The app-store has seen a current trend of games embracing the free-to-play price model. Some games provide hours of entertainment, and I end up questioning how I got away with playing for free. Marvelous AQL’s Cross Horizon isn’t like that, and its free-to-play model uses questionable design choices in order to tempt players into paying out of sheer inconvenience.
Cross Horizon follows the familiar amnesia quest of most RPGs. Turns out your character may have come into contact with the Bandit King, who was long ago sealed away by three legendary heroes guided by the Dawn Witch. Now the Bandit King has escaped; meanwhile your character dreams of the same Dawn Witch. It’s time for you and your companion, Aurora, to find the three legendary heroes and take out the Bandit King so both of you can regain your memories. The game has beautiful portraits that show the character on screen details; however, it still feels like I’m just being told what to do. I slayed a blue lizard and then the king just suddenly talks about the legendary heroes. It’s not so much of a story as much as list of to-dos.
Cross Horizon looks decent for a free-to-play RPG. Environments are colorful and expansive, despite some otherwise bland textures. The desert area in particular looks expansive when combined with the skybox. Sometimes I’ll see what appear to be tiles on the environment floors, but it still looks decent overall. Coinciding with the colorful environments is a soundtrack that has a generic medieval/fantasy flair, but they’re still catchy tunes are catchy and don’t outstay their welcome.
The same can’t be said for character and enemy models, however. The character creation screen allows you to create anime styled characters, though it has limited facial features, voices and body types. Each new enemy you encounter will most likely be another tiger, gremlin, or flying sword with a different color. Enemies outside of battle appear as glowing blue balls that turn red if you see them, and imminent icons (circles with exclamation marks) represent both players and treasures. I’m not going to continue with the famous Forest Gump quote, but you really never know what you’re going to get.
Cross Horizon is also plagued with loading issues. While it’s not so much the length of the loading time itself, the frequency is astonishing—beyond the simple load in transition between areas on the map. If you accidentally click the advertisement at the bottom of the menu—and you will because it’s in the same place as where the back command used to be—you will immediately return to the publisher screens, sit through the load time and only then can you finally resume your quest. If you accidentally let your mobile devices’ screen fade to black, you’ll have to go back to the main screen and loading times. Thankfully the game saves automatically.
Marvelous AQL advertises Cross Horizon as being influenced from Infinity Blade, and I can tell you that Cross Horizon is not Infinity Blade. Like Infinity blade, Cross Horizon focuses on one-on-one battles; however, where else the former focused on parrying, blocking, and dodging attacks with precision, Cross Horizon’s combat boils down to three simple tactics: swipe your enemies a few times, block the enemy’s attack, and then swipe and tap some more until your enemy is dead.
Cross Horizon does add a few tweaks to keep you from swiping without penalty. Sometimes your enemies will spawn near traps. For instance, you can wait for your enemy to walk near exploding barrels like in every first person shooter for environmental damage. Certain swipes will knock off the enemy’s armor, which you can exploit for more damage, although the start of the battle will be a bit of a grind. Combat revolves around three types of weapons you can use in combat: swords, axes, and spears. Spears are good for thrusting at long distances; axes are good with slashing at close quarters; and swords are competent at both rangers but won’t dish out the most damage. I personally took to the spear as I could shove enemies back, keep them at bay, and somehow conserve SP–even if it meant that I had to tap the screen literally hundreds of times for some battles. You also have skills you can use by pressing and holding the screen where your enemy is; however, I never saw much practical use for it considering I could almost infinitely drive the enemy back with my spear.
Cross Horizon is free-to-play, but it deliberately creates design issues to coerce you into paying. There are two types of currency in the game: gold and mana. Most of the quests give coins and there are plenty of salvageable items, but you’ll have a much harder time earning mana. You only earn mana from buying it virtually with real currency, or after completing main quests. You need mana to buy exclusive items such as an item that allows you to warp back to the main town, or an item that unlocks portals. This means that should you not want pay for the item after completing a quest, you have to tediously march back to town from where you stand—the game isn’t even considerate enough to drop an item to return to the castle after you defeat the dungeon’s boss. Item drops are rare and expensive. For instance, the starting healing potion may fill up literally 1/10 of your health bar despite being at the beginning levels. So if you end up in a dungeon where the difficulty spikes considerably, you will be in trouble until you perform tremendous grinding or fork over the cash.
Thankfully you’re not alone in Cross Horizon. While the game can be played by yourself, you’ll always come across new players. They don’t appear in the same world; instead they’re represented by the same icons as the treasures. You can either greet players for friend points, which can be used in drawings for basic items, or you can add them to your friend list and go on adventures together. Unfortunately due to issues not of the game’s fault, I didn’t get to try going on parties; however, players will automatically return items you may have lost while failing a mission, and the friends you make can heal your HP should you find the correct imminent icon—which as I mentioned above blends in with new players and hidden treasures.
Cross Horizon is a fine looking game with some interesting ideas; however, it comes with more than its share of frustrations. While the game is free-to-play, it doesn’t feel like it with the amount of backtracking you’ll be forced to trudge through. It may certainly kill time but not in the right way.
This review of Cross Horizon is based on a digital copy which was downloaded from the Apple App Store.