Cross Edge (PlayStation 3) review
"Because of the haphazard manner in which information is presented, genre-standard processes such as item crafting, synthesis, skill point allotment, shopping, party formation and so forth all require that you dive through two or three screens. Even then, it can be difficult if you've accomplished what you meant to accomplish. Whether you're trying to guess at who can equip an item or merely trying to assign characters to your current rotation, prepare for frustration. There's no escaping the nightmare."
Crossover games have been a pretty big deal in Japan for awhile now, but they usually don't reach North America except as imports. Gamers complain about such oversights, naturally, but deep down a lot of us realize that when something isn't released here, there's probably a good reason. Specifically, it likely isn't as good as those low-resolution Famitsu scans make it look. Cross Edge seemed different, though. Boasting characters from a variety of niche RPG franchises, not to mention the oft-overlooked Darkstalkers series, it represented just the sort of forbidden fruit that we never would have shut up about if NIS America had left it unlocalized. Before you rush down to the nearest game store with wallet in hand, though, there are a few things that you really ought to know.
The first thing I should mention is that you'll be disappointed if you expect a new plot with the strength to stand on its own narrative legs. Things begin with the introduction of two new characters who have appeared in the middle of a mysterious prairie, but both of them are quite generic and a great deal less intriguing than their situation. Monsters soon attack and a provocatively large-breasted woman named Morrigan comes to the aid of the two youths. As the plot progresses from there, numerous other characters join the odd menagerie. There are in-jokes as each of them are introduced and their backgrounds explained. None of it ever feels as fresh or substantial as it could have, though. If you like the characters as presented here, it's because you're fondly remembering past adventures. And if that's the case, then you've already played something much better than anything that Cross Edge has to offer.
Another significant drawback is the game's interface. I don't know that I've ever run up against such a counter-intuitive assortment of menus. The pointless complexity blows my mind. Because of the haphazard manner in which information is presented, genre-standard processes such as item crafting, synthesis, skill point allotment, shopping, party formation and so forth all require that you dive through two or three screens. Even then, it can be difficult if you've accomplished what you meant to accomplish. Whether you're trying to guess at who can equip an item or merely trying to assign characters to your current rotation, prepare for frustration. There's no escaping the nightmare.
This unwarranted complexity affects the battle system, as well. When you appear in a fight, your characters are lined up along the right side of the screen on a grid. Your adversaries are similarly positioned to the left. This design enables a combat system wherein some of your warriors won't be able to reach some enemies with their attacks. You'll have to spend a lot of time fiddling around in menus to find the perfect formations. Then you could easily encounter a new group of enemies that forces you to swap characters out on the fly--something that you can do if you have enough action points left--lest you be slaughtered by a handful of powerful beasts. In another scenario, an all-too-frequent surprise attack could take place and none of your planning will have mattered anyway because your troops will be scattered about at random.
Let's assume, though, that a battle begins and nothing has gone wrong. Once you begin your assault, you'll find yourself relying exclusively on configured skills and healing items. The former are by now mapped to the face buttons, if you were able to figure out how to do so on the menus before you started hunting monsters. You can only utilize your abilities if you have sufficient energy. Predictably, that precious energy generates as the battle progresses. At first, you can safely count on having only half of what you need. This dynamic means that nearly every fight forces you to sit through at least three rounds. First there's the one where you barely scratch your enemies, then you get to endure their retaliation at full power and finally there's a third round where you actually can strike properly... if you're not busy healing because of all the damage you took. In the likely event that a confrontation continues beyond that, you may be able to use combo or special attacks to bring things to a dramatic conclusion. Naturally, all of this drags on longer than it really should. You can speed things up if you manage to find the right "Settings" screen. There are a few of them, though, so good luck with that.
Most of your time spent with Cross Edge will be in the midst of a battle or on your way to one. This is true to the extent that you can actually initiate a battle whenever it suits you just by pressing the 'R1' button while on the map. Otherwise, enemies will attack at regular intervals or you can purchase extremely expensive items that reduce the encounter rate. Leaving things alone is probably the best option, since exploration means criss-crossing the map and pressing the 'Square' button every second or two in case an item-granting soul or game-progressing event is available. Just don't think for a second that you're accomplishing anything more worthwhile than grinding and item searches, though; the game will hide some things from you and force you to come back later for the really good stuff. How delightful!
Then there are the dungeons to consider. Many a hardcore RPG has gained fans because of a sprawling labyrinth to explore. Here, that's not really the case. The perspective actually shifts to a side-scrolling affair such as the one found in other recent releases like Wild Arms 4. You can even double jump as you search for treasure. Enemy encounters are still a threat, though, and your health doesn't refill after a fight while you're within a tower. You either need to have fought a bunch of useless battles to hoard gold and buy healing items prior to attempting a dungeon, or you need to rush through each one so that you can get back to exploring the lifeless world maps. It's a no-win proposition.
This is as good a time as any to start picking at the game's overall presentation, as well. Cross Edge is a PlayStation 3 title. Surely there are some gorgeous vistas? Well... no. The whole effort feels like a bad PlayStation 2 effort. Even on that hardware, it would have been disappointing. We've seen much better visuals from the Ar Tonelico and Atelier Iris games. Even the vibrant character portraits from past games seem to have been downgraded for their appearance here. There's a total lack of artistic inspiration on nearly every front. Some of the battle animations and unlockable character art aren't bad and the music is often quite good, but those are lone bright spots in a virtual ocean of mediocrity.
There's more that I could probably tell you about Cross Edge--nearly all of it bad--but full appreciation can only come if you actually play it and experience everything for yourself. I can't really recommend doing that.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 13, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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