Cris Tales Review (Switch)
Release Date: July 20, 2021
File Size: 5.3 GB
Publisher: Modus Games
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Whenever I see an indie game being lauded with comparisons to extremely popular titles, I am always a skeptic. After all, I can’t truly say if I’ve ever played another game like Griftlands, Anodyne 2, or Children of Zodiarcs, even though I can tell you where all three fit in terms of genre. But when people toss around comparisons to Chrono Trigger, Persona 5, and Bravely Default, it worries me- and not just because I only like one of those three. Video games make an impact based on what traits make them stand out, not what similarities can be found with other successful titles. They all find their niche when they do something that other games have not yet accomplished.
So what does Cris Tales, a game inspired by the aforementioned popular titles, do that is unique and helps it stand apart from its contemporaries? Well, it looks pretty. And unlike many modern Japanese Role-Playing Game-inspired titles, it is extremely archaic. So I guess we should probably talk about that.
Cris Tales is a JRPG-inspired, turn-based title that takes more cues in its design from Super Mario RPG. It is largely linear, with several chapters that center around specific environments containing the important locations, dungeons, and characters that will be key to progressing the narrative. You won’t really need to travel elsewhere on your journey, and it is perhaps a blessing that the developers attempted to centralize the action, for reasons we will get into later. Towards the end of the title, you’ll need to do some needlessly tedious backtracking, but that is an exception to the already tedious backtracking that already exists in the game. We should move on.
It also features action command combat, during which the player can deal additional damage. These are apparently indicated by sound cues, but I’ve managed to hit the basic attacks as soon as the name card of the attack pops up, while several of the spell action commands remain elusive to me. Another central motif to combat are the ways the player can manipulate time. Often, you’ll end up surrounded by enemies, and you can send enemies on the left side of the screen into the past, while sending enemies on the right into the future. This arbitrary distinction somewhat complicates how you manipulate time in order to cast spells, but the most evident benefit of the former mechanic is depowering your enemies by making them younger. However, sending enemies into the future often strengthens their abilities and HP pool, so you’ll want to make sure you set up some of the game’s debuff-based time combinations. One playable character can deal area of effect damage and debuffs by planting summons called Yucandragora, but you will have to wait a few turns before they sprout.
Enter time crystals: by planting these in the past and breaking the crystal, or planting them in the present and creating a future crystal, you can cause these attacks to trigger earlier. Similarly, your elemental mage can inflict a soaked debuff that can result in rust when brought forward in time, lowering the defense of enemies. You can apply damage-over-time poison or have it all hit your enemy at once by bringing them into the future. There are plenty of these cute, situational applications of time magic, but because only Crisbell can trigger time shifts, you need to make sure she or your party members are equipped properly so that they can act before or after she does. There is a handy pass function that allows you to delay your turn in order to set up some of the more complex spell combinations, but ultimately, you may find yourself asking if the investment of two to three player turns in order to complete a single area of effect or splash damage spell is worth all the effort. This highlights the slow-paced nature of Cris Tales’s combat, which ends up further worsening some of the fundamental issues present in the game.
You’ll be exploring fortunately-short dungeons throughout Cris Tales, rarely clocking in over an hour and a half in length, unless you should find yourself back-tracking for some reason. Many dungeons involve environmental puzzles that use Crisbell’s blossoming time manipulation powers. Reverting objects to their former glory or turning them to dust and ruin is a major feature that both opens new pathways forward and can also create shortcuts back to previous areas. There are occasional, broader puzzles to solve and environmental hazards that utilize dungeon theming, but rarely will they test your brain all that much.
The towns and occasionally other locations in Cris Tales are populated with a slew of NPCs with their fair share of problems, which you can often solve by using Crisbell’s powers in conjunction with her weird, top-hat wearing frog Matias to hop into the past or the future. If an individual is looking for an object that no longer exists in the present, you can jump into the past to get one, or if you want to help an individual realize their life’s pursuit in the present, you can jump into the future to snag their creation and bring at back to them in the present. Again, it is a cute idea that works with the game’s central theming, but it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, nor does it result in anything more complex than a string of dialogue and flavor text.
Well, that’s not necessarily true. As it turns out, there are a number of side quests that can drastically improve the future of Cris Tales’s world, and if you want to obtain the best ending, you’ll need to put on your completionist’s boots and get ready to trek around to complete them all. While you won’t really be asked to traverse to previous areas very often, many NPCs will ask you to ferry or collect items that can be found in the current area from one place to the next. You might consider some of these side-content, but again, they’re essential for getting the best ending to the game, and your current list of quests can be failed in full if you progress past a point of no return boss fight, so that’s just a little bit more gameplay to complete before moving to the next area.
Narrative and Aesthetics
The developers at Dreams Uncorporated are very keen to get their audience to love the world of Cris Tales, and while some of their methods are successful, others fail to make an impact. There’s no denying the impressive aesthetics on display on Cris Tales. From the art style and environment design, to the nearly-fully voice-acted cast of characters and narrative, to the whimsical fantasy soundtrack, the art of this game is doing some very heavy lifting. The inspiration taken from Columbian landmarks truly makes many of the game’s set pieces stand out, and the fragmented screen that appears while exploring towns that allows you to view the past, present, and future versions of both the landscape and characters is astounding. Keep in mind, there are a slew of original character designs to marvel at, and while some towns might feel sparsely populated, it is often due to the sheer amount of original character designs found with past, present, and future versions within, and is sometimes circumvented by the reuse of armored guards and officials that have the same outfits.
The game’s writing doesn’t quite reach the same heights, however, and although the amount of world-building is yet another way the game attempts to engage the player, the overabundance of a fairly linear and bland narrative backed by copious cutscenes stumbles in comparison with Cris Tales’s other features. The orphan Crisbell is granted extraordinary power that forces her to leave home and discover more about herself, and in doing so, she meets a colorful cast of human and non-human characters, all the while perfecting her abilities and learning about her mysterious past that keen eyes might pick up on relatively soon.
The amount of voice-acted quips between your supporting cast can’t support what is a very slight script, but the amount of scripted content and blocked-off areas also makes for a very linear and direct experience. I would argue that Cris Tales’s narrative is more or less the equivalent of a decent Saturday morning cartoon- it poses some questions about meddling with time and attempting to help everyone, but the characters rarely possess depth or nuance that makes for mature storytelling. Crisbell herself is a serviceable and kind-hearted protagonist worth admiring, and the narrative works well enough within the confines of the roughly twenty-five to thirty hours of content. Just don’t expect something as complex as bigger-budget RPGs, or something as polished as some of the classics.
Impressions and Conclusion
Now it’s time to discuss the elephant in the room, which is the concept of “time,” itself. I have no doubt that Cris Tales might be a perfectly decent game on consoles other than the Nintendo Switch, or perhaps on any platform where the game doesn’t possess ten to fifteen second loading screens between each cutscene, environment, and battle transition. But due to this, Cris Tales becomes a somewhat ironic commentary on the passage of time, to the point where I almost couldn’t stomach more than two hours of continuous play due to how disjointed and slow it felt.
This troubling timeliness issue extends further into the fundamental game design, as well. As stated, Cris Tales is a rather linear experience, but this streamlining of content doesn’t help the overall pacing of the game. Crisbell’s default walking speed might allow the player to take in the lovely sights and sounds of the environments, but it is painfully slow and makes backtracking an absolute bore. This works in concert with the high encounter rate present in dungeons, which also kicks you into another pair of loading screens. The fast-travel gates that are unlocked towards the end of the game seem to add insult to injury, as they come at a point which largely feels like filler and aren’t even used in a way that seems analogous to improving the overall play experience.
Let me present a hypothetical scenario: let’s say your game does not have autosave functionality and requires players to save at certain points in towns and dungeons. When in a dungeon, you can use save points to camp, as well, regaining HP, MP, and CP (Crisbell’s time manipulation energy). Sounds like a recipe rife for efficient gameplay, right? Except tents cost ten thousand marbles, the game’s currency, which is an extremely high price in the early game and remains a steep investment throughout, which seems bizarre. As most modern titles offer the ability to heal easily and accessibly or forgo carrying over damage from encounter to encounter, it seems somewhat archaic to have such an expensive healing item. Rather than healing where you want, you might have to hoof it back to town in order to stay at an inn rather than stay in a dungeon, especially if you are attempting to save up for an expensive piece of equipment, or even a bunch of consumable items.
At its core, Cris Tales feels much more classic than one might expect from a modern title. There are no fast travel points, there is an equipment grind, the scan feature that one might expect to use to analyze and solve many problems doesn’t work on enemies fairly often. Speed affects your frequency of moves in combat, and side quests often give rewards for free that you could just as easily buy. It feels more like a product made for those who actually remember the halcyon days of more archaic RPGs than an access point for a more modern audience.
If someone were to tell me they were purchasing Cris Tales, I would ask them, “for which system?” Because the Switch version performs the worst, with long loading times and sometimes stuttering frame rates. Then, I would ask them if they enjoyed RPGs with save points, because that is already a barrier for entry that some might not be willing to accept. Even with the suspend software function, which sadly still tracks hours in sleep mode as hours played on the in-game playtime clock, you need to play more methodically and consider your resources with a system like this, as there is always the chance you might unexpectedly bite it and lose a chunk of progress. Lastly, I would ask how much they love turn-based battles, as Cris Tales conflates its time-traveling gimmick with depth and fails to acknowledge the fact that the usage of three turns does not expedite or streamline its gameplay in any way.
If you can stomach all three of those aspects and still want to enjoy the genuinely impressive art style, then Cris Tales might be the game for you. But as it stands, the game needs more than just an improvement to performance to get anything more than a “buyer beware” from this reviewer.