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Dislcaimer: This review is a collaborative effort of two of our brightest (and weeb) reviewers: Tanushri Dutta and Subhasish Das

E3 of 2019 was quite the year. The hype for Cyberpunk 2077 was off the charts, there was all-new gameplay footage for Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was confirmed. Amidst all that was a little announcement for Modus Game’s indie Cris Tales that flew under most people’s radars. However, when I first read the words “a love-letter to classic RPGs”, my heart went aflutter.

Developed by Colombian indie game studios Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK, Cris Tales tells the tale of the orphan girl Crisbell, who has just discovered her own mystical powers that allow her to manipulate the past, present, and future to forge a ‘fitting’ destiny. Forced into a journey by the actions of the wicked Time Empress, she must now bear fruit to her powers and rewrite the horrid future the Time Empress has cast upon the land. The decisions you make throughout each kingdom in the game will affect its destiny. Though fantasy is well-trodden ground in JRPGs, the time-manipulating quirks of Cris Tales make it stand out among others of the genre and potentially make up for its otherwise not-so-unique take on JRPGs.

Time Loop Combat, Timeless Story

Where Cris Tales is most innovative is with its time-manipulation mechanics, which play with typical RPG conventions in refreshing ways. When walking around towns, the screen is usually split into three sections to show the past, present, and future of Crisbell’s immediate surroundings simultaneously. The whole idea of its time-manipulation mechanics seems to be based on the butterfly effect—the theory that changing something in the past, however small, could have a huge impact on the present— which is a central tenet of any number of time travel stories. Though it is quite an intriguing concept to fiddle with, the game fails to put it to a greater effect.

For instance, during the tutorial boss fight, the game asks you to do water attacks on the armored bosses and send them to the future – eventually resulting in rusting their armor and weakening their defense. At first, it seemed like the tip of the iceberg of the game’s time mechanics, but it was pretty much what the game has as a whole, only the enemy types and traits differ. Whether it is a new move, spell, or skill, all of it gets introduced and is over with within the first 3-4 hours of the game.

The parry and double attack system do add a bit of spice to it (if that spice was pepper maybe). With a well-timed press of the A button, you can deflect the enemy’s attack, or even do bonus damage after your initial attack. Early on in the game, since the items you have on you to heal are terribly limited, your life depends on the parrying to minimize damage to you and your party. From there on out, the combat may feel, ironically, like an endless time loop. Thankfully the game’s endless story and quirky cast do manage to save the day to some extent.

Though the story starts pretty bleak with some pretty random stuff thrown at you, all of it eventually starts falling into the right places once you are 6-8 hours into the story. Cris Tales’ fantastical world appears to be taken straight out of a children’s storybook. It is filled with talking frogs, weird robots, and time mages that make casual use of their awesome power, with which even the slightest of the masses are not pleased or bothered. Everything about the world is delightfully strange, from the fact that people use marbles as currency, to the “Mother Superior” witches that exist in every town to help raise the children. You’ll travel through monster-infested salt mines, visit a city located inside an active volcano, and sail around in a boat that’s made out of a giant metal woman’s shoe. It’s a highly weird setting that is filled with unevenness, yet it accomplishes to fit every uneven thing about itself quite remarkably.

Cris Tales‘ art and soundtrack are nothing short of enchanting. The game’s art style is a blend of Saturday morning cartoons and 90s shoujo anime, far from being cookie-cutter and is very distinct. Inspiration was also taken from the developers’ home city of Colombia, as is seen in the stained glass visuals and architecture. The layout of the game is reminiscent of the older Paper Mario games, but definitely has more of a fantasy spin to the pop-up picture book visuals.

The soundtrack by Tyson Wernli echoes the sounds from Final Fantasy and the works of Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda, but certainly has a flavor of its own. With the amount of wonder and enchantment it brings, I’d say it even reaches that same caliber. I looked forward to the new music each town would bring, and it certainly brought that sense of adventure that the classics gave me all those years ago. With a soundtrack that’s nearly 3 hours long and consisting of 70 songs, the music of Cris Tales certainly hits the high notes.

What Could Have Saved Cris Tales?

With some significant tweaks, Cris Tales could offer an experience that is worthy of getting lost in.

The exploration and navigation seemed tedious during my playthrough. Since the game does not employ 3D sprites, the lack of a free camera system is understandable. However, the 2D take on a 3D world does make finding the right path or object quite difficult. Adding a system like Persona 5‘s third eye view or Assassin’s Creed‘s eagle vision could have saved me a lot of hassle and my precious hours. The lack of a sprint button only adds to this frustrating issue. Watching 2D sprites moving at abysmally slow speeds is no joke and no fun at all.

On the Nintendo Switch, in particular, the game is a lagfest, making traversing through the game even more of a pain. Frame rate drops are abundant and getting through loading screens takes an eternity. What makes it worse is that before the start of a battle you have to go through a loading screen as well, it’s not a seamless transition. And for the parrying/double attack system, good luck on getting that timing right. For the fact that Cris Tales relies on 2D sprites, I was hoping the Switch’s technical limitations wouldn’t serve as a problem. The game direly needs some optimization on the hybrid handheld.  Strangely enough, the Switch is locked from taking screenshots of the game as well, which is quite a shame considering how picturesque it looks.

Besides this, the lack of a proper save system and endless random encounters can also cost you a ton of hours. In the game’s defense, modern-day JRPGs have probably spoiled me. I’m too used to swiftly running my way past a group of enemies and relying on handy autosaves.  Cris Tales definitely takes inspiration from Chrono Trigger in terms of its save system: you have to travel all the way to the world map to manually save your data. Thankfully there are a few bonfires/camping sites in the townships, settlements, and dungeons where the game does provide the option to rest and save your data. But in the hour of need, you hardly come across them. Adding to the tediousness, the unavoidable random encounters only make the experience even more frustrating –  forcing you into endless repetitive combat, which discourages the player from backtracking. An option to avoid these encounters instead of fleeing during combat could have helped a lot.

The last but not least frustrating issue at hand is Mathias, the talking frog. Like Persona 5‘s Morgana and Persona 4‘s Teddie, almost an abundance of JRPGs has a talking animal mascot. I still do not like it when Morgana forces me to sleep, preventing me from participating in any productive activity. Likewise, Mathias tediously slows Cris down when it comes to solving puzzles using his ‘Time-Hop’ ability. Using this ability, Mathias can hop in and out of the Past, Present, and Future to gather clues and relevant info. This process is excruciatingly slow at times and if performed in numerous successions, it can hamper your experience quite severely.

Real Talk

Cris Tales certainly does a good job at being faithful to the classics, but the time mechanics that set it apart from the rest have so much unexplored potential. The art and music are filled with child-like wonder, and it’s oozing with style on that front. All-in-all, Cris Tales is a solid game that just needs a bit more oomph and polish, and while it absolutely nails some aspects, the rest need some improvement.


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