Version tested: PlayStation 3
When Cross Edge was first announced, the odds of a European release didn't seem likely. A supposed collaboration between Namco Bandai, Capcom, Nippon Ichi, Gust and Idea Factory, it was set to feature characters from the likes of Mana Khemia 2, an RPG which even now doesn't have a European release date. Further scepticism was also raised by the inclusion of characters from Spectral Souls and Absolute: Blazing Infinity - the latter being a tactical RPG for the 360 which has never been released outside of Japan. Nevertheless, not only has NIS America already brought Cross Edge to the states, but KOEI has found time to publish Cross Edge in Europe. Well, guess it makes a change from Dynasty Warriors.
As a crossover RPG, Cross Edge is a cluster-truck of anime stereotypes, filled with spiky-haired heroes and sexually precocious heroines. By exhuming the Darkstalkers series, Capcom have included vampire Demitri and cat-girl Felicia, as well as succubus sisters Morrigan and Lilith. The other publishers have contributed the likes of Raze and Lily from Mana Khemia 2, Lyner and Ayatane from Ar Tonelico, and the ditsy Marie from Atelier Marie. From the house of Disgaea we also get demonic dominatrix Etna and a few disposable members of the Prinny Squad. But with such a vibrant history it's a shame more use wasn't made of the Nippon Ichi license, as the story elements involving Etna rank among the game's highlights.
With such a diverse mix of mythology, developer Compile Heart has wisely chosen a different universe setting to tie everything together. Cross Edge kicks off with a teenage duo called York and Miko awakening in an unfamiliar existence with no memory as to how they got there. After battling a pack of bloodthirsty wolves they bump into Miss Morrigan, who is also suffering from amnesia, and a bit of friendly banter leads to them teaming up and going exploring. A scout around the local area soon turns up more familiar faces and the numbers swell quickly.
As memories gradually return it's revealed that the Cross Edge reality is being sustained by imprisoned souls sucked in from different worlds. The only way to return home is to find and free them. Standing in the player's way are the childlike triplet rulers of Cross Edge who, rather than getting their hands dirty straight away, hire many of the heroes' respective villains. On the payroll are Bourd from Ar Tonelico and uber-villain Jedah from Darkstalkers, as well as original creations like the armed-to-the-teeth Augustine. Malevolent players can also recruit these bosses by meeting certain conditions.
In many ways, Cross Edge feels like a tactical JRPG hybrid. The game is made up of five large 2D maps which represent the affected home worlds. Each map is split between different layers which open as the player travels between them. Cross Edge also employs a kind of non-random battle system, which works exactly like a random one, except for a flashing gauge which lets you know when trouble's coming. So if you're the type that silently prays to make it to the next village before being jumped by a squad of rake-wielding goblins, be warned. The towns are also nothing more than a menu used to resurrect dead characters and create new items.
For a game bursting at the seams with fan-service, it's no surprise that Cross Edge contains a lot of narrative. So as well as scouring the map for trapped souls, the player also has to sit through many story events. The dialogue in the main story is voiced in English and for the most part is adequate. The plot is also accompanied by some impressive 2D images of each character in high resolution, although the animation is sadly limited to minor changes in facial expressions. The game's few dungeons are nothing more than short platforming sections with the same non-random battles.
In addition to the main story, Cross Edge includes extra "soul events" which are often text-only. These play out like mini-anime skits, with the deranged cast getting up to all kinds of shenanigans. Artillery enthusiasts York and Zelos are only concerned with finding the next fight, alchemist Marie is always looking for guinea pigs to test her dodgy new concoctions, Shurelia has a knack for getting hopelessly lost and Prinny is always tempting fate by perving at the naked ladies in the various hot spring events. Rather than feeling tacked on, though, these often help break up the fighting with a degree of Nippon Ichi-style humour.
Most of your time in Cross Edge will be taken up with the very deep battle system. Perhaps best described as a scaled-down turn-based tactical system, it's not easy to explain, but nonetheless works well in execution. In essence, the battlefield is split between two three-by-four grids, with the player setting up on the right and the enemy on the left. You're allowed up to four fighters on your side of the grid and can arrange them as you wish. Character placement is a big part of the strategy as different attacks have set ranges, but suffice to say spellcasters go at the back, gunslingers in the middle and anyone with a sharp or bludgeoning implement at the front.
Each of your fighters starts a battle with a set amount of Attack Points to expend on attacks. A character can bring up to four different attacks into a battle with each one mapped to a face button, but the clever bit is how certain attacks can combo together. As an example, melee attacks are of A, B, C, D or R type and of a skill level from one to five (except for R which goes no higher than three). By following up a C-level one attack with a C-level two attack, a Trick Vanish branch combo will be performed for more damage with both characters attacking simultaneously. Throw spells and EX attacks into the mix and Cross Edge has over 100 different branch combo combinations, each with its own explosive animation.
As you gain new attacks and more Attack Points, the options increase. By the time you reach the top tier branch combos with quirky names like Fanatic Rave and A Thousand Deaths, it's possible to get the consecutive hit counter past 1000. Getting your head around the system can be tricky at first, but once everything clicks, it's satisfying to destroy a boss with a sick combo. Cross Edge is a technical rollercoaster of statistical depth - and that's before taking into consideration the Break, Down and Burst gauges.
The challenge that Cross Edge represents is quite steep, and in addition to level grinding, players will need to make full use of the item customisation systems to overcome the later battles. Much like the battling, this is far from simple, with options to upgrade, synthesize and composite your characters weapons, armour and accessories. Equipment can be upgraded up to level five by expending EP earned from battles - increasing the base stats. By acquiring new synthesis recipes you can also use materials gained from dead enemies to construct better equipment. Any item you create will also become available to buy in the shops for gold thereafter. Finally, materials can also be composited onto your equipment for additional effects. Needless to say, a strategy guide can be useful.
But despite an impressive level of depth that's comparable to Disgaea, there are elements to Cross Edge which feel restrictive. The most poignant example of this is how the branch combo system limits the effectiveness of certain team combinations. So if for instance you fancied a team that was heavy on Darkstalkers and Disgaea - say Morrigan, Demetri, Felica and Etna - their collective lack of a level one and two attack of the same type is more or less crippling. As far as I could tell, this team wasn't even able to exceed a measly level one attack combo, with only a few options for magic combos. A minor criticism, as this extreme example is more the exception than the rule, but being penalised for picking your favourites is annoying.
Overall, Cross Edge feels like a gift aimed squarely at the hardcore JRPG crowd. Its best features are its rewardingly complex battle system and its clean and equally nostalgic 2D presentation. But these virtues will make it about as appealing as pulling teeth to anyone who doesn't know the difference between Makai Kingdom and Odin Sphere. Indeed, seeing the True Ending will require some serious hours of investment, and if you're not familiar with at least two of the games which have inspired Cross Edge, the story is unlikely to hold your attention from start to finish. However, if you're the type that isn't happy until all the optional dungeons have been relieved of their secrets, then Cross Edge may be just the game for you. Plus, in my book, Morrigan in a nurse's uniform scores an extra point.
7 / 10