I’ve lived through every video game generation, witnessing new and exciting graphics, better technology and controllers, and increases in computational power to allow for more complex games and better AI. With each generational leap game developers are often quick to exploit the new hardware, oftentimes chasing the newest tech to try and blow away gamers. Thinking back to the 32-bit era, Sony and Nintendo were pushing hard to leave the classic 2D sprite-based games behind in favor of 3D polygonal experiences. There’s no denying that’s where the future of gaming was headed so it made perfect sense from a business perspective to allocate resources there.
That’s all good, but these days we have such a wide array of gamers playing games that things were bound to come full circle, and indeed over the past decade the indie scene has given sprite-based games a proper rebirth. Many of these tout classic 8-bit graphics, but I think the sweet spot for many gamers lies in the more detailed and colorful 16-bit realm. We seem to get less of these games, most likely due to the higher costs involved. Whenever I see these games previewed my heart always skips a beat as I instantly think back to my teenage years and the heyday of gaming on the SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16. Not all of these games live up to the hype (how can they?), but every now and again one releases that really manages to not only look and sound great, but also moves the bar higher for what’s expected of them. CrossCode is one such game.
On the surface it looks like a really pretty 16-bit game, although I’d argue it’s closer to some of the PlayStation titles like Alundra or Lunar: Silver Star Story with more colors and action on screen than what was possible in the 16-bit world. But beyond the presentation you’ll find a game filled with clever puzzles, fun gameplay, and a unique world to explore. Oh, and if long games are your jam, this one’s got you covered with tons of side quests that will take you dozens of hours to complete. But, what exactly is CrossCode and why should you care? I’m glad you asked!
At first glance CrossCode looks like a Zelda or Secret of Mana clone. While it does borrow some core gameplay ideas from both, it’s worth noting the game offers varied combat and unlockable moves and powers via a fairly involved skill tree that upgrades via earning points as you level up by defeating monsters. You have both melee attacks and projectile energy balls that can be thrown at enemies to try and keep some distance between you and them. What makes this word so interesting is that you’re playing in a virtual space. Actually this is sort of a game within a game because the world you’re exploring is actually an MMO set in the future. That means you play as Lea, an avatar of this world who has lost her memories as well as her ability to talk. A programmer who is in her ear manages to unlock a few words as the game progresses, but for the most part she doesn’t have a lot to say. And that’s probably a good thing because everyone else around you are chatter boxes.
I’ll be the first to admit that this game starts off a bit slow. There’s a lot to unpack in the opening hour or two and I really wasn’t that impressed with the game until I made it past the tutorial sections on a ship and into the MMO world proper. Once I got out of the first city and began exploring the grassy fields and killing monsters an leveling up the game began to really click with me. The combat is fun, but it’s also challenging from the beginning. These enemies aren’t easy to take out with just one or two hits, some require some serious work to kill. What’s really interesting about the exploration is that, much like Xenoblade Chronicles, there are tons of areas to discover and secret paths to uncover. Many areas of the game are actually puzzles unto themselves simply based on the terrain layout. You’ll often see a treasure box up on a cliff and you’ll have to figure out some massive round about way to try and reach it. These optional challenges are baked into the game throughout your entire adventure and I found them really fun to try and solve.
Speaking of puzzle solving, there is plenty to be found not only in the overworld but also in the towns and the dungeons. There are some pretty mind bending challenges here, but they’re super satisfying to solve. Many of them (especially early on) revolve around your ability to jump to various platforms as well as throwing your energy balls and bouncing them off walls and other objects so they connect with a button to raise or lower platforms, doors, and walls. The tutorial area really pushes this aspect hard so you understand that it’s essential to figure out these puzzles as you make your way through the entire game. Unfortunately, the bane of my existence (timed puzzles) make an appearance here. I’ve never been a fan of these in any game, but I get why they exist. One cool feature is that you have the option of changing the difficulty of the game on the fly, and the developers even let you tweak specific elements. So, if you find it too hard to make it through some of the timed puzzles you can move a slider to allow for more time. Or if you’re finding yourself dying way too often you can make it so enemy attacks don’t take off as much damage. These tweaks are welcome features that should allow more gamers to finish the story.
The combat system is realtime just like you’d expect from a Zelda-like game. You’ll see the amount of damage dealt as numbers appear on the enemies when you land attacks. As you increase your skills and learn new ones you’ll gain the ability to take on multiple monsters at once, slicing and dicing them as you move right through them. Elemental attacks play a part as well as you make your way through the story. The bosses can be quite tough and downright frustrating at times, so you’ll want to memorize attack patterns and don’t be afraid to go on the defensive instead of always attacking. I enjoyed the battle system overall, but it can be unforgiving with difficulty spikes appearing throughout.
CrossCode is absolutely gorgeous with staggeringly detailed pixel art that is just a wonder to marvel. There are tons of different environments that you’ll explore as you go through the massive 40+ hour quest. The bosses are often huge and the enemies and NPCs are all very colorful and animate very well. I really love the extra work that went into some of the character portraits that pop up in conversation as well, giving the game a sort of Phantasy Star vibe. The game is super colorful and small effects like rain and snow just add to the presentation. Oh, and the soundtrack is absolutely stellar! There are so many good tracks to listen to and a few of them reminded me of Phantasy Star Online with a sci-fi influence to them.
I really only have a few small complaints when it comes to the graphics. The first is that it can be difficult to suss out how high the terrain is. There are many times when I thought I could jump to another piece of land, but instead fell to my death or just missed the jump altogether. Firing your energy balls in that direction will often give you a better idea if the land is above or below you, but it was an issue playing through some areas. The other problem is a bit more severe, and that’s the dip in FPS on the Switch. I’ve heard other systems might perform a bit better, but the Switch definitely has some hiccups here and there that can become slightly annoying. Also there’s a strange amount of loading that takes place when going to certain menus. While I’m on the topic of technical issues, many times when I put the Switch to sleep and come back to the game it has an audio glitch that often wouldn’t go away until I quit out of the game and rebooted. This didn’t happen often, but when it did it was super annoying and perhaps these will all be addressed in a future patch. None of the issues are game breaking, but I’d say the framerate will be the biggest issue for some of you.
Since CrossCode takes place in an MMO, you will sometimes be able to have other characters join you on your quests to help out along the way. You can set them up so that they follow your lead and attack the same enemies as you do, or let them do their own thing. You’ll often see non-playable characters running around the world, and in a stroke of genius the developers use them to guide the player along the right course. A few times I was wondering where I had to go next, and then along came another character running past me and by following him I was able to parse out a path forward. Also true to the MMO style is the fact that you’ll be given a ton of fetch quests to complete. Many are completely optional, but you’ll probably want to do them for the rewards. I didn’t mind the busywork, but I know it’s sort of a trope that some gamers don’t really enjoy.
In the end I had a great time with CrossCode. I’m not a huge fan of MMOs so the setting didn’t have as big of an impact for me. Also, as someone who plays a lot of different games (often for review), sometimes games that take so long to go through (I’m looking at you Hollow Knight) overstay their welcomes a little bit, even if I am having fun. I had that feeling creep in as I hit the 20 hour mark only to discover I had a lot more ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, longer games give us more bang for our buck, but sometimes I like to just pick up a game and be done with it after 10 hours or so. I think there’s a lot to offer here and most players will get a ton of enjoyment out of this game. I just didn’t fall head over heels in love with it like I had hoped.
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 9.5/109.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
CrossCode is a great action/RPG that features beautiful graphics and an amazing soundtrack. The setting and story are unique but didn’t really wow me as much as I had hoped. The combat and puzzle solving are fun, but some might find aspects of the game too challenging. That being said, there’s a ton to like here and this is a great game for the Switch!
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.