In our last LTTP column where we talk about games we missed a year ago, we talked about an anime game in Yakuza clothing. This week, we have an indie darling that’s wearing the coattails of Sword Arts Online. But unlike the Bandai Namco games based on the franchise, the game we’re talking about is actually good.
CrossCode (PC, and Nintendo Switch)
The premise: It’s the goddamn future, where people can play MMOs and live their lives online and get immersed; in this case it’s an online game called CrossWorlds which somehow co-exist in the real world of the story. Enter an avatar named Lea who starts exploring CrossWorlds to recover her identity. Of course, not all is as it seems as the game takes you through a story of hidden identities and what it means to fully live your life in a made-up online universe.
As you can tell from the screenshot above, this game is clearly influenced by 16-bit JRPGs like Beyond Oasis and Secret of Mana.
Why I missed it last year: CrossCode was released on September of last year. You know what else came out in September? Marvel’s Spider-Man. Our game of the year, from the awards ceremony that truly matter, needed the full attention and multiple playthroughs to justify giving it a top spot.
Why you shouldn’t: Because if you love JRPGs of yore and love geometry puzzles that will tax your brain and reflexes, you should play CrossCode. Games like Dark Souls challenges you with combat; CrossCode challenges you with brain teasers and ricocheting puzzles.
You see, Lea has access to a ranged weapon called spheres/balls. You can chuck these balls to kill enemies, charge up your ball shot for a hard-hitting attack, and trigger switches and puzzle objects. You’ll need to shoot them at hard-to-reach places, which is why the CrossCode devs are so nice in showing you which angle the balls will ricochet at when fully-charged and launched.
When going through some of the dungeons like the Fajro Temple and the Temple Mine in the snowy town of Bergen, I get that same happy and angry feeling just like when I played Alundra on the PS1. For context, Alundra boasts some of the toughest and mean-spirited puzzles in top-down RPG history. CrossCode brought back some horrid memories of me breaking my controller in frustration at Alundra’s many brain teasers and precisely-timed puzzles.
Here in CrossCode, you need to be on-point with turning knobs and gears when directing a ball of flame or ice when it’s slowly activating a bunch of lamps and triggers. And you’ll be repeating this segment multiple times if you so much as slip up just a tiny bit.
There is no room for error for all of CrossCode’s real-time puzzles. For better or worst, it’s an old-school challenge that will find its audience.
Luckily, everything else in the game kept me going and pressing on as I spend another 20 minutes figuring out these brain teasers. The graphics are colourful and quaint, the soundtrack is catchy and would have ended up in my SoundScape 2018 list. The combat is fast and fun since you can melee your way out of trouble or just spam it with balls; plus you can have party members like in an MMO to help you tank or do DPS duties.
The game’s narrative and side tales can get a bit meta; Lea herself can only say a few words because her avatar has a speech problem, most NPCs in CrossWorld will say the same thing and your party members will point that out time and again, and the story goes back and forth between CrossWorld and the real world, along with the dark corners of the MMO’s coding.
You also grind for materials to trade for goods like in an MMO, but thankfully everything from the combat to the teleporting to different regions is fast. It’s more zen-like to farm than your triple-A fares.
I heartily recommend CrossCode if you want a challenge in your top-down Zelda-like and Alundra-esque action RPG games.
You can get it for PC on Steam or for your Nintendo Switch on the eshop. Doing the latter means you can play CrossCode on the go; that’s always a plus.