CrossCode might be set in the far-flung future, but it’s a thoroughly retro game in many ways. This 16-bit top-down action RPG mixes classic 90s SNES graphics and Zelda-esque puzzle solving with more modern sensibilities and gaming tropes.
It’s actually a game within a game in a similar way to Sword Art Online, as your protagonist Lea logs into the futuristic MMO Crossworlds. While within this game, you level up, join factions and make friends, but there’s also a deeper story and truth to uncover about Lea’s origins and her purpose in the world.
CrossCode is aesthetically gorgeous, boasting vibrant 16-bit SNES style graphics and a rich soundtrack inspired by the RPGs and JRPGs of the 90s. As someone who grew up playing Final Fantasy, it’s an absolute delight to listen to throughout and the music really compliments the world perfectly. The dedication to reproducing the 90s vibe means that everything just pops on the screen, and I’m totally here for it.
That continues through the amount of text you’ll be reading through the adventure. The writing is interesting and funny, with a compelling cast of characters to deliver it. It does a fantastic job of mixing the classic RPG feel in its narrative and the modern direction of an MMO in one entertaining package.
There’s a mix of combat and puzzle solving through the game that’s inspired by the 2D Zelda games of the 90s, but with the action ramped up significantly. Using a mix of physical and ranged attacks and abilities, Lea is faced with several different enemy types, all designed to test your skills. What makes CrossCode’s enemies interesting is that many of them can’t be defeated with simple hack and slash tactics. Most have a specific defense you need to figure out in order to strike a critical attack that opens them up to more damage.
The system fits CrossCode’s style perfectly, making each battle feel far more engaging, and it’s amped up further through the game’s many boss encounters. Each one has a unique move set and weakness, and it’s up to you to figure that out. I do feel that some encounters go on a little longer than necessary, which is further exacerbated by having to start the entire fight again should you die, but the bosses are fun and bring a genuine sense of challenge to the game’s many dungeons.
One of the most interesting elements is how ranged attacks work inside and outside of combat. In combat, your ranged attacks see you using analogue controls similar to what you would see in a twin-stick shooter. These attacks can stop projectiles, gain critical attacks, damage enemies and even bounce projectiles off walls. Outside of combat, this same system is used for many of CrossCode’s puzzles, using ranged attacks to flip switches or remove barriers. Having to use the same system between both ways of playing makes you feel very efficient in how you progress.
Platforming is also an important element of each dungeon, with players having to beat the many acrobatic puzzles. This is where the Zelda influence is most noticeable. Each dungeon is filled with enemies to kill, doors to unlock and a new ability or upgrade to find. It never feels like it’s ripping the Zelda series off though, more like it’s paying its own dues to a series that changes gaming with its excellent puzzle design.
Much like traditional MMO games, CrossCode has a loot system which enables players to upgrade Lea with new weapons and equipment. There are also new abilities and attacks Lea can learn as you progress through the game, which are all found in her skill tree. There’s plenty of customisation options for players to choose from and ways to build Lea around a specific style of play.
CrossCode’s most impressive feature is the world in which it’s set in. Spanning a number of zones and towns, The game within a game world is a massive sprawling collection of biomes which are an absolute delight to explore. This is where the platforming elements are most prevalent, with many items hidden across platforms. With a bit of exploration and help from the excellent level design, there’s always a hidden path to find.
Review code provided by PR Hound. The boxed version of Crosscode is available here.