After launching on PC back in 2018, Radical Fish Games’ critically acclaimed action-RPG CrossCode has finally made its way to console. I’ve actually been SUPER excited about it, with the game having been on my radar ever since I first saw it on Kickstarter so many years ago – like a lot of PC games though, I ended up skipping it in the hopes that it would *eventually* come to console. Well, I’ve finally got the chance to play it on the Nintendo Switch and the wait was worth it, with CrossCode offering a fantastic action-RPG experience that stands tall with the 16-bit greats that clearly inspired it.
CrossCode’s tale sees players take on the role of Lea, a young girl who awakens to find that she has amnesia… might sound a little familiar to RPG fans, right? Well, there’s a unique twist here in that she has actually awoken in a popular MMORPG named CrossWorlds and that the only way that she can recover her memories is by playing through its grand quest. This means that you won’t only have to interact with characters that make up the virtual world, but also other ‘players’ who are adventuring through the game alongside you.
It all sounds pretty pleasant in theory, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes in Lea’s journey and it will take plenty of surprising (and often dark) turns before it reaches its conclusion. Of course, it’s not all grim and there are an array of colourful and quirky folk who’ll also join you along the way, with charming RPG clichés aplenty across the adventure. It feels as though it all fits in within the world though, especially since it all takes place in an MMORPG anyway, so it’s easy to appreciate and get on board with. It’s certainly a fun tale and also has its share of clever ideas throughout the pretty lengthy runtime.
At its core, CrossCode plays like a traditional action-RPG, with players leading Lea through an assortment of vibrant and wonderful locations as you progress through the story. You’ll meet plenty of weird and wonderful characters along the way, complete an array of side quests, and beat up plenty of baddies as you look to regain your memories… it’s a typical RPG formula, right?
One aspect of the game that I really enjoyed came with the dungeons, which were designed to offer an excellent balance of battling (more on that in a bit) and puzzle-solving that demanded some clever thinking and platforming prowess. I’ve played a few RPGs recently that have had puzzles that felt like more of a formality to complete as opposed to offering players a tricky enigma to unravel, but CrossCode’s were all cunningly designed in a fashion that always made them enjoyable to solve whilst remaining consistent to each dungeon’s theme.
There’s even a Metroidvania-style twist to progression in the game, with certain skills that you unlock later on required to progress through blocked off areas. Whilst these skills are heavily utilised in the dungeons, they can also help you access some secrets in previously visited areas. Admittedly, I’m not always a big fan of backtracking in RPGs thanks to how vast their worlds actually are, but I didn’t mind it in CrossCode – not only because the world is so fascinating and fun to explore in the first place, but also because I wanted to see what secrets were hidden away from me earlier on in the game.
Of course, whilst exploration plays a hefty role in an RPG, it’s often the battle system that matters the most. Thankfully, CrossCode’s is both frantic and fun, with the action-orientated battling merging plenty of different elements together to make for some really exciting showdowns with enemies.
Like a lot of action-RPGs, there’s a big focus on stringing together physical attacks in Crosscode and mixing them up with the occasional skill. Whilst there’s room for button mashing on occasions (which can prove effective against weaker foes), Lea will also have to dodge enemy attacks and string together quick counters when a foe is at their weakest. Your skills often offer both defensive and attacking properties too, so utilising those to protect yourself from incoming attacks or cover a larger area of effect can be imperative when battling larger groups of enemies.
You can also launch an array of ranged attacks at your opponents, with an emphasis placed on actually lining up the shots yourself for full accuracy. There are multiple elements that can tie in to your actions too, with one equipped at a time and imbuing your attacks with specific attributes: ‘heat’ gives you fire attacks, ‘cold’ gives you ice attacks, ‘shock’ gives you electric attacks, whilst ‘wave’ is based around healing and evasive manoeuvres. Each element brings varied uses into combat and are especially efficient against specific foes, so swapping them around frequently can certainly make some encounters easier to handle.
It all comes together to make for a fast and frantic combat experience that never grows boring, whilst there’s also a rich variety of enemies to encounter in battle that often require different strategies to defeat. I often find that it is within the combat mechanics that a lot of indie RPGs can disappoint, but CrossCode offered some of the most enjoyable battling that I’ve encountered in an RPG for some time… it’s great.
If I had to complain about one thing with the battling, it’d be the fact that some enemies take some figuring out before you can even hurt them. Now typically this would be something I’d praise in a game – I normally love exploiting enemies’ weaknesses and striking when the time is right to defeat them, even if you can’t damage them in-between. However, these instances occurred a little too often in CrossCode that it just made some battles drag out longer than they needed to, with a lot of time simply spent waiting for the moment to attack with even standard enemies. It’s not a game-breaker by any means and it doesn’t happen on TOO regular of a basis to make it even feel like a real problem, but the moments where it does occur could just feel a little tedious. But hey, maybe it’s just me nit-picking a little bit…
You’ll level up in a traditional fashion with experience points, which you can earn from either defeating enemies or completing quests, with each level-up seeing Lea gain an increase across her stats. However, you can also improve Lea’s capabilities through a skill tree known as the Circuit, in which you spend the Circuit Points you earn to unlock different abilities or boosts that increase your stats in a variety of ways. The Circuit is flexible enough for players to cater their improvements to suit their playstyle or strengthen areas in which they’re lacking, whilst it also ties into the different elements you use in battle in meaningful ways. It’s a tried and tested system that we’ve seen in plenty of different RPGs over the years, but I especially appreciated its inclusion here thanks to the many different ways in which you can shape Lea’s skills.
It’s not just in levelling-up that you can improve Lea’s capabilities though, with a lot of different gear options to be found across the game that’ll improve your stats in varying ways. There’s a catch though: you can’t just find or purchase the best gear in CrossCode, but instead have to find resources out in the wild for you to trade in order to earn them. There’ll be a requirement list with different shopkeepers that list the resources you need for each piece of gear, and you’re then expected to either find it across the world or earn it in battles – it’s almost like a crafting system in a way, but with a middle man included in the mix.
This makes for a neat system and one where players who make a point of exploring the world, who defeat as many enemies as possible, or who complete plenty of quests are rewarded the most. Believe me, finally getting everything you need for that one powerful piece of gear is always satisfying, whilst there’ll also be plenty of occasions where you just so happen to already have the resources you need from simply playing through the game as normal. That being said, the system does come with the caveat that there will be times when you need some particular items and don’t have the patience to invest yourself into gathering them. Hey, we can all get a little bit lazy in RPGs sometimes and would just rather spend our gold, right? Either way you look at it, it’s definitely a neat feature that shows that the development team have made an effort to sprinkle unique elements across CrossCode’s gameplay.
There’s a pretty meaty adventure offered in CrossCode, with the main story itself easily taking thirty hours to play through and the many side quests to be found adding tens of hours on top of that. Admittedly, the side quests can be a bit run of the mill with fetch quests aplenty, but the rewards they offer usually make them feel worthwhile. Plus, they give you an extra reason to explore the game’s epic world, which manages to look stunning throughout thanks to some fantastic visual design. I have to give credit where it’s due: Radical Fish Games have put a lot of work into making a world that doesn’t only offer some beautiful pixel art, but is also vibrant and enchanting in design. I loved exploring the world and seeing all of its vivid sights, whilst things like character and enemy design were absolutely on point throughout too. CrossCode already managed to capture the vibe of some of my favourite 16-bit RPGs with its gameplay, but it also manages to absolutely look the part too… just look at the screenshots to see how impressive it is for yourself.
CrossCode is a brilliant RPG that offers a gripping story, fantastic dungeon design, exciting combat mechanics, and impressive visuals. Ticks plenty of boxes, right? Well, the occasional tedious encounter in combat and the emphasis on gathering resources to earn new gear can drag the game out a bit, but they’re minor imperfections in what is otherwise a stellar experience.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, you will really, REALLY want to play CrossCode. Even better, you can even play it on the go on the Nintendo Switch with its upcoming console release – what more could you want?
Developer: Radical Fish Games
Publisher: Deck 13
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
You can pre-order a physical version of CrossCode through this link.