On paper Cross Edge is a niche gamers dream come true. It combines characters from Disgaea, Darkstalkers, Ar Tonelico and Spectral Souls just to name a few, and tosses them into a fantasy grid-based RPG with a complex battle system, and plenty of style. So far nothing about this game sounds like it could possibly be bad; oh did I also mention that it is created by Idea Factory and published by NIS America? The laundry list of great bullet points makes the fact that the overly-complex battle system and lack of exploration really drag the game down at times. Still this collaboration is a fanboy’s wet dream, and once you manage to tackle the excessive amount of onscreen button prompts and gauges there is a lot of fun to be had with Cross Edge.
The game begins by following a pair of characters named York and Miko. In traditional JRPG fashion they both have a touch of amnesia after being whisked away to a magical land full of monsters and other travelers who were brought here against their will as well. The hook of Cross Edge is that as you progress through the game you will bump into a host of characters from other classic Japanese titles including Morrigan and Felicia from Darkstalkers, Etna and Prinny from Disgaea and Whim and Lily from Mana Khemia 2. As you can imagine each character is just as confused as you are about where they are, but none of them have trouble hopping into turn-based combat at the drop of a hat.
The story is progressed through voice-acted scenes that use still images of each character. The dialogue is offered in both English and Japanese, and retains the charm you would expect from such a mash-up of characters, as well as most other NIS products. Everything else just screams fan service from the overly Japanese intro, complete with large-breasted women and plenty of heavy guitar. In addition to the plethora of characters to add to your party, you can also dress them up in various outfits. This type of fan service makes Cross Edge even more appealing to fans of the various series. Even if parts of the game fall short of expectations, the presentation still shines brighter than most.
Cross Edge is a grid-based RPG at heart, but it also brings with it some enhancements to the genre, as well as some puzzling decisions to the combat flow. Each side of the battle is broken down into nine grids, and various characters have limited range for their attacks. You use AP (action points) to determine what you are allowed to do in your turn, and you can link various attacks together for chain combos. This is decided by the countdown that begins once you perform the first move of your turn. If you pull off another move before it drops all the way, you will earn a combo bonus. There are also hidden combos that, when used in conjunction, unleash devastating attacks on the enemy.
Navigating the combat menu is also cumbersome at first, but once you get the hang of it things tend to even out a bit more. Each one of your characters attacks is mapped to a face button. You can also top the R2 button to switch to EX mode for more powerful attacks. During your turn you can switch between characters by tapping the L1/R1 buttons respectively, and this is crucial for chaining combos and earning bigger attacks. While it sounds simple enough, the convolution of other menus really break the flow of the game. For instance navigating items is a royal pain as there are separate menus for each function, it also sucks that moving around the grid and using items requires the spending of AP.
As you comb the over world you will find what are called Event Points. These are the sole way to progress the story. The catch is that a majority of them are hidden requiring you to use one of your party members to locate them. For the most part these are simply catalysts to introduce new characters to your party. There is also very little exploration outside of finding these, which makes trotting through the game more like a quest to recruit as many familiar faces as you can. There is no mistaking that the draw of Cross Edge is the abundance of characters and outfits, but to entirely omit what makes RPGs so special detracts from the overall experience.
Not all is bad in Cross Edge though, in fact I still highly recommend this title for fans of the genre. The combat system is not nearly as complex as some would have you believe, it just doesn’t flow as well as it should. In addition to the abundance of characters and outfits (which is likely more than enough reason for most gamers to pick it up) the game does take some helpful steps forward in the genre. One of the biggest things I hate about playing RPGs is having to tap buttons to skip past boring dialogue. Well the developers of Cross Edge have alleviated that burden by adding the ability to auto-advance all scenes by simply tapping start. Also instead of having to navigate through a menu to end your turn all you have to do is flick the analog stick up or down to bring up the menu. It is small things like this that really make up for the broken pacing of the game.
Visually the game combines high-resolution character stills for the dialogue scenes, and 2D sprites for the in-game models. The cute look is becoming a bit overplayed, but it still works well enough. Surprisingly there are hints of slowdown at times, especially during large attack animations. Even with the optional install the game still chugs, which is unacceptable considering the minimal animations each character sports. The inclusion of both English and Japanese voice tracks is a great bonus, and surprisingly the English track is done fairly well. Sure some voices are over-the-top and more annoying than others, but as a whole they work. The music is a mixed bag of sampled loops and heavy guitar riffs; none of it feels right outside of the opening track for the intro.
Cross Edge is a mesh of great ideas, tons of fan service, and a few snags that keep it from being the masterpiece it should have been. If you are a fan of the grid-based titles, and can deal with some setbacks, this is definitely worth a look. The amount of characters and outfits will have to playing for quite a while to unlock them all. However, if you don’t walk around quoting “dood” or even know who Dimitri and Lilith are, then this is likely not going to be your cup of tea. Once you get the basics of the battle system there is fun to be had, just don’t expect it to be as smooth of a ride as you are used to from NIS.