Big fan of Japan, whiskey, and loud music.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
July 20, 2021
Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK
There I was, about 6 hours into Cris Tales. The game was starting to make sense; there’s some timey-wimey stuff going on, classic JRPG combat, an unassuming hero. All in all, a classic formula. Suddenly, I’m presented a choice – who is going to lead the town of St. Clarity? Will it be the salt-of-the-earth, social activist who wants equality for all, or will it be the cashed-up aristocrat with enough money and power to lead the citizenry to prosperity? I choose the former, and I’m given a montage through time at the changes that will come about due to my choices. It was then I realised that Cris Tales was no simple JRPG with some time-travel flavouring. This was a game with consequences.
Cris Tales is a colourful, whimsical love letter to classic RPGs that doesn’t shy away from its influences. There are references and easter eggs, both overt and subtle, around every corner of the game, creating a gameplay experience that is both comfortingly familiar and delightfully nostalgic. At the same time, Cris Tales takes the tried-and-true time travel mechanics and presents them in new ways that fundamentally dictate gameplay systems and narrative beats that will keep even the most veteran of JRPG players engaged.
At the core of Cris Tale’s gameplay is a three-panel screen system that splits the environment into past, present, and future. These panes of existence in time can be moved between to solve puzzles, interact with NPCs, and discover important information for your quest.
The past, present, and future panels play a major part in combat as well. One example is inflicting poison on an enemy in the past, and dragging them into the present to compound all the damage-over-time they would have accrued into one devastating blast of poison. Another tactic is casting a water spell on an enemy with a shield in the present, soaking it, and then pushing it into the future, where that soaked shield is now eaten away with rust. It is possibilities like this that make the simple-on-the-surface combat reach new levels of depth.
As mentioned above, Cris Tales is chock full of odes and references to the great JRPGs of the past. From the familiar frantic swell of violins that signal the start of combat, lifted from the early Final Fantasy NES and SNES titles, to the combination techniques between characters, much like Chrono Trigger. Cris Tales is wearing its influence on its sleeves while trying to spin these into a fresh new experience. Items have familiar, if slightly tweaked, names that will aid in navigating the menus; where you might recognise Phoenix Down as a reviving item, in Cris Tales it is a Flask of Feathers. Even characters like the classic Biggs and Wedge make an appearance, adding another Final Fantasy reference to the repertoire. Tropes such as goddesses of time, orphanage matrons, even feline merchants, litter the landscape of Cris Tales and deepen the connection to the iconic titles of the past.
“I find that these references and odes to what came before spark a lot of joy as I play”
Some may see Cris Tale’s referencing as lazy, derivative, or on-the-nose, but others like me see this as a tip of the hat to what works and what resonates with the player. JRPGs have been a tentpole genre in gaming for many years, so personally, I find that these references and odes to what came before spark a lot of joy as I play.
With its cast of likable and relatable characters, Cris Tales takes the player on a fish-out-of-water journey that, while never quite hitting the heights of classics of the past, hits all the right notes and contains enough twists and turns to keep you engaged.
The capable plot and engaging combat systems do a fair job to balance out some unfortunate and glaring issues, which thankfully never completely ruined my experience with Cris Tales. Most annoying of these issues is the seeming lack of optimisation for the PS5. Before and after each and every random battle is a load screen. Not a screen shatter or swipe like in Pokémon or Persona, but an actual load screen. In the early parts of the game, when the plot is not quite as engaging and the combat options are limited, this was a real problem that could potentially have killed the game for me. Fortunately, the game is balanced enough that grinding isn’t necessary so this issue was reduced after the first few hours of the game.
Another issue, which ironically is somewhat tied to the very nature of the game, is events or characters being out of place or saying the wrong dialogue at the wrong time, or even entire screens being populated by characters that couldn’t possibly be there.
“Key NPCs will give you quests and then revert their dialogue back to before the quest was active, rendering the quest unfinishable”
Early in the game, there is a town hall meeting with a corrupt mayor and his aristocratic followers. Over the course of the next few hours, you expose and then defeat said mayor. However, after returning to the town hall I found he is very much still alive in the same place he was hours earlier. Key NPCs will give you quests and then revert their dialogue back to before the quest was active, rendering the quest unfinishable. I found errors like this quite distracting and debilitating to the overall experience, and it is a shame that these have not yet been resolved.
To end on a positive note, there is no denying the visual style, graphics, voice acting, and musical score all work together impeccably to set the tone of the game. The diorama-meets-storybook graphical style is simply gorgeous, with everything from cobblestone city streets to grassy mountains littered with creeks and waterfalls simply dancing off the screen and dripping with charm. Everything in the game is voice acted and the voices are spot on and performed very capably. I love music in games, and the musical score of Cris Tales is extremely well orchestrated and fits the tone perfectly – the only downside is the tracks are on the short side so repeat often, causing a slight sense of monotony when spending a lot of time in any particular area.
Cris Tales isn’t going to blow anyone away, and probably won’t gain a huge following, but I still enjoyed most of my time with the game. There are enough positive points to balance out some of the glaring and more egregious issues present in the game. I particularly loved the art style, voice acting, and implementation of the time travel mechanics across combat, quests, and puzzles. Unfortunately, the constant presence of loading screens and the scripting issues make Cris Tales a flawed experience.