagonist feels more like an observer rather than an active part of the story. As I progressed through the main story, I was genuinely invested in knowing more about Lea and her friends. However, towards the end, the narrative fell a little flat.
Regardless, the true selling point of the story was getting to know the characters. They’re fun and quirky, while still feeling grounded. As wacky as they got sometimes, there was a hidden sides to them as they would rarely reveal much about their lives outside of CrossWorlds. Unfortunately, while the party members got plenty time to shine, the background characters really didn’t get to grow beyond being basic archetypes.
Mechanically, CrossCode is an action-RPG with a high degree of polish. Though the somewhat simple combat initially didn't draw me in, it grew on me over time. There’s a high variety of enemies with different attack patterns and attributes. They are open to taking additional damage when their guard has been broken in a way that vaguely reminded me of the chain and stagger system from Final Fantasy XIII. The use of skillful timing and satisfying punishing made CrossCode a real treat to play.
Admittedly, the combat does get a bit too simple at times. However, it has enough appeal and complexity to it through a variety of different sources. Dungeons incorporate puzzle mechanics organically into the combat and even more so in boss fights. CrossCode approaches player progression with the slightly nuanced Circuit skill system. It provides a nice blend of flexibility and player choice through the ability to swap between parallel skill branches, while still having players making some tough decisions.
Puzzles are inseparable from CrossCode. Dungeons are filled with them, ranging from simple to head-scratching. After meticulously devising and carefully executing the plan, solving the more intricate puzzles felt very satisfying. The developers did an excellent job at keeping the puzzles fresh with new mechanics in each dungeon. I was absolutely amazed by the sheer amount of creativity and thought that was put into these puzzles.
A huge part of the game’s main story revolves around dungeons, and they remind me of those from the Legend of Zelda series. There is usually a lot of key gathering, dungeon boss fighting, and the occasional new unlocked ability. The dungeons introduce new game mechanics by starting off simple and then consistently ramping up in complexity.
It’s commendable just how well the developers paced the dungeons in terms of level design. The newly introduced mechanics get fully fleshed out. It gets to the point where you need a high level of mechanical understanding before being able to solve the later puzzles of each dungeon. This comes at the cost of the dungeons feeling a bit too long. Regardless, it was well worth it as I was always eager to tackle the next dungeon.
The game’s isometric camera angle is somewhat of a mixed bag, as it results in the loss of some visual clarity. This made it difficult to visualize heights, which in turn made navigation troublesome at times. Regardless, the point of view didn’t hold the game back too much and it functioned well despite occasional issues.
In terms of presentation, CrossCode is great. It calls back to the 16-bit era with its heavily sprite-based aesthetic. The character portraits are lovingly crafted and full of emotion. Also, many of the environments are stunning. The music is filled with a ton of memorable tracks from the exciting battle theme to Apollo’s bombastic track to the absolutely gorgeous title theme.
CrossCode is a superb passion project that has numerous qualities making it definitely worth playing. Even though the story didn’t work too well towards the end, it certainly left me wanting more. The strong character writing made getting to know the colorful cast highly enjoyable. The gameplay has a lot going for it and maintains a solid degree of variety without breaking consistency. CrossCode is definitely a game of the year contender for me that continues to impress.