CrossCode

A game by Radical Fish Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, originally released in 2018.
CrossCode is a retro-style action-RPG inspired by the classics of the 16-bit generation, particularly those released for the Super Nintendo, a system famed for its library of charming and colorful RPG’s. You take on the role of Lea, who falls into the “silent amnesiac protagonist” archetype, but not in quite the way you’d expect. Lea is a player in an MMO called CrossWorlds, where the action happens in a real place that is populated by real people, along with limited-AI beings and other connected players. CrossCode is set at some undetermined point in the future where MMO's may be played in a way that simulates all five senses, and CrossWorlds takes pace on a distant Earthlike moon that is in orbit around a gas giant.


Lea wakes up in a room with no idea what's going on, and someone is communicating with her remotely. Apparently, Lea played CrossWorlds previously and somehow lost her memory, and her new friends are trying to help her regain her memory by revisiting the game's story and locales. In addition, Lea's speech synchronization system is not functioning, preventing her speaking. Little by little, she gains the ability to say a few words, including her name, “hi” and “bye”, and a few words that allow her to make inquiries, but this technological disability renders her largely silent as she relies on pantomime or one of her talkative companions to speak on her behalf.


As the game goes on, Lea must hide the fact that she’s not a regular player, and as her memory returns, she discovers more about the mystery of CrossWorlds and how she became stuck in the game. She begins by training in the use of her various combat arts. Lea is able to perform a 4-hit combo, which is comprised of three slashes followed by a wider spinning slash, which is followed by a short pause, potentially opening her up to attack. However, by dashing, she can interrupt her combo.


Dashing allows Lea to quickly dash away – or into – danger and provides a brief moment of invincibility. She can perform three dashes in quick succession, after which there is a short cooldown period before she can dash to her full distance, instead resulting in a short sidestep with no invincibility period. For players who don’t wish to fling themselves into the fray, ranged attacks are also a viable option… although skilled players will find that a mixture of both techniques is best, depending on the situation. The player can also engage a shield to block most attacks, and can rotate the shield in eight directions, but it will become temporarily disabled if it absorbs too much damage.


Lea is able to move and aim independently, allowing her to stay on the move while delivering damage from across the screen. When aiming, there is a brief moment where Lea hones her shot, and firing early results in reduced accuracy. Projectiles fire continuously as long as the player holds the button/stick. In addition, waiting a moment for the shot to fully charge results in a more powerful blast that not only causes more damage but can also knock back enemies, stun them, and cause the projectile to bounce off of walls. Bouncing projectiles can be used in combat to hit shielded enemies from behind, but the technique is more often used in the game’s many puzzle sequences.


The game is positively packed with puzzles, and they are quite clever. Puzzles frequently involve bouncing projectiles around corners to hit distant targets, but often the player must move boxes or other objects in order to navigate the environment or clear a path for a projectile. Some of the more ingenious puzzles involve hitting a series of angled blocks to deflect a projectile toward a target, but it’s not enough to simply hit the target… every block must be hit along the way. Frequently, the player is left to survey the room and plan out the best alignment of blocks to achieve the goal.


Players who find themselves experiencing difficulty with the game’s combat or puzzle elements may take advantage of the Assit Mode, which provides sliders to independently adjust certain difficulty settings. For combat, players may reduce the amount of damage taken to as low as 20%, and reduce enemy attack rates to as low as 50%. For time-based puzzles, the player may reduce the speed required to as low as 50% to grant additional time to clear them. These settings may be adjusted at any time during the game.


Lea is given plenty of time to test her combat and puzzle-solving abilities, as the first 2-3 hours of the game are essentially an extended tutorial. You are introduced to a staggering number of gameplay systems and narrative segments in the first few hours of play, but tutorials may be revisited at any time for a refresher, and quest givers are pretty good about spelling out where you need to go and what you need to do to complete objectives (and there’s an accompanying quest log). The game offers dozens of hours of play depending on the extent to which you are inclined to complete side quests or hunt down numerous treasure chests, and as a result, the game’s complexity becomes less steep as the game goes on.


Overall progress is made by unlocking four elements: heat, cold, shock, and wave. These are unlocked by completing some rather large and extensive dungeons (which you are fortunately free to enter and leave as you like) that are filled with puzzles and enemies. Completing these dungeons - and defeating the boss in each - opens up the next section of the world map and makes new abilities available along a skill tree.


The skill tree is quite large, but it’s divided into easily-digestible quadrants, and there are options to reset spent points if desired. The core of the skill tree is comprised of buffs to your attack power, defense, health, and focus, whereas the outer edges are based on the four elements that you unlock, resulting in new kinds of attacks and buffs. There are also loads of special attacks that can be unlocked here, allowing the player to attack enemies and build up a secondary meter and then unleash more powerful or wider-ranging strikes.


Once you’ve unlocked an element, you can quickly switch into that elemental mode with a button press, allowing you to unleash attacks with the associated affinity. The first element gained is fire, which allows you to cause burn damage to enemies when you strike with melee or ranged attacks. It’s stronger against cold-based enemies and weaker against fire-based enemies, as you would expect. But you can’t just go “flame on” all the time, as using an element repeatedly will cause it to overload and become temporarily unavailable.


You can avoid an overload by switching back to neutral mode and causing damage to enemies. The cold element allows the player to slow down enemy movement and attacks, whereas shock causes damage over time and can interrupt attacks or stun enemies, and wave causes enemies to receive additional damage from ranged attacks. In addition, elements also allow you to overcome some environmental obstacles, such as using fire to melt walls of ice that block your path.


Environmental navigation is a bit different than most other 16-bit action adventure titles, due to the fact that the game world is comprised of platforms that are set at different elevations. You are able to jump up onto ledges (or other objects) that are waist high, but you cannot mount ledges that are higher than that. Most environments consist of a basic ground level, interspersed with small plateaus, and surrounded by high walls. As such, it’s easy to simply run through an area from one side to the other, slashing enemies along the way, but there are often additional paths of travel to be found by paying close attention to the environment.


By climbing up onto a ledge on one side of an area, it’s possible to hop from plateau to plateau, eventually reaching a high ledge on the other side of the area. This is how players are able to reach the game’s many tucked-away treasure chests, but it’s also required for basic navigation, so players must think differently about area layouts, because there’s often a more complex route lying in plain sight. This design offers plenty of challenges for secret-hunters, and players can freely fast travel to multiple map locations, allowing for quick backtracking.


The player’s constant hopping is a bit off-putting when navigating towns, since Lea will jump up onto tables, counters, pots, and anything else that’s waist high without provocation (or a button press), which is unlike most other genre entries. However, this design supports the game’s open spaces, allowing players to tear loose and run at full speed through any area, hopping automatically when they reach the edge of a platform.


Running and jumping aren’t completely precise, since the isometric environments occasionally make it difficult to judge the exact spatial layout, and it can be easy to overshoot small platforms. Indoor manmade environments are easier to judge, given that everything is built with right angles, but the organic outdoor areas make this more difficult. Often, it’s hard to judge whether a platform is on the same level as you or above you, resulting in a missed jump as you slam into a wall that you assumed was below you. Fortunately, the penalty for falling into water or bottomless pits is quite low, as you respawn instantly from where you jumped (or the nearest safe area), with a small loss in health, and health regenerates quickly as long as you’re not in combat.


In fact, players are largely in control of combat difficulty outside of dedicated challenge areas and boss fights. Most creatures that you encounter will not attack unless provoked, and even those that attack automatically can be easily outrun. Furthermore, when you engage an enemy, it will begin to attack, as will nearby enemies, but not every enemy in the area will descend on your position. So, you can fight your way through a small cluster of foes without worrying about becoming overwhelmed… as long as a stray shot doesn’t hit an enemy outside of the combat group.


On top of this, players looking for a bit of extra challenge are free to fight through groups of enemies one after the other, with the risk being that their health will not regenerate until they stop fighting (although there are healing items and some skill tree unlocks that allow mid-battle healing and buffs). Once enough foes have been killed, the player will rank up, starting from a rank of “D” and moving up to “A”. By stringing multiple fights together, enemies drop more materials and more rare items, thus encouraging players to take the added risk. Again, the penalty for failure is low, as getting killed simply returns the player to the most recent screen transition, and the player may press a button at any time to exit combat chains and begin auto-healing.


Materials earned via combat or found in chests are required for completion of most side quests, and they are also used for crafting and bartering. By trading materials with certain shopkeepers, better items may be crafted, and these better items may in turn be crafted into even better items. Or, players may feel free to ignore much of this as thorough exploration and puzzle solving will also allow them to unlock better weapons and equipment. The player has five equipment slots, consisting of a weapon for each hand and armor for the head, body, and feet. Each piece of equipment affects the player’s attack, defense, health, and focus (which determines critical hit chance, status effects, etc.), and some offer resistance to elemental and other buffs, and the player’s base stats increase as he gains XP and levels up.


Enemy behaviors aren’t terribly complex on their own, but things can get hectic when fighting multiple enemy types simultaneously, as some can only be attacked from certain directions, some are very fast, and some can fire projectiles. Players may watch for enemies that are winding up strong attacks and then dodge out of the way, or turn the tables by striking and causing their attacks to be cancelled, potentially breaking their guard and stunning them.


A few challenges lock the player in an area and require him to defeat multiple enemies – or multiple waves of enemies – before he can move on. Dungeon bosses are more complex and more challenging, generally requiring that you use the skills you learned from completing the dungeon itself, but there are also minibosses to be found by exploring the world, sometimes surprising you as you venture into new territory or explore hidden caves.


The game is filled with bits of humor, from pun-based character names, to occasional references to other video games, and quips from your companions. For instance, one side quest sees you killing several bovine creatures, and each time you kill one, your companion reflects about one of their experiences with cows from growing up. A lot of meta-humor is based around MMO tropes as other players sit around and discuss the design of the game world, their encounters, future update patches, and features that have been removed from the current iteration of the game. Aesthetically, the game is stunning, with audio and visual designs falling in line with the best games of the 16-bit era, while carrying its own unique visual style and a unifying isometric cubic theme.



2D CRED
CrossCode was developed by Radical Fish Games, a studio founded in 2010 by Felix Klein and Stefan Lange, whose friendship grew out of their work in the RPG Maker community. The game began development in 2011 on a custom HTML5-based engine, and it was initially showcased on the TIGSource forums in 2012, promising an adventure spanning “at least 10 hours”, which turned out to be a bit of an understatement. The development team consisted of programmer, artist, and game designer Felix Klein; programmer and game designer Stefan Lange; artists Martina Brodehl, Thomas Fröse, Fabrice Magdanz, and Daniel Tillmann; game designer Henning Hartmann; composer Deniz Akbulut; and sound designers Florian Valerius and Anthony Oetzmann.


Digital versions of the game were published by Deck 13, developer of The Surge and Venetica, and publisher of Flat Heroes, Resolutiion, and To Hell with Hell, among other titles.


Physical versions of the game were published by Strictly Limited Games and ININ Games. Strictly Limited Games is primarily known for publishing physical editions and of modern digital games (in limited quantities), complete with physical game media, boxes, cover art, and instruction manuals. The studio previously published Ultracore alongside ININ Games.


ININ Games is a publishing label of United Games GmbH that focuses on retro, indie, and arcade games. In addition to Ultracore, the studio also published The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, a modern remake of the classic SNES game The Ninja Warriors.


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