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Cross Treasures (2009, SynSophia, Square Enix)
I've seen this game in the used section at Book Off for at least a year, but I was holding off getting it because I didn't trust the cover art, it isn't part of another well-known franchise, and I was hoping the price would come down. However, I've run out of other things to buy for the DS, and the game was under my 1,000 yen cap (950 yen, or $8 USD), so I figured "why not?" It turns out that CT is one of the better RPGs I've played in a while, and does have some interesting concepts. The artwork is good, the music is exciting, the backgrounds are very well drawn, and the game is fun most of the time. I don't know about the voice acting because I usually skip that part anyway just to get past the dialog to advance the story.
(The artist on the beach lets you change the designs for the wharf, post box and flowers, plus he lets you pick one monster pet to roam the island.)
The plot is simple. You're a mercenary in a kingdom run by a ruler 30' tall. Someone has dug a series of dungeons under the kingdom, then kidnapped the princess and dragged her into the tunnels. The king is too big to fit in the dungeon himself, and he's desperate to get his daughter back. You're hired to go after her and defeat the wizard that took her. You start the game by customizing your character (male/female, hair style and color, facial characteristics, etc.) and picking a job class. There are 4 classes - fighter, thief, mage and priest, and you can switch between them as you like during the game. Fighters have high strength and physical defense, mages can attack from a distance, priests can heal themselves magically and attack with hammer-like weapons, and thieves attack with two weapons and get more gold per battle but have lower physical defenses. Each class starts at level 1, but the game remembers what they were equipped with, levels and skills levels when you switch types. There's only one character in your party (you), unless you're in multi-player mode with your friends.
(Talking to your pet monster. Giving it the food it likes causes your pet to give you one of its drop items.)
The game system is a bit difficult to describe quickly. Everything takes place on one small island, which features a shop, a house, a beach and a cave. There's a port for visiting other islands, but that's either for initiating multi-player mode, or getting to the optional dungeon after you defeat the storyline boss. The shop sells HP and MP recovery potions, materials, ingredients, and smiles. "Smiles" are available for 100, 1,000, 10,000 and 100,000g, and give you "smile cards" that are used the same as materials for forging. The beach has an artist and a BBQ grill. The artist takes monster drop items and uses them to unlock features of the island that he will redraw for you if you like, such as different designs for the port, flowers, trees, and your monpet. The monpet is a pet monster that roams around the island, and will give you free drop items if you feed it whatever it asks for. You use the BBQ grill to cook recipes from monster drop ingredients. Your cooking level starts at 1, and caps at 20. Recipes unlock as you go up in level, and the better recipes advance the stats bars farther on your basic character stats (strength, max HP, max MP, magic power). The base stats apply no matter which class you are. In the house, you can save your game, check info on the monsters you've defeated, change classes, change equipment, and forge new equipment. This last step is the most important because it's the only way to get weapons and armor, or to upgrade them. You use the monster drop materials to forge each of the weapon types (swords, staffs and hammers), helmets, shields, armor, footwear, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Anything you don't equip is put into a storage trunk and you can only change to it when you're in the house. Items can be upgraded on the forge between 3 and 5 times, and each upgrade has its own design. So you can make a pretty colorful character depending on how you're equipped.
(In your house, with the bed (save), bookcase (monster history) and trunk (change equipment).)
The last part is the cave. There are a series of locked trapdoors, and 2 NPCs standing at the back of the first chamber. One NPC depends on your chosen class - fighter, etc. - and will sell skill upgrades every time you prepare to enter the dungeon (there's a limit on how long they stick around, though). There are 16 skills, and initially they're capped at level 10 each. You can encounter NPCs in the dungeon that offer to change your job type (barbarian, gladiator, sword master, for the fighter) that will change your caps between 12 and 20, or for a balanced fixed max level 15 across the board. You can also find NPCs in the dungeon that will increase one skill by one level, for a price (either money, or some number of monster drop items). The second cave NPC will randomize the dungeon for you, which makes the churning a bit less monotonous. As for the trapdoors, the first one opens to floor #1 of the dungeon, and the others unlock whenever you defeat every fifth floor boss (e.g. - they're shortcuts to floors 5, 10, 15, etc.)
(In the cave, with the NPC that randomizes the dungeons, and the stairs to floor 1.)
The dungeon is 50 floors deep, and the floors are in groups of 5 each per dungeon type (desert, ice world, space-themed, alien nest, a castle, robot factory, etc.) These types change when the dungeon is randomized, but as part of a pattern. There are 3 different dungeon types for floors 1-5, another 3 types for floors 6-10, only 1 type each for floors 21-25 and 46-50, and so on. This makes for many different backgrounds and monster types, but it's also harder to find rarer drop items for use in forging, recipes, or giving to NPCs for skill upgrades if you need to locate a specific monster. Each floor follows the same pattern; you have a series of rooms connected by corridors, and one room has a tougher monster that carries the key to unlock the stairs down. Once unlocked, those stairs remain unlocked even after you randomize that dungeon type (you can go both up and down the stairs if you like). There is one room on each floor identified as a "Treasure Point." TPs can either be a garden for picking flowers, rocks for mining, pools for fishing, NPCs for skill level-ups, or random NPC encounters for quests or temporary effect upgrades. Items (4 per visit) from the pools and rocks are used for recipes and forging. NPC quests require having a certain number of gems or drop items, and will reward you with other drop items. The other NPCs in the TP rooms will boost one skill one level if you pay what they ask for (money, gems or drop items), or let you change job descriptions. The job descriptions, as mentioned above, give you different mixes of skill level caps, without actually changing your skill levels directly. So, you may want to pick Barbarian because strength caps at 20 (but some of your special attacks have lower caps of level 12), or Gladiator because all the skills are capped at 15 each. Finally, the fifth floor of each dungeon type has a one-time encounter with the story boss, followed by tough Floor Bosses that you can fight multiple times to gain experience and get rare drop items. Your last fight with the story boss is on floor 50.
(In the White Castle dungeon, fighting radish knights and dragons.)
One of the nice things about this game is that if you die in battle, you don't lose anything. You just wake up on the beach in front of your house (either surprised that you lost, or upside down with your head stuck in the sand). Because you keep the drop items, money and XP from your last dungeon run, you do eventually get stronger (letting you buy more healing potions, make recipes to bump your base skill points, or forge weapons or armor upgrades). The only issue is that you may have to go through several floors again to reach the monster you were trying to fight. Then, there's the battle system. Each character class has an attack (A button), strong attack (B button), life potion shortcut (X button) and MP potion shortcut (Y button). If you hold the R-shift button down, the buttons change to a different set of long- or short-range attacks that use MP, and are either fire or water element based. The L-shift button works the same way, but can give you one of 4 stat buffs, or status effects (poison, stun) against the enemy. All of these skills need to be unlocked by the NPC of your class type, and they only do one skill at a time, and you encounter them in Treasure Points only at random. So, it can take many, many runs through all of the dungeon floors just to get access to every skill on your palettes.
(Attack controls screen. Floor map to the left, A-B-X-Y control definitions to the right.)
Initially, I started out as a Thief, because I thought that it would increase my chances of getting better drop items. The result was a small boost in money, but because I had two weapons and no shield, I took extra damage and had to spend the gold on HP potions. I was doing fine until I got to about level 30, where the monsters all had long range attacks, while I was stuck fighting toe-to-toe. After getting killed once too often, I switched to Mage, and had to build him up to level 30 all over again. The good thing here was that I already had a lot of skill upgrades stored, money and materials so the Mage started out strong from the beginning. As I forged upgrades on the weapons and armor, I picked up options for recovering HP and MP every time I defeated a monster, making magic virtually free. This was great, even though I still had a low enough HP and physical defense to be killed if I wasn't careful. But, when I got to level 50, the story boss just kept mopping the floor with me. He has high defenses, wicked-fast attacks, and delivers multiple blows that can stun you. So, I decided to concentrate on upgrading everything to the best weapons and armor I could get, and bringing my level up to 80. I still kept getting destroyed by the boss, and I was ready to shelve the game. But, I figured that maybe the fighter might have better defenses and HP, so I started all over again with him. By this time, I pretty much had everything I could make in the forge (including special stuff available only by using passwords provided in V-Jump and Gamerz magazines), and base stat bumps from recipes at an average of +25 across the board. This let me survive close-in fighting against long-range monsters, and the fighter NPC at the dungeon entrance stuck around long enough to let me buy my skill levels up to 10 on the skills that really mattered (strength, spin attack, fireball wall).
(In the basement with the forge.)
When I started hitting the skill level cap, I was ready to get into the lower floors to try to find the NPCs that would let me change fighter job descriptions. This was also the point when the cave entrance fighter NPC announced that he was done helping me by selling skill level upgrades, and then disappeared. I found the Gladiator on floor 42, which is exactly what I wanted, but the next time I ran through the entire 49 floors of the dungeon, the only NPCs I could locate were either for finished quests, or for the other three job classes. That meant I was wasting my time in trying to get fighter skill level bumps. On the other hand, I was now at level 50 as a fighter, and had twice the HP the mage had at level 80. When I got to floor 50, I decided to take one shot at the final boss just to see what would happen. With the fighter, I had "cheer," a temporary boost to attack, "fireball wall," which hits nearby enemies for 40-60 points 3-4 times a second for one minute, a spin attack for 4-5 hits at a regular strength of 1000 points each, a 5% chance of stun with any one of these attacks, plus the best weapons and armor available at this part of the game, and maxed out at 255 potions each for MP and HP. Another benefit of the fireball wall is that it confuses the enemy as to where the attack is coming from and he keeps changing directions rather than hitting where the fighter is standing (something there's no equivalent for with the mage or thief). A few minutes later, the final boss was defeated and starting to ask questions. Fortunately, I'd discovered the one Japanese walkthrough on the net that talks about this part of the game, and I could give the right answers to get the end of the game (rather than being forced to face him all over again). The funny part is that your character talks the wizard into becoming friends, and when the game restarts, he tells you that he really would like to release the princess and let her go back home, but there's a problem. She's grown to about the same height as her father, and she won't fit through the tunnels anymore. The wizard asks you to go to the optional dungeon to get the Cross Treasure, which grants wishes and is the only thing that can save the girl.
The optional dungeon is similar to the main story dungeon, except that there's no Treasure Point room, and the monsters are tougher and occasionally drop "deka" (big) items that can be used for forging another 5 weapons for each class type. The drawbacks are that you need the stronger weapons to get past floor 18 or so, you only get one or two deka item drops each pass through the dungeon at this point, and every time you lose you start back at the beach, so you have to ride the ship to that island again. Additionally, there are 150 floors to the bottom, and the shortcut trapdoors only unlock every 15th floor. This means that you have to do a lot of churning and spinning your wheels at the beginning to gain experience, and get enough deka items to try to get the new weapons up to where the existing regular weapons already are. Also, there don't seem to be ways of getting better armor or accessories, so the only option for improving defense is to level up. On the other hand, the deka monsters do give a little more experience, and leveling isn't that bad. My fighter is at level 60 now, after about an hour of dungeon crawling, but I still don't have the first deka weapon (not enough deka drops) and I haven't gotten past floor 18. It's time to put the game away for a while.
Summary: Cross Treasures is a Japanese RPG that lets you fight in real-time, running around and trying to get behind the enemy. There's not much in the way of story, and you only have a one-character party, but you can choose to fight as a mage, a priest, a thief or a fighter as you like, and there's enough variety in character designs and dungeon styles to keep things interesting even after 40 hours of game play. There is strong replay value, too. I like the battle controls, and some of the quest NPCs. Overall, CT is a fun game if you like simple RPGs ala Dungeon and Dragons. Recommended.