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A while back I reviewed Square Enix’s Trials of Mana Remake. Square’s take on this title has been a major improvement over their Secret of Mana Remake, but both of these games failed to capture the essence of the 16-bit originals when it came to dungeons and puzzles. I never realized this up until now. But that all changed thanks to Radical Games’ CrossCode. CrossCode takes inspiration from more than just old RPGs, it is also a fond tribute to MMORPGs while capturing the charm, nostalgia, and occasional tedium often present in the 16-bit originals.

Despite being an indie title, CrossCode took six years to make – a huge deal right? Backed by an IndieGoGo fan-fundraiser (hitting a modest goal of 80K euros), it was initially released as an Early Access title on PC in 2015, followed by its full release in 2018. Since then the game has come a long way and has finally made its way to the PS4. Is it as good as its acclaimed PC version? Well, let’s get down to it.


“A game within a game”

In CrossCode, you play as a mute (not entirely) character named Lea as she plays a fictional MMORPG named ‘CrossWorlds’. The MMORPG begins with you playing as a young woman named ‘Shizuka Sakai’ fighting her way through hordes of enemies in an attempt to save her brother. By the time she finds him, he succumbs to his injuries and dies in her arms. After a short while, you wake up as Lea inside a cargo ship with no recollection of her memories – thanks to your malfunctioning chip. A software-engineer called Sergey Asimov informs that you must play the MMORPG ‘CrossWorlds’ to regain your memories. Upon reaching the game area, she befriends another player called Emile and the two explore the game together.

Farewell dear brother.

After defeating the first boss (at the cargo ship), you finally make your way into the fascinating world of CrossWorlds. Now that you’re finally in-game, you’re introduced to the other players of CrossWorlds. Despite Lea’s inability to talk, she makes a couple of friends along the way such as the Emilienator (Emilie) and C’Tron (Toby). While they are not real players as such, they do have a surprising amount of personality. They feel surreal as they often talk about their lives outside the game and they log off when they are done. Lea joins up with them on a series of fetch quests. These quests can be undertaken from notice boards and drive the narrative forward. While the pacing of the quests may seem sluggish for some, it is undeniably organic for a campaign that amounts to 40+ hours.

Like always, Lea is lively with her expressions.

Lea just nods and listens, surprisingly this works to a greater effect.

Lea is unable to speak due to her chip malfunction and thus has a very limited vocabulary. Over time Sergei adds a few words in it, the first one being ‘Hi’ and later she learns to say her name. Most of the time she just nods and listens, which surprisingly works to great effect. Despite her mute portrayal, her character is well-fleshed out and remains quite likeable throughout the campaign.

However, the thing that bogs the pacing of its narrative is the absurdly long and difficult puzzles that you have to solve. You mostly encounter this issue in the latter part of the game: the temples. Pretty much the entire campaign has been subdivided into two parts: The Overworlds and The Temples. While the overworlds part is heavy on exploration, temples are highly subjugated to their puzzle designs. This takes a significant toll on its narrative. Not gonna lie, I had to refer to online guides to get past some of these.

That being said, the overall plot is pretty good and is jam-packed with some surprising twists – pretty much anything I say besides what I have already said would be a spoiler. In the end, everything boils down to a dual-ending scenario. The odds of getting a good ending depends on Lea meeting a ‘specific’ person. For a campaign that can take up to 80+ hours, it can be bummer if one ends up with a bad ending.


“With frantic combat, challenging puzzles, and astounding dungeon designs, CrossCode is an ode to the past”

Meleeing is fun.

Speaking of combat, melee and ranged attacks both work well. While ranged attacks deal significantly low damage, the melee attacks are quite effective in close-quarter combat but they do bring in the risk factor. On the default difficulty, the game seems overwhelmingly difficult at the start. Thankfully, there is an option for you to decrease the damage dealt by the enemy by up to 80%. Despite Lea’s fragility due to her weak tolerance, she has numerous abilities up her sleeves for you to unlock, making combat more flexible and frantic. These abilities come in handy, both in combat and in puzzle-solving.

Puzzle design gets a lot more complex by the end. This is one of the easy ones.

CrossCode has been immensely successful when it comes to capturing the essence of the 90’s action-adventure titles like A Link to the Past thanks to its sprawling level design. In this regard, CrossCode has achieved more than what many modern games have. Most of the time, levels are straight paths that make effective use of the game’s traversal mechanics and dungeons, CrossCode stages some of the most challenging puzzles I have seen in years. Like FF VII Remake, Lea has automated jumps for transitioning between platforms. Altering platforms requires switch triggering, which in turn requires you to shoot an orb that needs to pass through a set of activation points, and keep an eye on multiple moving parts at the same time.

At the end of each puzzle, there’s a boss battle, which again is typically a puzzling encounter. There are almost 50 bosses in total and that figure does not include the mini-bosses.  You can now make a pretty educated good guess on how long the game is. The puzzles in the game tend to get more complex by the end. While the challenge is mostly fair, some parts require a high level of precision in timing with you relying on your muscle memory and pixel perfect aiming. Thankfully, there’s an option to slow down the in-game puzzle speeds, providing a sigh of relief.

“Skill unlocks and acquiring rare-materials for specific gears can get a bit frustrating at times.”

Spheromancers are bad-ass, he just didn’t know it for a fact.

For better combat skills and puzzle-solving abilities, the game gives you the option to create your build. The pre-requisite to creating a build is the class-type of the player. In-game, Lea is a ‘Spheromancer’ which is perceived to be an unpopular class in the world of CrossWorlds. However, in the right hands, a Spheromancer is a formidable build. Each class has hundreds of abilities that can be unlocked through a vast and complex skill tree. Like any MMORPG, these skills require tons of XP farming to obtain.

Besides the skill tree, you can also buy gear from shops using money. The best gear requires rare materials in exchange which means tons of exploration hours, and this resulted in a tedium of grinding. Though there are some higher-ranked missions for acquiring these materials, completing them was as tedious as exploring for hours.

“CrossCodes’ AI companions do their best but they cannot fill the void of playing with a real friend .”

MMOs aren’t fun to play by yourself and the AI companions do not mitigate the moments of tedium in the same way that playing with a real friend does. It feels as if the single-player aspect of CrossCode is constantly wrestling with the side trying to emulate the MMORPG experience.


From a visual standpoint, CrossCodes‘ pixel-art is strikingly astounding. It bears a striking resemblance to the visuals of Stardew Valley and classic Legend of Zelda titles. In my long playthrough, I did not encounter any significant visual bugs. Everything in its environment looks flattened and made out of squares, rectangles. and rhombuses for the most part. This makes the in-game exploration a bit nauseating at times but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Too many rhombuses at Rhombus Square.

There are over 40 types of background scores featured in the game and all sound quite simplistic for the most part. For my taste, it sounded a bit monotonous at times or maybe I’m just too accustomed to the amazing background score of Celeste that has never left my playlist since the day it came out. Music aside, the in-game sound effects are okay though they can be a bit rough around the edges at times.

Performance-wise CrossCode holds up a perfect frame rate of 60 at all times which is nothing like its performance on Nintendo Switch, where it keeps fluctuating. Despite Switch’s unstable performance, CrossCode feels like a title that can be even more joyous on a handheld than a home console.

The world of ‘CrossWorlds’ looks astoundingly beautiful from above.


CrossCode is one of the best JRPGs I’ve played in a while. After being ignored by major outlets during its PC release, its re-release on consoles has breathed new life into the game. Its in-game difficulty options provide a suitable balance to its combat and puzzles. Beneath the frantic combat and challenging puzzles, CrossCode tells a special story that ends on two possible notes. If you like ’90s JRPGs, this is your huckleberry!





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