November 24, 2020

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CrossCode Review – A Lot Of Ambition

It’s been a long, long road for CrossCode to finally hit consoles. The 16-bit throwback...

It’s been a long, long road for CrossCode to finally hit consoles. The 16-bit throwback RPG started life as a widely praised 2012 tech demo, enjoyed a super-funded 2015 Indiegogo campaign, and then arrived on Steam in 2018. Two years later, it’s hard not to feel that all this runway has caused CrossCode to be overly ambitious and complicated–even for veteran genre players. As I was sailing into my 20th hour and still trying to not second-guess my shaky strategy for the vast amount of stats that can be customized and stacked, the game was still unspooling tutorials and rolling out new wrinkles. CrossCode is a lot of game to wrap your head around, and one whose expansive menu screens and tutorials double as a mechanically overbearing strategy guide that cannot be skimmed to even start to get your bearings. Playing CrossCode can be a bit like going on a road trip without GPS: Every few miles, you have to pull over and unfold an unwieldy road atlas.

CrossCode, at its heart, is not a retro-styled hollow homage to Super Nintendo titles like 1993’s Secret of Mana and 1995’s Chrono Trigger. Instead, it’s something more like a full-throated continuation of their tradition of exploring massive worlds full of side quests, puzzles, colorful characters, and gear to collect–while also building on their thornier, more tactical contemporaries. CrossCode’s fondness for this era of action role-playing games is clear out of the gate: Both the opening menu screen and introductory sequences set the tone with plaintive piano, chiming bells, and an oozing chiptune soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those “lofi beats to relax/study to” YouTube playlists that lean more heavily into nostalgia. The pixel art style doubles down on all this.

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The above is in sharp contrast to the game taking place in a fictional, modern MMORPG called CrossWorlds. That is, CrossCode is a single-player game taking place in an in-game MMO where other characters speak and behave either as other players or NPCs. It’s a world filled with guilds, griefers, and other player characters running through, too busy questing and level-grinding to hold still and talk with you. And just like in a real MMO, the other players you make your way on with will chat and open up about their lives–and give you due notice when they feel they’ve been playing way too long and need to log out and take a break.

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