Crossing My Mind

I don’t think I’ve ever been as conflicted about a game as I am about CrossCode.

The aesthetic is right out of the golden age of mid-90’s SNES RPGs, highly reminiscent of titles like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. The music and sound effects are well-suited and the world is lush with little details (my favorite being the high-level players that run by ignoring you, or sit and have private conversations in hard-to-reach areas - this is exactly what happens in real MMOs) adding up to a cozy and satisfying atmosphere and a world that’s a joy to inhabit.

The characterization and storytelling are also deeply compelling. Again, there’s such an impressive level of detail here - I adore Emilie’s stories about wildlife that the enemies remind her of and her joyful reaction to laser bridges, for example. And the amount of characterization that comes across with Lea’s aggressively limited vocabulary is amazing.

But then so much about the game’s mechanical design feels horrible to me. Why in the world would you put so much emphasis on jumping puzzles in a 3D space that’s viewed as 2D pixel art, obscuring where surfaces are relative to each other (is that platform taller or just further north)? Why make them so long and complex that they sometimes require backtracking through multiple screens to get where you need to go when it’s so easy to misjudge a jump, fall off, and need to start all over?

Why is so much of this game a puzzle platformer where you need to think several steps ahead and apply precision positioning and aiming with split-second timing - when your aiming device is an analog stick and the 2D pixel art can (again) obscure the required angles? Why create situations where the player is virtually guaranteed to spend frustrating time trying to implement the puzzle solution after they’ve already done the interesting part of figuring out what they have to do?

Why is there so much to keep track of? Why lock the best equipment behind an unwieldy loot-trading system with intermediate levels of otherwise-worthless trade goods that make it harder to see what your actual options are, adding obscurity without adding depth? Why put chests the player can’t open yet in hard-to-reach places, punishing their exploration instead of rewarding it? Why have areas that are so complex and hard to navigate and require so much backtracking for those treasures or returning to spread-out quest givers and then give the player a terrible map that represents each zone as a featureless rectangle?

I spend a lot of time in CrossCode wishing I were done with the current bit (my god the first dungeon drags on and on) and just exploring the multi-level maze of the game’s second town made me want to rage-quit. And yet I can’t stop playing and when I’m not playing I can’t stop thinking about playing. I love being in this world that tickles my nostalgia both for RPGs and MMOs, I love spending time with these characters, and I want to find out what happens to them. I just hope the game doesn’t become completely intolerable along the way.