When NIS (Nippon Ichi Software) release Cross Edge late last month, critics gave is scathing reviews calling the game archaic with convoluted controls. They're right, but what they lost sight of is that the game, unlike many other games, was developed for a very small target audience. Perhaps not the smartest of ideas in the gaming world, but at least NIS wanted to attempt to reward die hard role-playing game fans of old.
The premise of Cross Edge is that several popular RPG characters from different realms were magically transported to the same ethereal plane. Upon arrival the characters have little to no memory of who they are, each other are, or why they're there. The main character, York, along with his 'sister' Mikoto begin sort of wandering around and happening across the remainder of the characters. Quickly they come across a girl who's job it is to send souls back to the world from which they came and enlists the help of the protagonists. Reluctantly they agree to help and hope that at some point they might return to their original worlds.
The game takes characters from various other publishers such as Capcom, Namco Bandai, Gust, and Idea Factory. The most notable games are Disgaea series, Darkstalkers, Ar Tonelico, and the Atelier series. The characters from the other 2 or 3 games most people in North America will have never heard of, such as Spectral Souls, Absolute Blazing Infinity, and Mana-Khemia 2 (part of the Atelier Iris series that wont be released to the US until August of 2009.... which makes little sense in terms of game world continuity). And, the only really odd set of game character are the Darkstalker characters because they are the only characters that have no RPG affiliation, though the best I can tell the only reason Darkstalkers was incorporated into this title was to test the fan base and following, and because the combat system borrows a couple of concepts from the fighting genre of games (and really... the female characters from Darkstalkers traipse around nearly naked where as most RPG females tend to look a little on the Victorian or Colonial side - Darkstalkers added a level of sex appeal).
The graphics are pretty dated, but it is important to keep in mind that, as I stated earlier, the game isn't for new school gamers. The big problem with them isn't that the backgrounds and static images are HD and the playable characters are 2D sprite based, it is that the generic enemies are 3D modeled. It completely throws the visual consistency against a wall. Players will either learn to tune that out or find that the flaw is so visually distracting and rife with tortuous incongruity they cannot bear to play. Personally, I tuned it out because I am of the mindset that graphics don't make the game - good content does. With Cross Edge players still need to muster the will to wade through the unpolished menu system and ' loads one at a time' lines of usually irrelevant dialog.
At first the game throws a lot of information at the player in terms of how to do things and where to find them, or what is possible once the player finds, creates, or unlocks that portion of the game. The information is detailed, but lacks practical application in context to the point of the game the player receives this information. In short, the player is told about certain aspects of the game and tools available to win battles, but not how to use them or when let alone why. For many this can be really confusing and frustrating considering players may be used to a tradition "tutorial" battle or two, or hints popping up at the time the ability to use things become available. The game tends to take for granted that the player has experience with RPGs, so this isn't an introductory game at all. If you're a newcomer to RPGs and StratTac (Strategic / Tactical) games, then I strongly advise passing this title up for something less... caffinated.
For the players that have to get everything unlocked and reveal every aspect of a game, Cross Edge contains costumes (a fighting game perk) and titles (something borrowed from Disgaea). The costumes allegedly tamper with the base stats of the characters and even include swimsuits. Swimsuits, obviously form over function, tend to be a gimmick more than anything (and really, do you really want to see Etna from Disgaea in a bikini so badly or 'suffer the disappointment' of Morrigans suit being basically her normal outfit without the pantyhose or midriff? It is a lot of work for little result)
The menu system is very.... troublesome (convoluted?). By troublesome I mean huge, multi-tiered menus that have access to and from from one point - and a lot of them. The reminded me of archaic websites built in FrontPage 98 sans courtesy navigation - or - a flow chart without a return. Everything breaks down to tiny details, which is fine if you're detail oriented and there is no easy way to jump from altering things with one character to another with out nearly completely backing out of the menu tiers, switching the character and then delving back through the exact same menus. Many of the menus simply give information for players to keep track of progress and play statistics on the surface, but a few tiers into it and players find the location of things they can assign and alter. It's fairly backward and superfluous in that aspect. On the other hand it sort of makes sense in that it generally takes a couple of hours to earn enough of anything to need to be into those menus anyway. Players will undoubtedly be checking the information side of the menu setup more often than the distribution side of the menus.
Players who enjoy crafting, harvesting, and map grinding will be very pleased with Cross Edge as there is plenty of that to be had. Borrowing heavily from Atelier Iris, the alchemy set up is fairly easy to understand, but the crafting tiers are so jam packed with options it can be overwhelming at first. Add to this the need to buy and find a legion of tomes to unlock the plethora of items to craft and crafting could be a sub-game by it's own right. This goes back to the game having a huge learning curve - and back to the game being for seasoned players.
Battle style is a little taxing, as players need to assign abilities to certain buttons. During a battle players have to press the button associated with what attack they'd like to perform, keeping in mind how many action points the action requires, if they can chain an attack with another of the three on board characters and if there is enough time to perform the action. It sounds sort of complicated, and it is. Too complicated to enjoy, but enjoyable if you like games that require planning and strategy.
The board is divided up in two sides. Each side has 12 squares. The allies side can only have 4 characters on the board at once, while the enemies can have as many as 12 (I've seen up to 8 at once). During a battle a countdown timer begins in which all attacks during the countdown stack upon each other causing increasing amount of damage. Depending on how much damage is done in a round during a turn, players can cause "overkill" which drops crafting material, "overbreak" which drops salable items such as silver ore, or just plain old death... which has a chance to drop something paltry if at all. the timer is reset every time an attack is made so players can juggle the timer to increase the chance of worth-wile item drops. Each turn adds action points to the board and each character has a certain amount of points they gain per turn. To execute a special attack a certain number of points are required and these can also be chained together. Attack chains are made by using certain attacks in certain order and are dependant upon the weapon equipped on a character. The weapons determine the specific attack to be made.
See? It's a bit confusing and bloated, but once players get used to it - there is fun to be had...in a sadistic sort of way.
Games that take characters from other game universes isn't a new concept. Ergheiz, Super Smash Brothers, Soul Calibur, and Kingdom Hearts have done this before, some with huge success. The secret is not in who is implemented or even how they are implemented - but the point of implementation and the manner in which the character is used. Players are afforded the opportunity to use gaming favorites in ways that they sometimes only dream (like to fight one another, or play out the sometimes debated over and grandiose "what if" scenarios) but there's a reason it's a road less traveled and that is because it is risky. When a developer or publisher takes the time and effort to build a world that players become familiar and grow to enjoy, especially in the RPG genre of games, tampering with it later is akin to letting someone borrow your car and having it returned smelling of smoke, the seat not but pack, and the radio presets changed. Cross Edge contains a definite need for improvements that should have been made before release, so many in fact that it may have caused NIS to miss any chance for a sequel. Currently, the only hope this title has of being viewed in a positive light is down-loadable content and game updates that alter the learning curve (which there are not any at the time of writing this).
But the game is no all bad. There are some positive things that player may enjoy... I just don't know what they are.
Don't buy the game if you're looking for a new RPG. You'll be sorely disappointed. There are better titles to quench players' RPG thirst, such as.... Valkyrie Profile or Eternal Sonata - and while not 'new' by any means they're both very good in almost all aspects of an RPG, they allow more attention to the story.
Do buy the game is you're one of those people that enjoy micromanagement or liked EA Sports Football Head Coach. You'll spend more hours conditioning your characters for the next battle or series of battles, harvesting and crafting stronger items than you will actually battling it out and progressing the story. Or, if you're a collector of games and are compelled to get all aspects and spin off's of a particular franchise then this will be one of those games that you'll later be able to say "I even have Cross Edge", because the characters appear in the title (like I do with Final Fantasy and Front Mission)
Overall, I wanted to like this game and to some degree I do... but I can't make a general recommendation to anyone to purchase the game and it's not a rent-able title in terms of the rental would be due by the time players figured out how to play it without being frustrated. On a personal level I give the game a 2 of 5 - NIS tried, but not too hard and it shows in almost all aspects of the game, but they did put enough effort forth in looking to implement the successful aspects of the compilation of games. Unfortunately the just implemented the right things the wrong way and for that... the game is an "epic fail."
As an RPG fan of 24 years going (since 1985), games such as Cross Edge really damage the genre in terms of likability. There's a ton of heart in the game, but it's not beating and there's no brain. I'll chalk thins title up to being one of the growing number of "zombified" RPG games that seem to have been dumped to the newest generation of consoles. Sooner or later developers will understand that the space Blu-Ray and HD DVD shouldn't be a cue to dilute the story and game-play with an overabundance of options and pretty colors.
At least those who bought it can sell it on eBay in 5 or so years as one of those rare collectors items to a super niche audience (like I did with one of my unopened copies of Xenogears).