Review – Cris Tales
RPGs and JRPGs are nothing new, but Cris Tales developed by Dreams Uncorporated and Syck, and published by Modus Games is not your typical version of either type. It’s best described as a “love letter” to JRPGs, with its most notable source of inspiration being Chrono Trigger. With its eye-catching art design and its implementation of a time manipulation mechanic, I was intrigued upon watching the very first trailer for it. After a while of waiting, Cris Tales finally released, much to my delight. While I did find it to be an enjoyable time, it’s definitely not without its flaws.
In Cris Tales, you play as Crisbell, a plucky young girl who discovers that she is actually a powerful Time Mage. This means that she is imbued with the power of manipulating time itself. Upon seeing the Time Empress’s plan coming to fruition and leaving the world in ruins, it’s up to Crisbell and her companions to rewrite their future and put a stop to the Time Empress’s evil machinations. It’s not the most original of stories and anyone who has played JRPGs or other time travel based games will see the plot twists coming from a mile away. That being said, it’s still serviceable enough to keep you wanting to play it.
In terms of gameplay, Cris Tales is a turn-based RPG. Although, there are a few features that make it a bit different. For starters, If you press the attack button again right when your character is about to strike an enemy, you’ll inflict more damage. Conversely, if you press the block button right when an enemy’s blow is about to land, you’ll receive less damage. This is a crucial element to getting through battles, as the amount of damage given and taken are greatly dependent upon this. However, not all of the enemy’s movements are clearly telegraphed by their animations, so timing your defensive moves can be very difficult at times.
Then there’s the real star of the show: time manipulation. This is the other area of the gameplay that makes Cris Tales stand out. Crisbell has the power to send her foes either into the past or into the future. This can drastically alter how you fight enemies. For example, if you’re up against an enemy in the prime of their life, you can have Crisbell send them to the past and turn them into children or launch them into the future, making them become elderly. Turning foes into children or elderly versions of themselves often reduces their defenses. On the other hand, if you’re up against a young enemy and throw them into the future, you risk bringing them into their full maturity, at which point they’re at their strongest.
It’s a fun gameplay mechanic, but one that I feel is underutilized, especially with the bosses. When you first start playing, the first boss battle is against twin sisters in full armor and a massive conjoining shield. At first your attacks do nothing. However, before long you’ll discover that if you have one of your companions, Christopher, use his water magic on the twins and then send them into the future, their metal armor and shield will become rusted, which greatly lowers their defense.
I found this concept to be ingenious, but unfortunately, most of the rest of the boss fights don’t have these kinds of clever solutions to defeat them. For the most part, your time manipulation powers will be merely for making enemies older or younger. It’s shame too, because I feel like Cris Tales could have been a brilliant game if they’d had more inventive strategies like this with other encounters. This I feel was it’s biggest missed opportunity.
Although, manipulating time isn’t used purely in combat either. Throughout her travels, Crisbell will venture to a few different cities and meet with many new people. After obtaining her time powers, the screen is always divided into thirds, with the past being shown on the left, the present in the center, and the future on the right. Crisbell can activate her time powers, which allows her froggy friend, Matias, to hop back and forth through time (pun intended). You’ll be able to see how people and places change as you view them through each of the time sections. This also means that you’ll be able to help certain people in the past and see how things change in the future. I loved this aspect of Cris Tales. Out of everything in the game, seeing how your decisions affected the world around you was really rewarding.
Cris Tales is not without its faults though. Navigating the world maps is difficult and confusing because nothing is labeled. Plus, there are details on the map that look like other areas you should be able to explore. It takes forever to figure out where you’re suppose to go. Crisbell also moves fairly slowly, but not as slowly as Matias, who wriggles, hops, and flops at a fraction of her normal walking speed whenever he’s investigating things in a different time period. It also feels like a lot of its length was padded by having Crisbell revisit areas and fight each boss a second time.
Then there are the loading times, which are painfully long. It wouldn’t be too bad if you only experienced them every once in while, but the game makes you stop and load a new screen every few steps. Venture to another area? Loading screen. Go from the top of the map to the bottom of the map? Loading screening. Enemy encounter? Loading screen. Cutscene? Loading screen. Walk through a door? Loading screen. A huge portion of your playthrough will be eaten up by waiting for the loading screens to finish, which kills the pacing.
Even though Cris Tales has its share of issues, I have to praise its visuals. It has a clean yet flashy animated art style that looks like a nicer version of a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s a perfect fit for the tone of the game and is definitely one of Cris Tales‘ highlights. I would have liked to have had more towns to visit instead of returning to the few that are present, but that’s only because I enjoyed how each were designed.
The sound design is also fairly strong. The sound effects are good, the soundtrack goes well with its animation style, and the voice acting is pretty solid throughout. My only hangup with the voice acting is that some of the male characters sound like young girls. I know it’s common for women to voice young males in cartoons since boys have voices at higher octaves until puberty brings about the cracking hilarity, but a few of the main male roles sound just as girlie as Crisbell. I know this is a pretty paltry complaint, but there were a few times in the beginning I actually got confused about who was speaking.
Honestly, despite its flaws, I still enjoyed my time with Cris Tales. There are seeds of a fantastic game in here, but sadly none of them were able to fully blossom. I would really love to see a sequel where they expand upon what they’ve built already, because the idea of defeating your enemies using time magic along with other spells is wonderful. It lends itself to a lot of creative battles if explored in more depth. As it stands, Cris Tales is a fun time, even if it never realizes its true potential.
A beautiful and uniquely animated art style. Its high end Saturday morning cartoon design is a great fit for its lighthearted tone.
Not your typical JRPG, as it features a time manipulation mechanic and bonuses to attacks and defense if timed right. Not all attack animations are clearly telegraphed, however.
The soundtrack is well done, albeit slightly forgettable. The voice acting is pretty strong throughout, but several of the male characters sound too much like young girls to be believable.
While the time manipulation mechanic is a lot of fun and leads to some creative encounters, its grossly underutilized. It’s nice to see how your actions shape the various towns, but traveling back and forth between them is a chore.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Cris Tales is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Cris Tales was provided by the publisher.