CrossCode had to undergo an enormous development journey to reach the state it is in today. For an indie title, a development cycle of over six years is a huge deal. The game was enormous, and the developers were set on realising all of their aspirations, even when most indie teams would have probably focused on a few key ideas before saving the rest for other projects. Not CrossCode, and it has finally landed on Xbox One and other platforms with all of its ideas in place… and then some. As admirable as it is for a game to successfully implement so many developed ideas, for the most part you can’t help but wonder if CrossCode would be better off doing a little less.
CrossCode takes place in a massive sci-fi game world, and the term “massive” isn’t exactly hyperbole here. This game is as ambitious in its scope as something like Mass Effect, with a rich futuristic setting filled with characters and storylines. The main plot revolves around an amnesiac hero who is fighting a conspiracy far greater than herself, and while the story takes a long time to build up, there are enough memorable characters and threads along the way to keep things engaging until those big moments where everything comes together in a dramatic way. For some this may be slow plot development, but given the size of the game the methodical plot pacing feels organic. Without giving too much away, the main setup not only involves a technologically spiced-up world, but there is an MMORPG within the world where our hero spends a great deal of her time. CrossCode pulls off this meta game-within-a-game angle quite convincingly.
CrossCode is immense, and to use an analogy it would be like if The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age merged into a single 16-bit style epic. That’s basically the gist of it. This probably sounds pretty incredible on paper, and for the most part CrossCode truly amazes in terms of how much it has to offer, and just when you think you’ve seen it all it unveils additional layers of gameplay and design depth. More than that, the game feels like a mesh of different and highly contrasting gameplay genres and systems, and surprisingly it manages to actually do well in all of these different styles. That being said, CrossCode can at times feel like it is doing far too many things at once, even if it does almost all of them well for the most part.
When you first get underway, CrossCode presents itself as a blisteringly fast top-down action experience with a sublime combat system involving combos, shields, evasions, and parries. The combat control feels great as you take on hordes of enemies and later some really interesting boss battles. Then things change up a bit as you find yourself navigating ingeniously designed dungeons, which involve a range of different puzzles that require carefully aimed shots, lots of switches, and some tight platforming. If that wasn’t enough, there is an in-depth RPG levelling system complete with customisable stats and skills.
The core combat is quite interesting, as even though CrossCode is primarily a top-down action game with plenty of closed quarters situations, the core attack mechanic involves projectile attacks which then makes the game feel like a twin-stick shooter as you aim with the analog stick. Although the gameplay feels great for the most part, the ergonomics don’t necessarily become second nature, especially when you return to the game after stepping away from it.
The puzzle-filled dungeons in particular can be quite time consuming affairs, and most of the puzzles make use of the core combat mechanic as you carefully aim projectile attacks. Thankfully the game maps out the path of your shot quite accurately so you know just where it’s aiming exactly, and this especially becomes useful as you make use of charged attacks to solve various puzzles. A charged shot in CrossCode does more than just inflicting higher damage; they’re designed to bounce all over the place and so most puzzles can be solved using a carefully placed rebounding shot as you line it up perfectly to hit a switch. The puzzle design is incredibly diverse here, but given the length of the game this can prove to be exhausting, bringing the pace to a snail crawl.
Then there is the core combat, which is incredibly fast and exciting, especially when you get to some of the boss battles that have a classic design about them, given their pattern-based attacks and strategies generally involve uncovering their weak spot. Interestingly, some of the later bosses involve a bit of puzzle solving too.
The RPG systems and customisations are deep, and this adds another dimension of grind and levelling which can feel a little out of place in the overall design of CrossCode. Given all the exploring and puzzle solving, the whole idea of having a stat-heavy RPG system comes across as a bit nihilistic in the grand scheme of it all. Imagine if The Legend of Zelda had the skill trees of Final Fantasy: sure, it sounds like a cool idea on paper, but ultimately there really wouldn’t be any point to it.
As a whole CrossCode on Xbox One has many big ideas and the sum of them come together as a whole that ultimately feels too big for its own good. Given its ambitions in design, it’s quite impressive how visually immaculate the whole thing is, from the incredibly detailed graphics to all the little pieces in the game world. The musical score feels epic too, and the presentation as a whole certainly does CrossCode’s ambitions justice.
CrossCode is, for better or for worse, an overachiever, and quite successful at it for the most part. There is something to be said about an indie video game which had the development cycle rivalling that of Final Fantasy XV. It feels wrong to fault a game for doing too much, and yet despite executing all of its lofty ideas with such success, the experience as a whole ends up being so staggering and contrasting that ultimately most players will feel unsure of just what exactly CrossCode is supposed to be. Some will enjoy certain aspects of the design more than others, but there may be a handful of players who will enjoy all of the aspects of the game’s overtly ambitious design, and to them this will be their ultimate indie video game.