CrossCode's Assist Mode

I claimed that CrossCode’s skill tests can block off its story. It is worth noting that the developers did try to prevent this. Like Celeste, CrossCode has an Assist Mode. As the developers explained:

“We have created CrossCode with a certain idea in mind, as a certain experience, defined by us. However, if players do not enjoy this experience, the Assist Mode gives them the option to adjust the experience for them for whatever reason. We are not here to judge anyones skills or feelings and if someone wants a different experience, that is absolutely fine for us. We are not dictating a certain experience although we’d love everyone to play the game as we designed it. But love means that at some point to let go as well. And who are we to forbid players to enjoy certain parts just because they dislike (or can’t complete) other parts?”

I applaud this sentiment (as should not be surprising to anyone who’s read my posts) and want to encourage every game that blocks content with skill challenges to include Assist Modes. And frankly the one in CrossCode helps a lot and is the reason I’m still playing the game at all. I don’t want to come across as attacking it at all - but it’s clear that it was added after the fact and I’m confused by a few things about it.

It has three sliders. The first allows you to reduce the damage dealt by enemies. From reading back through changelogs and Steam forums, it’s clear that originally the Assist Mode let you slide enemy damage down all the way to zero, making you invincible. About a month later, it was changed so you could only go down to 20%. I’m really curious why this change was made. Zero enemy damage is essentially a No Fail mode for combat, which I’ve argued every game should have. Without it, there are still players who would enjoy the story and not be able to get through the combat.

The second slider allows you to reduce enemy attack frequency. This seems like an odd choice given that a number of enemies are only vulnerable when they attack. I don’t know why this is the other combat slider instead of, say, increasing your own damage output.

The third slider lets you increase the time limits for puzzles. This is where the after-the-fact nature of the Assist Mode becomes the biggest issue, because it’s clear that many or all of the puzzles were designed before much thought was put into how to give them an easy mode. As a quick patch, the addition of Assist Mode couldn’t redesign any puzzles and could only slow down timers in cases where that wouldn’t break the puzzle. As such, the slider only matters somewhat for some puzzles - the first one I tried it on, it did nothing at all. I’m still very glad it’s there - it means that for a number of puzzles, once you’ve figured out the solution (which to me is the interesting part) it’s now much easier to actually implement it without superhuman reflexes, and without this I think I would find dungeons too frustrating to persevere through. But it doesn’t change every puzzle, you do still need to have precise aiming and positioning, and there are still plenty of ways for things to go wrong. It is very much not a “skip puzzle” button. If something does prevent me from finishing the game, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be puzzles.

Again, the fact that the developers decided to put in an Assist Mode is great! But I do find myself wishing it were better integrated and provided assistance up to the level of full-on “skip combat” and “skip puzzle” buttons, like Celeste’s does.

(Relatedly, during a period when I thought I was done with CrossCode, I was looking into other story-heavy retro-style RPGs to scratch that itch, and came across Ara Fell, which apparently has a “story mode” that allows you to skip combat completely. And it’s a well-regarded game, with “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Steam. Seems like an interesting comparison point and I may check it out when I’m finished with CrossCode one way or another.)

Also, I find it interesting that the Assist Mode sliders only go down and not up - the game’s default (and originally, its only) difficulty level is its maximum difficulty. That’s an interesting choice when the game is a story-heavy RPG and not, say, a masocore platformer. I have no problem with high difficulty levels being available but it seems best to have those not bot be the default. The default should be easy. Wouldn’t that be better for everyone? Those who want the easier difficulty can enjoy it without being mocked, while those who want the harder difficulty can feel more badass for pushing the sliders up as far as they go.