For my first Indie Game Spotlight, I felt there was no better choice than to highlight Crosscode by Radical Fish Games. For this series, I want to delve into the depths of indie PC gaming to find gems that I feel truly deserve the attention. As one of my latest favourite games, Crosscode definitely hits the mark. Even in its early access stage of development, the game has received overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam, and the content that it currently has feels extremely polished.
Development for Crosscode first started in 2011 (http://www.radicalfishgames.com/presskit/sheet.php?p=crosscode) and was released on Steam on May 15, 2015 for Early Access. This action-RPG is filled to the brim with exciting combat and challenging puzzles, and is complemented by its beautifully detailed pixel graphics. The setting of the game falls into the category of “singleplayer MMO”, which is a singleplayer game that is designed to look like and have the same elements of an MMO without the use of actual multiplayer features.
The game is set to release sometime in Summer 2017, and the developers plan to periodically update the game with more locations and quests until then. As per their content release schedule, Radical Fish Games plans to deliver the rest of the game’s story upon full release. http://steamcommunity.com/games/368340/announcements/detail/683814770835975680
Bringing to Life the Singleplayer MMO Environment
The story of Crosscode takes place in a futuristic MMO called Crossworlds, where players virtually connect to their Avatars on a quest to gain the four distinct elements. There are very few games out there that try to accomplish the singleplayer MMO experience (the .hack series and Sword Art Online games are the most prominent examples that comes to mind). Some RPGs feel similar to an MMO in their gameplay (for example: Final Fantasy XII, Xenoblade Chronicles and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning), but the developers for those games did not do this purposefully for the sake of creating an MMO-themed story. As a result, Crosscode feels refreshing for fans of old series like .hack that wish to play more games with singleplayer MMO elements.
The developers of Radical Fish Games have accomplished an incredible amount of detail and attention in establishing the feel of a multiplayer experience. NPCs play a vital role in cultivating the environments of Crosscode and making it feel crowded with other players. NPCs often teleport in and out of areas, walk up to vendors, run throughout maps paying no mind to your character (who has time to chat when there’s monsters to fight?) and have meta dialogues regarding the in-game world. One of my favourite NPC moments was an avatar that kept missing a jump so they had to run back to the beginning and try over and over again (anyone who sucks at video game parkour like me will understand this pain). At times I will reach a hard-to-get-to spot only to realize another NPC avatar is already sitting idle there to enjoy the view. The standard RPG party menu also allows you to message other party and guild members when they are online (and yes they are offline sometimes, you can’t expect people to be available 24/7!) It is clear to me that the developers have put a lot of effort into the minute details of NPC programming to create this setting.
Level and Map Design
As I play through Crosscode in its current build, I continue to be impressed with the level design of each area I walk into. Every area feels like a puzzle waiting to be solved–you can either take on the challenge and experience all the content in that area (discovering secret caves and chests), or you can continue onward onto the next map and leave it for later. Puzzles are also varied enough that they never feel repetitive or boring. As a result, exploring in Crosscode feels extremely rewarding and you feel accomplished as you discover and overcome each new challenge.
Each new area you explore also steadily increases in difficulty (in combat, puzzle-solving and parkour collectively). These difficulty increases are easy enough that you can utilize the skills you’ve learned up to that point, and challenging enough that it doesn’t hold your hand and forces you to sometimes think abstractly on how to get to a certain area. Near the beginning of the game, I noticed how puzzles felt self-contained within map areas, but as I moved on, the scale of parkouring through maps became larger as I would sometimes have to traverse and parkour through different areas to reach a high elevation on a particular map. That being said–the elevation mechanics in this game are very well thought-out and add a new layer of puzzle solving and map design that I am definitely not used to seeing in pixel and 2D RPGs. Your character (Lea) auto-jumps onto low elevations and off of ledges in a similar fashion to Link in The Legend of Zelda series. The elevation mechanics also play heavily in puzzle solving since you cannot hit a target on a different elevation than Lea is standing on.
I have to say that out of all of the action RPGs I have played, Crosscode probably has one of the most fun and thought-out combat systems. Many of the enemies require special strategies to defeat them, and these are rarely repeated from monster to monster. For one of the enemies that could only be hit from behind, I discovered that aggro-ing the creature towards my character allowed my party member to run behind and attack it. This of course, is not the only way to defeat the creature, and you may find that using other skills or waiting for it to make a certain attack might suit your combat style more than my tanking strategy.
As you progress through the game and gain more elements, you can also utilize them in combat. Your character has an ability chart called “Circuits” and when you level up you can assign points to increase certain stats or give Lea new abilities similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X. You first receive a general circuit board, and then a unique circuit board for each new combat element you obtain (like fire). You often have to choose between two different paths of circuitry, but you can switch between them if you aren’t happy with your initial choice.
As an amateur pixel artist, I have to say how much I appreciate the art in this game. The pixel graphics are beautifully detailed and polished. Crosscode is colourful and full of animated environments with the perfect contrast of futuristic architecture and tranquil nature. Each new region or town has its own unique set of assets, so nothing ever feels reused or slapped on. The character busts during dialogues and cut-scenes are also pixel-made cartoon portraits. Each character has several portraits to convey different emotions during conversation and overall makes these dialogues feel more engaged than if single character busts were used.
Though Crosscode has overwhelmingly positive reviews, I feel like this game hasn’t received enough attention just yet. You can really tell that a lot of love and passion was put into this game by the developers, and it has been a long time since I have played a game that I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. I’m really excited for the direction this game is headed, and I can’t wait until I see what the final product has in-store!
If you are interested, please be sure to support these indie devs and check out Crosscode on their Steam page here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/368340/