Sometimes when you hear that a game is similar to another, you know what to expect. I could easily say that CrossCode is a Zelda-inspired action RPG and be correct. That would be an oversimplified assessment of what CrossCode has to offer. Not only does it push its level of challenge to the absolute peak of expectations, but it also accomplished the same with its writing and character development. It delivers far more than you could ever expect from a retro-inspired action RPG.

The Role You Play

You play as Lea, a new spheromancer in the MMORPG of Crossworlds. She has woken up in the game and has no memory of how she arrived there. She also has no ability to speak, but an operator named Sergey can communicate with her and guide her through the world and her next steps. You learn that you can fight in close combat and fire spheres at long range.

She also can team up with other players who can aid you in combat. You don’t control their actions or their equipment, but they can assist you in battle. There are also sections of the game that are ‘sectioned’ and you will have you face them by yourself.

Plot

CrossCode is set within an MMORPG called Crossworlds filled with thousands of other players. Whenever Lea logs off of the game, she has vague visions of her past. With the help of Sergey, she aims to make sense of the visions and find out who she really is. This involves making her way through the different sections of Crossworlds to find answers. You need to collect four different elements along your way in order to learn new abilities and access new areas. It also means Lea has to join up with new friends and play through the main campaign of the game.

Gameplay

There is a pretty even split in the gameplay of CrossCode. Roughly half of the game is combat-centric. You and your other teammates can battle the different enemies that are scattered throughout the different sections of the world map. This can be done to gather experience, collect item drops, or as part of any number of quests. Most of the combat through the game is entirely optional. A lot of the enemies won’t engage you unless you attack them first.

The other main component is the puzzle solving. There are many dungeons and caves in CrossCode that are filled with a myriad of challenging puzzles. As you progress and learn new abilities, the puzzles only get more varied and more difficult.

Length

CrossCode is packed to the brim with content. There are tons of side quests and areas to explore. Even if you choose to skip the side content, the main game is not lacking either. The puzzles are not simple and can take several tries to get right. Just when you finally get all of the pieces in place and move on, you can get hit with something else that takes even longer. Between the challenging puzzles and all the possible side quests, CrossCode can easily take between 30-40 hours.

Music

The music in CrossCode has the unusual challenge of being modern, but trying to sound like it belongs in a video game. It sounds intentionally synthetic to match both the game’s 16-bit aesthetic and the in-game setting. It does work to the game’s advantage and adds layers to the gameplay experience. There are multiple battle themes and a diverse variety of songs to match the many locales you visit throughout the game.

Notable Features

The greatest standout feature is CrossCode’s difficulty. The game is notoriously difficult, both in its combat and in its puzzles. It gets even harder when you have to implement some of the puzzle-solving mechanics to fight some of the monsters and bosses.

Thankfully, there is a way to adjust the difficulty. The difficulty settings work a lot more like a debug mode. You can make incremental changes to the damage you receive and the speed at which the projectiles travel in the puzzles. This way you can make the game easier without making the game too easy.

The Talking Parts

One of the main things affecting the dialog in this game is the main character Lea being unable to speak properly. Throughout the game, she has to overcome the challenge of being able to communicate with little or no vocabulary. She can do hand gestures, nod/shake her head and can hold up fingers to indicate numbers. Her strained communication methods are one of the driving points of the game. She is fully capable of listening and understanding her friends, who can talk on her behalf.

Z…We’ve Reached The End. Anything Else?

Lea’s character with her inability to speak feels like the natural evolution of the silent protagonist trope. Many 16-bit games featured a protagonist who never talked Including Chrono Trigger, the Legend of Zelda and even Super Mario RPG. The idea of having a character who is mute and gradually regains some ability to speak over time is a neat variation on the trope and is very neat to see.

Final Summary

CrossCode is a wonderfully well done homage to classic 16-bit RPGs. It does everything right and exceeds every possible expectation.  It’s an incredibly heartfelt story, it has wonderful characters, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and the whole experience is fun from beginning to end. This is not a game you should miss out on for any reason.

Final Score: 10/10

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