Game Review: CrossCode (Nintendo Switch)

Action-RPG’s have come a long way since consoles were first introduced but for CrossCode it seems the developers wanted to bring the joys of the new generation and mix it with the visuals of the first generation. Regardless I share my experiences with this action-RPG on the Nintendo Switch.​

Title: CrossCode
Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: Deck13 & Radical Fish Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Audio: N/A
Subtitles: English (White)
Local Players: 1
Online Players: N/A
Install: YES (1.8 GB)

Our View:

Developed by Deck13 and Radical Fish Games, as well as published onto the Nintendo Switch by ININ Games, CrossCode is a sprite-based action-RPG with a story that blends reality with virtual reality to deliver an alternative gaming experience.

This unique perception that CrossCode delivers is due to the similarities it offers with popular Japanese franchises. For instance the player controlled character, Lea, suffers from Amnesia, which is a common trope in Japanese media, and the game takes places in a virtual massively-multiplayer-online world that offers a Sword Art Online styled aesthetic. The vision of the games inspiration also blurs with Reki Kawahara’s other work, Accel World, in which the online game is played within the real world. It’s needlessly confusing, but at some point it all makes sense.

In short, CrossCode sees players take control of the avatar known as Lea, a Spheromancer class type, who must play through areas within the MMORPG CrossCode to retrieve her memories. As the story progresses we soon learn that Lea is not your typical avatar. At the start it is all very secretive and mysterious, but as Lea, and her new found friends within CrossCode, progress further through the game the true storyline begins to surface.

Sadly it does take some time to get there, but it does so in a rather interesting and clever manner. At the start of the game Lea awakens on a ship operated by humans that provide maintenance and support for the CossCode game that operates on an island known as the playground. Upon completion of this tutorial heavy segment another avatar attacks the ship and attempts to kidnap Lea, of which is then transported into the centre of CrossCode’s playground. From here players are forced into completing the pretend MMORPG’s tutorial sections before being allowed to explore the open world that the playground offers.

In essence players are forced to go through two tutorial modes, one focusing on real combat outside of the game – and one within the confines of the game itself. The key difference between these tutorial modes is that the latter focuses on the alternative format of the game. Puzzles. Despite being an action-RPG CrossCode features an extensive amount of puzzles that both enhance and hamper the overall gameplay. It really does become a marmite situation where one puzzle creates a sense of excitement and fulfilment, while another becomes tediously frustrating that makes you want to just quit the game.

It’s not that the puzzles are overly difficult, far from it once you’ve learned how to overcome them, it’s just that they put a complete stop to any natural progression and makes it harder for you to want to continue. Of course the satisfaction of solving a puzzle does have its own benefits. If you were hoping for a simplistic action-RPG with some mindless puzzles then unfortunately you’ll want to look elsewhere, as these puzzles are crafty and, at times, challenging.

Of course CrossCode is an action-RPG and it does retain the traditional RPG elements you would come to expect from the genre. Within the ‘playground’ area of CrossCode you’ll find hub cities that open up into forests and dungeons, with each area sign posted so you’ll have some vague understanding of where you are going. Cities act as a safe heaven and provide support for players while the forests and dungeons are where monsters and random items are located.

As with any typical RPG the cities you encounter will act as your hub to the surrounding areas, as within the cities you’ll find a guild hall that will offer up quests and specialised missions as well as shops with new equipment. The overall mission of CrossCode, the pretend MMORPG within the game that is, is to uncover the secrets of the ancients and report your findings back to the guild. The ‘true’ objective meanwhile, within the game and not the pretend game within it, is to uncover Lea’s memories and to survive the game. It’s here were similarities of Sword Art Online begin to surface. Firstly CrossCode is a pretend MMORPG, so everyone within the playground is a pretend player or NPC – much like in Sword Art Online – and just like in the former franchise the player character has an alternate agenda to completing the game.

Regardless of the similarities, whether it is coincidentally or not, it acts as an interesting pull to keep the viewer engaged within the game. Sadly that engagement will vary depending on your level of enjoyment of the overall game and its overall play style. As mentioned CrossCode acts as your traditional action-RPG game so you’ll be able to accept quests from the guild, as well as random townspeople, in exchange for rewards and experience. Missions types vary but they are generally allocated to monster and fetch quests, so nothing new here.

As this is an action-RPG monsters can be seen walking in the fields and dungeons, but generally they won’t attack unless you attack first.  It’s here where Lea’s combat skills come into effect and disappointingly only a limited number of attacks are available for use. In this situation players can Melee or Shoot, that’s it. A special skill can also be used, but requires charging time and to be obtained. If the limited combat options were disappointing then the ‘how to attack’ will be even more disappointing. On the Nintendo Switch the shoulder button is used to melee while to shoot the analog stick needs to be moved in the correct direction and then the corresponding button to be pressed.

To me these controls feel un-natural, and the process to dash and raise shield feel just as unusual, although they can be swapped to alternative control style that uses trigger buttons. Personally for me the Nintendo Switch analog stick movement, whether with Joy-Cons or Pro Controller, has never been accurate as on an Xbox One or PS4 Controller, and this lack of accuracy does eventually become a bit of nuisance. This is due to enemies being able to move at, in some cases, much faster speeds than the player so if you are anything like me you’ll find yourself missing a lot of shots. This same type of pinpoint accuracy issue also appears during puzzles, as you may be required to shoot switches at opposite angles within an instant in order to proceed forward.

Although the controls of performing combat movement within the game felt un-natural, as it leaves the face buttons and trigger buttons with alternative tasks, the combat itself is generally OK. Word of warning though, be sure to  grind on low level monsters and increase your skills/experience when available, as even some of the early monsters can prove a challenge (as seen at the end of my gameplay video). As you can probably tell CrossCode features a typical RPG progression system, so defeating monsters will award experience that will generally upgrade the stats of Lea.

Additional perks can also be added to Lea through skills and special attributes while equimpment, such as weapons, outfits and accessories, will help build up the overall attack and defence of your character. All of these elements are explained during the lengthy tutorial portions of the game, but anyone familiar with any type of RPG experience will have an understanding of what to do. Just be sure to do it as soon as possible or before exploring new areas, otherwise you’ll regret it.

From that standpoint at least CrossCode is your typical action-RPG wrapped in a needlessly confusing, albeit unique perception, of a story that is presented in the visual style of a retro-inspired sprite based adventure. Personally I was pessimistic about its sprite based visuals as I have rarely played an RPG in this manner and my concerns were confirmed shortly in the game. This is purely based on my own experiences and my lack of playing 2D sprite based RPGs, but on occasion I found it difficult to distinguish on which areas I could explore or where enemies were attacking from. This is due to the scenery and its surroundings all blending together and becoming flat rather than multi-layered.

Those who enjoy sprite based adventures, or have familiarity of playing these 2D adventures, will most likely have a better experience and not be confused, but to me it disrupted my immersive experience. That being said CrossCode is not exactly a visual masterpiece, nor is it overly good to look at, but the developers have done a great job of making the world feel full of life with its variety of characters, textures and detail.

To me CrossCode is an interesting experience that combines elements from franchises I enjoy, such as the MMORPG styled world, with the 2D aesthetic of a SNES game, but to me the overall game falls a bit short. At times the game is full of life, challenge and exciting, but at other times it feels clumsy, long and needlessly complicated.

Fans of old-skool RPG’s will most likely enjoy what CrossCode has to offer, but fans of modern day RPG games may find it difficult to absorb them into the world. Overall it is a good game, and a great time sink that works well on the Nintendo Switch, but sadly it fails to pull me back without feeling like a chore.

Score: review-stars-3

CrossCode is now available digitally for the Nintendo Switch, as well as PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. CrossCode is also available physically for the Nintendo Switch.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has worked at ZOMGPlay, Rice Digital and Funstock and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the PS Vita, PS4 or Xbox One.

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