Libra: Cris Tales (Switch)
Release Date: July 20, 2021
File Size: 2.7 GB
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Dreams Uncorporated
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Libra is our “first impressions” series. These are generally spoiler free, but may reveal some base plot points and mechanic details.
As the independently-developed video game market has deepened and grown, those with an appreciation for Japanese Role-Playing Games have made their presence known. Case in point, the Dreams Uncorporated project Cris Tales serves as a love letter to the genre with its own beautiful visual aesthetic and unique mechanics. While Cris Tales releases on the Switch today, we haven’t quite had enough time to review it in full… though that’s not for a lack of trying. Should you give this gorgeous, two-dimensional turn-based RPG a try? Read on and find out.
Cris Tales is a story all about Crisbell, a young woman who discovers her latent Time Mage abilities, which enable her to glimpse into the past and the future. Not only this, but in tandem with a curious hat-wearing frog named Matias, she can manipulate objects and characters in order to complete side quests. This usually means talking to the right NPCs to get a dialogue prompt, finding the right place to activate your time hop ability (a simple button prompt), and interacting with that item in either the past or the future. This allows requests to be solved and the future of a town to be improved, offering more opportunities for new interactions to take place.
This time-hopping ability can be applied in battles, as well, with enemies appearing on the left or right side of the party being subject to hops into the past and future, respectively. The game will show you how mechanical- and metal-based enemies can be made to rust after being soaked with water magic, or how you can plant a seed in one time frame before jumping forward to cause it to grow and deal massive damage or an area-of-effect debuff, but normal encounters rarely require anything other than basic attacks and skills in order to circumvent their challenge. A decent, but ambiguous action command input system for maximizing attack damage and either blocking or parrying incoming attacks is a highlight of combat, and rubies can be collected from fallen enemies in order to buy new supplies, equipment, and enhancements for weapons.
Cris Tales features a diorama-esque visual art style, which has players moving into towns on the z-axis and being able to go down various alleyways on the x-axis due to a mostly-fixed camera. The game is designed to keep Crisbell at the center of exploration, due to how visions into the past and future split the usual field of exploration. However, there are only certain places where Crisbell will find herself able to manipulate the environment, so when you are traversing a dungeon, you may find yourself exclusively dealing in present terms in order to solve puzzles.
The game is attempting to sell the premise of time mages and the nature of its world, so you’ll be tasked with a very rigid set of directions in order to advance the plot, meaning events won’t trigger unless you speak in a specific order with the right NPCs and objects. This can often feel a bit tedious, as the game does not offer you a great deal of freedom to experiment with its combat or exploration mechanics until a few hours in, but it is made doubly so by Cris Tales’s overall performance issues.
While its visual splendor is certainly a sight to behold, screen and event transitions trigger ten-to-fifteen second loading screens, and slow character movement and camera panning makes even this relatively tight opening feel like a slog. Add the tedium of random encounters (that have no quality-of-life rate adjustments), which require a loading transition on both ends and occur far too frequently, and this lovely-looking and sounding game starts to wear on the patience, as listening to its peppy and bright soundtrack while staring at a blank, white screen is frustrating. In terms of basic quality of life, Crisbell’s walking speed feels disappointingly slow, allowing the player to take in the grandeur of the environmental art and camera pans, but making the repeated back-and-forth trips through all environments similarly unenjoyable. Using the time hop ability means taking control of Matias, so you’ll want to be as close to your objective as possible so you can contend with his even-slower movement speed.
While there is a day-one patch required to play Cris Tales on release, the review copy shows no signs of these elements having any sort of improvements made. Despite the impressive visuals and fully voice-acted script, Cris Tales fails to engage the player in its world in terms of freedom or narrative, offering plodding gameplay and a very basic fish-out-of-water plot structure. Hopefully there are some improvements made in terms of its overall performance, but even then, the game leans very heavily on its presentation and offers fairly standard RPG conventions. If you’re looking for a visual feast, you’re sure to find it in Cris Tales, but there’s not much else to offer
- Beautiful Visual Aesthetics
- Unique Premise, World, and Gameplay Ideas
- Action Command Turn-based System
- Long Loading Times
- Slow Movement Speed and Pacing
- Normal Battles barely require Time Mechanics
We’ll be following up with a full review of Cris Tales in the near future. If you have any questions about the game, feel free to reach out to us on Twitter, or check in with us on Discord. Here’s hoping the full experience of Cris Tales is worth the time investment.