CrossCode review: an indie darling worthy of the hype

CrossCode is a very cathartic experience.

Its cathartic in the sense that it’s built under the pretense that it’s a game that knows it’s a game, treading into the territory of self-awareness in that it figures the player will enjoy learning new systems as much as the game itself likes doling them out. And just to add another layer of obfuscation, the story takes place within a game… within the game.

CrossCode is something of an indie darling, being a small project that was enthusiastically crowdfunded and eventually adored even by those who didn’t initially pitch in to get the game made. To give you the elevator pitch, it’s an action-oriented role-playing game in the vein of Secret of Mana, but set within a fictional MMO that revels in the details a little more than most games. To some people, this might sound a little too much like a homage, but the reality is that those of us who like plumbing the depths of various systems just for the hell of it will find CrossCode to be the gaming equivalent of comfort food.

This is important to point out, because I didn’t think the overarching story of CrossCode was the most compelling part of the game. You control an avatar named Lea who has lost all of her memories and has an initial inability to communicate beyond nodding and shaking her head. She’s thrust into not only investigating the mysterious changes that are happening in the pseudo-MMO CrossWorlds, but also discovering her history. Yet the game only occasionally dips into the main quest, and when it does, nothing comes out that feels revelatory. However, what CrossCode lacks in grandiosity, it makes up for in the interactions Lea has with the game’s cast of endearing characters.

Even though the plot barely moves the needle in any direction, I thoroughly enjoyed the actual gameplay. The combat is involved to the point where I had to turn down the damage and encounter rates for a bit (using the very handy accessibility tools) in order to get my legs underneath me. On Switch at least, the game curiously focuses on using the triggers and shoulder buttons for all your actions, which took some getting used to, but after a few hours it feels natural. Lea dances around the screen with your typical melee attack, dodge roll and shield, while also having the ability to throw projectiles by aiming with the right control stick. The game slowly builds your understanding of all the mechanics in a nice way, never feeling like it’s pandering to a player’s potential ineptitude, but also never overwhelming you. I was constantly surprised at how much thought I had to put into the fighting, because running into combat was almost never the ideal route to take.

Whenever you’re not partaking in the violent ballet of combat or moving the plot along, there’s a heavy focus on exploration and various environmental puzzles. The pixelated environments are lovely to look at and varied to boot, and because it’s all set in a video-game world, you’ll find yourself in obviously gamey situations that involve things like moving platforms, environmental manipulation and aiming your projectiles at reflective surfaces in order to hit a target. These moments were a nice juxtaposition to the combat, and offer a welcome change of pace.

The great thing about CrossCode is that even though the developers have a “preferred method” for how you should play it, they give you the tools to tailor the experience to your needs. The fact that things like encounter rates or how much time you have to solve a puzzle are malleable made a huge difference not only to the accessibility of the game but also to my enjoyment of it as a whole. Even without these options, I would have come away from CrossCode with a positive outlook; but being able to fit it into my busy life was much easier because I could adapt it to something that would fit into my own personal play style. In other words, if any of the above sounds even remotely interesting to you, you should probably give CrossCode a try.

CrossCode was developed by Radical Fish Games and published by Deck13, and it’s available on PC, Mac, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. We played the Switch version. Physical versions of CrossCode can be pre-ordered here.

Disclosure statement: review code for CrossCode was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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