Capsule Review: CrossCode

A challenging and polished action RPG and puzzle platformer with a well-told story of friendship.

A single-player action RPG and puzzle platformer that takes place in a fictional MMO. Play as Lea, who is herself a player in an immersive MMO called CrossWorlds where she interacts with both NPCs and other players of this game-within-a-game. Gameplay and story are thus both multi-layered - mechanical progression is mostly accomplished within CrossWorlds, exploring areas, defeating enemies, optionally solving quests, and completing puzzle dungeons, while most of the story involves the characters and events of the game’s “real world.”

The game is very polished, with gorgeous pixel art animations and a lovely soundtrack. Lots of little environmental touches make the world feel more lived in, like higher-level CrossWorlds players running by you on their own quests. Some you see repeatedly as they apparently make their way through the game’s dungeons on a similar pace to yours. You can overhear conversations between these other players, getting snippets of their own stories that develop over the course of the game. The main story is also expertly paced and delivered, its themes of friendship, empathy, and communication bolstered by strong characterization that make the plot’s highly personal stakes feel believable and worth investing in.

The gameplay mechanics are also deep and rich, but present a fairly high bar to entry. Action RPG combat plays a large role, but so do parkour puzzles and projectile-redirection puzzles with tight timing. To fully enjoy the game, you need to be skilled at and interested in all of these things. The several dungeons in particular present extended gauntlets that will test you at length on all of these skills. Thankfully, there’s an Assist Mode that can go a long way toward reducing combat difficulty and/or the timing strictness of many of the puzzles - it’s not a perfect fix, but for me it was enough to prevent me from permanently rage-quitting (as I did with Horace) and I did manage to finish the game (as I did with Celeste).

The game has a large number of optional side quests, which provide some surprising variety including sliding block puzzles and tower defense gameplay. Some also have some light side story development but they are mostly opportunities for special optional challenge and you can safely skip ones you don’t enjoy - though if you skip too many, you may need to do some grinding or farming to avoid being underpowered.

Overall, I found CrossCode a compelling world to occupy and its story quite affecting. I found CrossWorlds to be a much worse game with a thin, generic story and frustrating mechanics. Even with the Assist Mode settings turned all the way up, I still caught myself swearing out loud at the game on many occasions. But I cared enough about Lea and her friends to stick it through to the end, so I could spend more time with them and see what happened to them.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game having done most but not all side quests and got the good ending. I found the ending abrupt and incomplete, as it fails to pay off multiple significant plot threads that had been foreshadowed. There’s apparently a post-game chapter coming someday that will hopefully provide better closure, but as of this review its release is not yet scheduled.

Updated February 18, 2021: The post-game chapter has been announced but it is paid DLC that costs half as much as the base game. I do not plan to buy it and I feel strongly that it should have been a free update as the game is incomplete without it.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

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