The Most Intricate Fan Service You'll Ever See
In Japan, crossover games have been around for a long time, and in the case of Super Robot Wars, some have spawned an entire successful series. But on this side of the Pacific, these games almost never make an appearance, primarily due to licensing issues and western gamers not being exposed to the source material. Cross Edge is one of the first games in the crossover genre to make it to North America so fans on this side of the planet can see what they’ve been missing.
Cross Edge features several original characters along with some familiar faces from the following series: Disgaea, Dark Stalkers, Atelier, Ar Tonelico, Mana Khemia, and Spectral Souls. Despite having so many characters, the game is designed in such a way that you don’t really need to have played every game to understand what’s going on. This seemingly difficult task is accomplished by simplifying the worlds that each character comes from and by having many event scenes where characters interact. Through these events, it is pretty easy to understand the characters and the relationships they have to everyone else. The only exception would probably be the Disgaea series, since Prinnies, essentially peg-legged, knife-wielding, exploding penguins, might be a little confusing for players that haven’t played any games from the Disgaea series. This is mitigated by the fact that most people interested in Cross Edge will have probably had at least some experience with Disgaea.
The game begins with main characters York and Miko discovering that they are in a new world with no memory of how they got there. To make matters worse, they are almost immediately attacked by a group of wolves. Fortunately, Morrigan Aensland, of Darkstalkers fame is quick to the rescue. Before long, the group meets May, a young girl who explains their current location is a world sustained by absorbing souls from the Human World, the Fantasy World, and the Demon World. Only by finding souls brought to this realm and releasing them will the heroes be able to return to their own worlds. Thus, the party trudges on looking to release souls, while growing by leaps and bounds throughout the story.
|My eyes are up here, sweetie.|
Though the bulk of Cross Edge takes place in battle, the game features an overworld and explorable dungeons. Players must walk around the map literally searching for souls, which take three forms. Some give the party items, some are story events, and others are extra events. Essentially, story events and extra events are nearly identical, but story events feature voice acting. Players can also uncover save points, which are a bit of a misnomer, since you can save the game anywhere on the overworld map. Save points are where the party can buy and sell items, craft new weapons, do broader searches to find hidden souls, or revive fallen characters. The latter is important because dead characters can only be revived with items during the fight in which they died; afterwards, save points are the only way to bring back comrades. You can also instantly warp from any save point to any other save point to make backtracking a breeze.
While walking around on the map, a gauge in the upper right hand corner of the screen alerts the player of impending enemy attacks by going from blue to red. The player can initiate combat at any time by pressing R1, but if you wait until combat happens automatically, there is a higher chance of being surprised. So it is in your best interest to initiate combat yourself. After the battle, all surviving characters are restored to full health.
There are also dungeons, where the game changes to a side-scrolling platformer type game. To make dungeons more difficult, HP is not restored after battle, but each screen has its own encounter gauge, so it’s possible to get through dungeons with minimal battling, unless you are hunting for treasure.
As mentioned before, most of Cross Edge will be spent in battle. This is both a good thing and a bad thing; Cross Edge has, by far, one of the most complex battle systems ever contrived for an RPG. Battles take place on two 4 x 3 fields, with players on the right, and enemies on the left. Before battle, you can set up to four characters anywhere on your side, and careful consideration must be used as to who goes where. Every skill in the game has its own maximum range and area of effect, so not every character will be able to attack every space on the opposing side. To mitigate this problem, characters can shift in battle to any other square on your side by expending some AP, points which determine how many actions each character can make. You can also switch out characters for any other character in reserve by expending some AP.
In battle, the really complicated part comes from the way turns work and all of the various gauges. Every character has a HP bar, a Break bar, a Down bar, and a Burst bar. All attacks lower the HP and Break bars. The HP bar is somewhat self explanatory. It shows you how many HP any given enemy has, and it lets you know how close you are to getting an overkill, doing not only enough damage to reduce the current HP to zero, but also doing enough damage to completely kill the target again. Overkilling foes yields additional items, so typically most people will try to overkill everything.
The Break, Down, and Burst bars are also important. All skills lower the Break bar, and it is crucial to winning most fights. All the characters that participate in the attack or combo that breaks an enemy will receive an additional turn’s worth of AP. Furthermore, broken enemies will take extra damage from attacks and combos. Where this really starts getting important is when you have attacks that target multiple enemies. Each broken enemy yields more AP, so with careful planning, you can easily give yourself more than double your original AP. The Down and Burst bars work similarly, but they are only affected by some attacks and do not yield additional AP. Though it is possible to Down or Burst break some enemies before depleting their regular Break meter, typically, those two meters are all but irrelevant and only add needless complication to the system. One word of caution, you can only see the break bars for the targeted monster, so you have no idea how close you are to breaking anything else you are targeting. On the other hand, if the targeted monster is broken, you’ll do extra damage to everything in the range of your attack regardless of whether or not everything has been broken.
|And here we see a Prinny doing the ceremonial ‘Beg for Life’ dance. Sadly for him, it’s not going so well.|
The other main complication comes from the way in which attacks work. When you begin an attack, a timer starts ticking. Additional attacks extend the timer, and when the timer runs out, that attack phase ends. Your entire party shares this timer, so you can switch characters at any time to extend the combo and execute branch skills, attacks using two or more characters. Also, all three break gauges refill after an attack phase, and the phase ends if you physically target any other enemy at any time. Essentially, the timer is the most annoying and frustrating part of the game for several reasons. For starters, it is far too easy to accidentally let an attack phase end, which will almost always have negative repercussions, like prematurely stopping overkill attempts. Even worse, after a certain point, bosses and even some regular enemies get the ability to return damage dealt by countering. On more powerful bosses, these counters can easily wipe out your party, so essentially you either have to slowly kill bosses or be powerful enough to finish the job in one turn. Whether you go for the long drawn out battle or the one quick kill method, boss battles are certainly epic.
There is one other system in the game that ends up being extremely complex, and that is the item system. Most items must be crafted from synthesis recipes at save points. Many of the ingredients for items and equipment are refined from items themselves, a fact that is somewhat hidden in menus and never explained in as much depth as would be preferred. Once you get a handle on the system, equipment can be improved in any number of ways, which results in nearly limitless customization capability.
Graphically, Cross Edge is a bit weak, considering it is on the PS3. Nearly all of the graphics would look at home on the PS2. The only exception is the high resolution character artwork you get during events and when changing costumes. Costumes end up being incredibly important pieces of equipment. They change every stat, usually for the better, and each bestows a different skill. In a move to provide some fan service, all women actually wear their costumes, but for some completely baffling reason, men do not. The appearance of male characters never changes despite the fact that they can get the same types of costumes as female characters. This was a golden opportunity for more of the brilliantly detailed sprite work that Nippon Ichi is so famous for. Sadly, it is left out, leaving the game to be essentially a very high-resolution PS2 game with oodles of fanservice.
Musically, the game fares much better. Most of the music is very enjoyable, and several tracks come from the constituent games. For instance, fans of Disgaea will instantly recognize many of the songs.
There is also a fair bit of voice acting, most of which is fantastic. All of the story events are completely voiced, and almost all of the voices fit the characters well. There are some odd voices that just don’t quite seem to fit, but for the most part, it is exactly what people would expect after playing other Nippon Ichi games. In particular, the voice acting for Lazarus is awesome.
|If you’ve ever wanted to see what ‘Sam and Ralph’ Looney Toons looked like in the Netherworld, you can scratch that one off your bucket list.|
The plot for Cross Edge manages to tie together the back stories for several games without getting too confusing. Compile Heart did a commendable job for making Cross Edge accessible even if you don’t have prior experience with every series. Things get a bit cheesy towards the end of the game’s main story, but for those that attain the game’s best ending on a difficulty of normal or above, the post-game content is hysterical. Sadly, many people will not get the True End, because the path towards getting it is very difficult and extremely vague without the help of a walkthrough. Players that refuse to use outside help will almost assuredly get the normal or bad endings without ever really knowing how or where they went wrong.
As mentioned before in various places, the interface for Cross Edge could certainly use some work, or at least some better tutorials. There are so many menus, and things are buried within them. Once you learn how everything works, it isn’t so bad, but it can take most of the game to really master the system. If it were a fighting game, it would be understandable for some of these systems to take a lot of use to really perfect, but considering it is an RPG, this shouldn’t be happening. The net result is the first time through the game ends up being extremely hard and complicated, but subsequent trips through should actually be much better, if you even make it through at all.
In the end, Cross Edge is a game that is plagued by too many ideas; too much content. It is almost as if every idea that anyone proposed was implemented in the game. There are some really awesome ideas in it. There are some terrible ideas that detract from the whole as well. With a bit of editing, Cross Edge could have been simply fantastic, but instead, it is a bit disappointing in that it doesn’t live up to its own potential. If you make it to the end, the good outweighs the bad, but many people will give up along the way. This game is not for everyone. NISA games have always tended to go after a niche market, but this one takes it a step further. Most players will never be able to finish. Those that do will probably enjoy it, and those that get to the post-game content will find that it redeems some of the past frustration. There is a shining diamond buried within Cross Edge. It’s just stuck in a lump of carbon. Deep in a cave. Behind a river of lava. Guarded by a dinosaur. And the dinosaur has laser eyes.