The old school gaming of classic Zelda and early Final Fantasy games are a cherished memory for many long time gamers, and for some purists they are still the epitome of game development. The challenge inherent in recreating these experiences has always been finding a way to tie these games’ signature elements to modern expectations. CrossCode, from developer Radical Fish Games and publisher Deck 13 does exactly that, combining the puzzle dungeon exploration of old school Zelda with the traditional RPG gameplay of yesteryear while also infusing a high speed real time combat system that is incredibly engaging. Read on for our hands on thoughts of the gameplay.
Developed by: Radical Fish Games
Published by: Deck13
Release date: Q1 2017, Now in Early Access
- 16-bit, SNES-style 2D graphics with detailed animations
- A soundtrack inspired by old SNES and Playstation JRPGs
- A unique ball throwing mechanic with charging functionality and ricocheting balls, used for combat and puzzles
- A fast-paced combat system featuring close and ranged attacks, guarding, dashing and great variety of special attacks.
- A complete RPG system with leveling, equipment, consumable items and skill trees
- A detailed movement system with auto-jumping and precise collision
Story & Setting
The game takes place in a real world MMO where the environment is real, not virtual and the inhabitants of the city are avatars for real people. People “log in” to their avatars and can experience all 5 senses through them. The land where the game takes place is known as the Playground. As main character Lea, you are an avatar who has played the game before, but has lost her memory. Reanimated, you’ve also lost the ability to speak and must learn new words as you go, to better engage in conversation with NPCs. As you explore the world you will discover more about who you were and the currents that are running beneath the surface of this real-virtual world.
The story itself is an interesting take on online gaming, but is presented in a way tinged with humor. There are a lot of references to conventions in MMO’s, and often humorously so, like the player who cries “cheater!” and gets reprimanded for acting like a mod when in fact he is not. Although not a revelation of storytelling, the visual narrative of the game unfolds over text and animated reactions from the characters in a crisp way that is compelling enough to keep you going.
That kind of personality is really where the game’s story shines, especially in the NPCs who are wonderfully characterized. If this was a Final Fantasy game of days past, several of these NPCs would become instant cultural darlings, which is a testament to how well they’ve been crafted. You find yourself wanting to approach everyone just to see what they have to say. With an increasing focus gameplay and action in gaming, I find this commitment to NPC quality refreshing.
The 16 bit world is beautifully rendered with nostalgic touches of the days of the SNES and the top down perspective conjures up memories of old school RPGs like Megaman, early Zelda and Chrono Trigger. You’re effectively playing a game within a game, as you are exploring the game’s MMO world and it’s varied environments, clearing its challenges as an avatar. So. meta.
Battles take place in real time and they are fast, action packed affairs and the combat is very aggressive. Your sprite moves quickly and can pair attacks with fast dodges. When the going gets tough, you can charge up powerful abilities that devastates the battlefield and features a dramatic visual flair. And I’d be remiss to not mention all of your pummeling is tracked by those gratifying damage numbers that appear over your enemies. Defensively you can bring up your guard if you’re taking heavy attack to mitigate some of the damage you incur. Combining all of these elements together forms the art of the combat dance in CrossCode.
Rounding out your arsenal is a projectile mechanic that lets you throw balls called VRP’s at foes. These are aimed via a linear targeting system and defy gravity so they can be tossed as far as you need. They can also be charged for throwing in order to bounce them off of walls. This all works together to allow a variety of geeometric trick shots where you can fire around corners and obstacles by using the environment. Furthermore, your precision with throwing these balls is improved the longer you hold your aim, and not rushing through targets. This encourages a deliberate approach to the high speed battles which asks you to take just a split second to line up and better place your shot. This seems difficult to do initially, but mastering this discipline will help immensely during what are some very challenging encounters.
The enemies are tough and demand that you make use of all of your moves. You’re not going to be able to just charge in and spam the melee attack button. Instead you will have to mix and match your melee, guard, dash, and projectile use, and often all of them in a matter of seconds. There’s a lot to manage and putting it all together takes some time getting acclimated to the controls and how they all interact. Once you do, this game hits its stride as a terrific combat RPG. It’s a borderline revelation for me, as I found myself engrossed in the gameplay in a way I had not been for a while. There is a simplicity to the overworld, and a complexity to the controls and combat that allows you to focus on what you’re doing. In the modern era of big budget open world sandboxes, with hundreds of map waypoints, resources to gather, side quests to manage, weapons and gear to upgrade, there is just so much noise between you and actually moving your character and doing stuff. CrossCode cuts through that noise out without losing depth, in part because so much of what’s inside is high quality.
The boss fights are great. They are all uniquely designed from a gameplay and visual perspective and feature the old school pattern memorization and critical weakness design from the days of gaming past. They are usually a combination of a test of speed and wits and are difficult but not unfair, which is what a boss fight should be. Clearing an arduous battle leaves you feeling rewarded, as it’s typically a lesson you’ve learned and put into practice.
The dungeons themselves also present their own challenge as puzzles that must be unlocked to progress. You’ll use your wits and balls (er, projectiles) to bust through the environment, deactivate walls and barriers and advance to the next room. The puzzles in the rooms can be diabolical and some will leave you initially puzzled as how to solve them. You’ll stare at everything and toss a few random balls to test the physics of the room and see what happens. You’ll have to put it all together using what you have at your disposal. Once you do figure it out, opening the door to the next section is incredibly gratifying in a way similar to the Zelda series.
You’re not just throwing balls all over the place though, and the game features an itemization system that is in line with the tradtional RPG genre’s expectation. You can equip Lea with new weapons, gear and unlock new skills as you level up which can do all different kinds of things to aid you in your journey. You’ll be gathering these loot rewards as you go and they’re fun to play around with and swap in and out as you test on new enemies.
I was beyond pleasantly surprised with CrossCode. It’s merging of genres and time periods in gaming history is seamless, and as an old school gamer myself, I felt right at home. However, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a game for those with more modern tastes, as the high speed combat and RPG mechanics are all gratifying experiences similar to recent hits like Nier: Automata. This is definitely a game to check out right now in early access and at 19.99 it’s well worth it.