I'll be the first to champion the works of NIS America, they are responsible for bringing some great titles to gamers in America, and they usually pick some great titles to bring over and do an excellent job on localization. Cross Edge is the latest in their efforts at trying to get a J-RPG to do well in America on the PS3. Unfortunately they happened to pick this rather sad title to bring out. If it's not the boring character development, or the incredibly slow to start story, or worst of all the crummy battle system marring the experience, it will probably be the insane difficulty and the terrible menu navigation keeping you from making any forward progress. Sad to say that the development team Compile Heart managed to muck up a number of good franchises with this crossover title, and really it could have all been so much better with just a few small changes.
First lets talk about the story. It takes forever to get rolling. The main characters York (York, seriously?) and Miko, find themselves in a land where souls are lost, like a forgotten memory (yeah they say that in game), and they need some help getting home. Along the way you run in to a number of characters from various Japanese stables, including Capcom, Idea Factory, NIS, and Gust. Peppered in between these events is the actual story which revolves around three 'children' who like to devour souls but don't look like they could be bothered to pick up a heavy weapon, so they send the bad guys of the various stables off to get rid of you meddling kids. Though really the story is so weakly put together it's just a matter of running into good characters who will join you at a moments notice, and then the bad guys all team up together and we can have one massive brouhaha of good versus evil. Good can win and we can all go celebrate with cake and ice cream while the evil team heads back to their respective home worlds to plot dastardly deeds and poison water supplies for their mirth and merriment. And along the way we can have a few people switch sides at unexpected (not really) intervals and we can act like we didn't see it coming when the foreshadowing happened back in the first few hours of the game.
If you can somehow get past the lacking story you'll have a hell of time even getting in to the game thanks to the insane difficulty. I had to use healing items in the first battle I fought, and it wasn't part of a tutorial, it was the game handing me monsters that were far beyond my abilities from the outset of the game. Granted I can swap out fallen comrades with fresh team members but it doesn't get any easier either once you start reaching some of the other worlds, where monsters that look harmless can wipe out the party in just one turn, negating the ability to swap people. Make sure you're saving often, otherwise expect a lot of repetition. NIS has posted some DLC for the title that I had hoped would be a help, but even at the outset with these slightly more powerful items battles were no easier.
A large problem here is that enemy levels vary greatly in each region you reach. So for example at the start of the game your over world consists of a tiny island, there is a land bridge that takes you to a larger area to explore. Now you'd imagine that since this is the beginning of the game, you get a slight break and can roam this area without fear. Not so, in fact if you don't hit at least level three before going there you're going to get stomped. Yes the game does restore your health after every battle (while in the over world, and not in dungeons), but if a team member passes out then get ready to suffer for a while as items to revive team members are ridiculously expensive, and while you can restore fallen party members at checkpoints, you have to pay your own party members for the service. That's crap. I thought we were supposed to be helping each other. And technically shouldn't that money just be recycled back in to my own wallet?
The battle system itself is a contributing factor to this difficulty. You are allowed four party members in to a party and you can swap them in and out as you see fit and in a battle there are twelve positions on the field for the player and the enemies. Now here is where things get a bit dicey and stupid. Characters are incredibly limited to the areas where they can hit. Where Suikoden kept it simple with the short, mid, and long range attacks, Cross Edge has a proprietary assignment scheme determining where character attacks go. Why the hell can't my main character, who is wielding guns, target any enemy on the field? Same goes for characters who throw things, or cast magic. So rather than make it so your character can attack anywhere instead you have to move them on the field which will cost them extremely valuable Action Points that go toward attacks. Yes there is an AP system involved and it's somewhat close to that of Valkyrie Profile, but rather than have one character mapped to each face button instead you have each character's attacks mapped to the face button and you rotate between characters using the shoulder buttons. And while this all works in theory, you have the problem of accruing AP between rounds at a random pace. Seriously I never understood how much AP I was going to gain back on a turn, or even when my turn would come. Apparently it is determined by the agility of your characters and their remaining AP. This is a terrible system since it never gives you a clear idea when your turn is going to come. Also I find it strange that it is somehow beneficial to me to skip my first turn only to get a second turn immediately with more AP. If that were the case couldn't the computer do the same thing? There is a static way to increase your AP, and that is accomplished by draining one of the myriad of bars associated with an enemies health, and you do that by launching combo attacks by sequencing attacks with specific team members. These combos need to be discovered and aren't always obvious, but once you get them down your combo list will start to fill out and eventually you'll have staggering attacks involving your entire team.
Outside of battle the frustration only grows, especially when it comes to character growth. Let's say you have saved up some cash and you want some awesome new armor. Guess what, you can't just outright buy it. No, you need to do the following: buy the recipe for the item (the recipes themselves don't even tell you what items they make), collect the materials for the item (one of the materials being the item you want to make!), then pay a fairly large sum of money for the creation of the item (again paid to a member of your party), pray that the process is over while watching a cut scene (you can skip these thankfully), and then yes you have your shiny new piece of equipment, and it can be purchased outright. Now, this process of item creation is not a regular occurrence and this is because the items can be leveled up to hold you over longer. This is accomplished via spending another set of points earned during battle. These points can be used to level an item up to level five, and from there the item can be transmuted to an item used in future item creation. And then there is a whole other system that allows you to increase individual stats for an item by using other components to strengthen it. It's a mish-mash of ideas and it is really confusing. Let me just find a shop and shell out cash for items. If I have the items to create a new one let me do that, and make them reasonably powerful rather than constantly have to spend points to increase the power. All this past explaining has done is increase the time spent to read this review. And learning it all in the game just artificially added time to the game clock, with very little forward progress. Now imagine having done all this nonsense, and then getting in to a fight, and losing, whoops there went a half hour of your time.
NIS has a habit of bringing titles out that really aren't up to snuff graphically for PS3 games, and Cross Edge is no exception. This game is incredibly poor looking, which is kind of hard considering that Disgaea 3 was pretty weak graphically as well and you'd think people would take lessons from that experience. Characters are simple 2-D affair with a decent amount of animation, but overall don't look like they would tax the PS3 any more than they would a PS2. Some monsters are a different matter though, with decent looking beasts that are in 3-D, but at the cost of massive slowdown, why this happens at all is perplexing. A lot of enemies also have a very generic attack animation that is used for each of their attacks, be they close or long range. Audio is also a very forgettable affair, the voice acting is decent, and the music is nothing spectacular. I like that time was spent to get the teams to speak under specific conditions in battle, like when things are looking bleak someone will try to rally the troops.
I went in to Cross Edge being very excited about the prospect of having a game with characters from a bunch of my favorite games all wrapped up in to a combo-centric battle system and epic story, and then I put the game in to my PS3, and all hope was lost. The game's insane difficulty and terrible treatment to the end user is completely off-putting. I've been waiting for a PS3 RPG to take down some of the great RPGs on the 360 and even the PS2, and unfortunately Cross Edge will just dig the hole deeper for Valkyria Chronicles to climb out of. Don't be fooled by the substandard price of Cross Edge, because you're really getting a sub-standard game.