With the back-to-back massive time-sucks of The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V finally behind me, I found the time to do a few things I’d been putting off… with one stone in fact. Not only have I been looking at quite a few demos that showed up on Steam over the last few months, but I’ve also been wondering about all these indie RPGs that seem to inundate my discovery que almost every day.
Like I said a while ago, since this console generation started, demos for blockbuster mainstream games have almost totally disappeared. Indie games however, at least on PC, seem to still very commonly release free demos, possibly because they need playable proofs of concepts to sell their unorthodox ideas. One thing that’s been uncommon even on Steam though are demos for Early Access games. A lot of games that send betas to backers have had free public alphas, but they usually don’t show up on Steam during the Early Access phase. CrossCode is the one exception I’ve seen, and other than Rock Paper Shotgun I haven’t really seen any mainstream gaming site mention it.
If you haven’t noticed there are a lot of RPGMaker games and other western indie games heavily reminiscent of 2D Japanese RPGs on Steam now. I know some people look down on RPGMaker projects, but I figure with this many showing up at least a few of them are bound to be good. I don’t think the current version of CrossCode runs on RPGMaker (I could be wrong), but it’s definitely part of the indie revival of the console RPGs of the 16-bit era. More importantly, from the demo it seems to do exactly what this kind of revival should be doing — combining the feel of the classics with some 2015 sensibilities.
I like how CrossCode is trying to use modern hardware and knowledge to make the whole experience move along more smoothly than it could have on, say, the Sega Genesis circa 1992. It’s just a lot of small things regarding how events are conveyed and some really nice user interface elements. The game takes today’s practice of relaying dialogue over intercoms during gameplay and turns it into text dialogue popping up in the corner of the screen without stopping player control. CrossCode even has a dialogue log in the pause screen. When you’re exploring environments the game sometimes employs that wall-fade-out effect Skies of Arcadia did so well.
Aside from its user interface and control fundamentals, CrossCode seems to play like a Mana game while looking and sounding like a Genesis Phantasy Star game. Combat is completely real-time and action-oriented with a system of dodges, melee attacks, bouncing projectiles, and some kind of RPG damage system. The demo is mostly a tutorial laying out all those mechanics, ending with a surprisingly difficult boss fight and a preview video hinting at how much more advanced the full game will become. The whole thing feels tight and responsive, enough to where the tutorial’s simple tasks didn’t drag.
Currently CrossCode is slated to exit Early Access in early or mid-2016. Hopefully I can find other indie RPGs that evoke some of the lessons this game seems to have taken to heart. Celestian Tales: Old North and You Are Not The Hero look interesting in this regard.