Cris Tales Review: A time-honored tradition
Video games about time travel are kind of like peanut butter & jelly sandwiches; they go together well, and a lot of people have made them. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing. A lot of people like games centered around that specific premise (myself included!), and there are so many different ways that you can go with it in terms of story, mechanics, and development. Still, with time travel being such a well-worn trope within video games (which, again, I’m not necessarily saying is a bad thing), it can be hard to create something that really feels fresh. Apparently, that issue doesn’t exist for everyone, though; Dreams Uncorporated and Syck managed to create Cris Tales.
Cris Tales is a great example of how focusing on changing just a few things within any given genre or trope can make something feel truly unique. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel, and I’m not even sure how you would do that with something like time travel. All you really need to do is find your own gimmick or two and stick with it—provided that said gimmick is actually a good one, of course. And, as we’ll soon see in this Cris Tales review, this game definitely has some good gimmicks going on.
Time is On Your Side
Cris Tales follows the story of a young orphan named Crisbell who, aside from being foggy on certain parts of her early life, lives an average and surprisingly content life in an orphanage located within the currently cozy town of Narim alongside her loving friends and Mother Superior. However, all of that changes one day when… a frog in a tophat steals a rose from the garden outside of the orphanage. No, really, I’m serious. Determined to get it back, she follows the ambiguous amphibian all around town, where, eventually, she ends up in an old chapel. Upon approaching the altar, she immediately finds herself enshrouded in mystical energy and subsequently gains the ability to see the past, present, and future simultaneously. Unfortunately, while the past and present look nice, the future isn’t looking so great thanks to the return of the Empress of Ages. Because of this, Crisbell soon finds herself suddenly embarking on the quest of a lifetime—to save both the world and the very fabric of time, which helps to hold it together.
I want to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Cris Tales‘ story, but that’s not really true because, for the most part, I was quite charmed by it. It really’s more like a “love-mild-frustration” relationship, if that makes any kind of sense. Before continuing any further, I feel like I should mention that, while Cris Tales is most certainly a game about temporal manipulation, it’s probably not anything that you’re similar to. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have even been using the term “time travel” earlier, because what you’re considering can barely be considered that. Crisbell may be able to see into the past and future, but she can’t actually time travel—nor can any of her other allies… except her dapper frog friend, Matias. Because of this, Cris Tales becomes less a story about time traveling and more a game about peeking into different parts of time to fix the present. While this might not sound as exciting at first, it’s actually a really neat premise, and I think that the game pulls it off nicely overall.
Despite its grand premise of essentially letting players view and operate within three different periods of time simultaneously, Cris Tales‘ gameplay cycle is, actually, incredibly simple and straightforward. While Cris Tales is an RPG about using magical time-bending powers to help save the world, you actually use a lot less of said temporal magic to fight monsters and perform daring, heroic feats than you’d think.
Cris Tales features about half a dozen large cities, and, believe it or not, a good portion of your time spent within this game is spent simply wandering around in them. Not only are these locations where a bulk of the story development takes place, but they’re also one of the few places where you’ll be able to see the past, present, and future simultaneously. Unlike dungeons, which focus on the present, city exploration is “multi-generational,” meaning that, if you want to see, hear, and do everything—which you’ll want to do if you want the true ending—you’ll need to make sure that you explore every nook and cranny in all three eras.
Given that the past, present, and future are all in fixed locations on the screen when playing as Crisbell (you can time travel as Matias, but he’s really slow), exploring every new area has the potential to get kind of annoying. Fortunately, Cris Tales manages to avoid that problem—and it’s all thanks to its art. I won’t pretend that you don’t need to carefully snoop around every new area, but I’m also not going to pretend that this game’s gorgeous and incredibly detailed artwork didn’t make it feel like work. Not only does everything look good, but the attention to detail from era to era makes everything that much more impressive. Making a game look pretty doesn’t always work to cover up other flaws… but it might have helped just a little bit in this situation.
When it comes to Cris Tales‘ dungeons… well, have you ever played Paper Mario? Like, the first one? That’s basically the vibe that I got from the dungeons in this game. Dungeons are fairly simple and straightforward, with the game tossing the occasional puzzle or two at the player. Eventually, Cris gets certain abilities that let her manipulate certain parts of her surroundings—like restoring or degrading objects—but, outside of that, things are comfortably breezy without feeling monotonous.
Fighting for Past, Present, and Future
When it comes to Cris Tales‘ combat, there’s really only one thing that you need to focus on; Crisbell herself. While each of the nearly half-dozen characters has their own unique role to play within each of the game’s many turn-based skirmishes, Crisbell’s is the most important due to her special abilities. While Crisbell still can’t send herself through time, she, for some reason, can manipulate time for her enemies—with enemies behind the party being able to be sent to the past, and enemies in the front to the future. While this ability isn’t necessarily an end-all-be-all for every single battle, time travel is incredibly important more often than not, and, when used in tandem with other character’s abilities, allows players to set up some really neat combos.
In concept, I think that Cris Tales has something great with its combat system. The whole “transporting enemies through time” thing isn’t exactly something you see people doing much in games, and there’s a ton of potential to let the player go wild. Unfortunately, while combat is still enjoyable, it doesn’t quite live up to what I was hoping it would be. Crisbell’s time manipulation, while vital for certain battles, is a little lackluster overall. I really like that you can do things like rust metallic enemies or make your foes take a bunch of poison damage all at once, but I still think that there’s more that could have been done there. It’s definitely not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t dazzle me in the way that I was hoping it would.
Clear as a Bell (Mostly)
Cris Tales is a lot of fun, and a really solid title overall. It’s great to see that smaller indie studios are able to pick up the slack when it comes to delivering more classically inspired RPGs, and that they even have the creativity to go above and beyond what’s expected of them. While Cris Tales might be lacking a little bit here and there, anything bad is absolutely outshined by all of the good—you’ve got nothing to lose by checking this one out.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: MODUS Games America; Developer: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK; Players: 1; Released: July 6, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Cris Tales given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.