For those of you making notes with your ‘what makes a game reviewer’ criteria, I haven’t fully completed Cris Tales yet, but, without summarising with a score at the end and filler in between about something unrelated, I can give a fair assessment thus far.
I have created a post with some early game tips to distract you, however.
In short, finishing this circa 40+ hours title in a very short space of time before the release date, finishing that novel and running for mayor is nigh on impossible. Instead, I will tell you that Cris Tales is as good as your expectations but will give you a run for your money.
I’ve been covering the title in news posts and elsewhere for a while. No doubt, like your good self, the visuals piqued your interest, and they do not disappoint. Almost like a fairytale pop-up book, but still with a flat aesthetic (if that’s a good enough assessment), this game really is beautiful – the music too. Hands up, I left the game running in places just to listen to the score.
You play the headliner, Crisbell. Her adventure begins when a frog in a top hat steals a rose she’s picked. The cad! Cue the introductions to the fantasy world and characters and general tone. Cris Tales isn’t a sickly yarn, but it’s a sweet, sometimes naive and upbeat experience even with the doom invoked.
By the time she catches up with the frog, she’s whisked into a pseudo Sword In The Stone tale, only with time being the factor (though she does get a swank blade in the process). Crisbell is a destined Time Mage and can manipulate time crystals to see into the future and dip into the past.
This mechanic is bloody marvellous – a cone of vision from above shines upon her like a spotlight, forming three triangles on the screen. In the centre, it’s the present, with Crisbell the focal point. To the sides, time can shift, and she’ll get a brief insight into what will happen in the future and can shape that – either directly or by sending her new frog companion, Matias, back in time or in the future to solve a problem.
Traversing the world map and locations you’re able to visit like a classic JRPG type adventure; you’ll interact with NPCs and fulfil sidequests galore. Sure, you can steamroll through the story alone, but it’s a big game, and once you get the side quest thirst, it pays off to complete these optional objectives for new gear, but notably the experience.
The experience isn’t for anecdotes or for compiling memoirs but levelling up characters. Outside of exploration, there’s a simple combat system, but it’s a very active turn-based experience despite its appearance. Easily playable through a controller, you’ll encounter enemies, select a tactic, but be very much involved with the outcome – notably as a modifier of sorts.
By default, combat in Cris Tales features some very basic attacks. Enemies will be on either side of you, but rather than a disadvantage – i.e. ambushes like in Final Fantasy VII, these formations can work in your favour with time manipulation and skills. It’s possible to apply an elemental attack on an enemy – i.e. poison, then using Crisbell’s powers, shift the enemy back or forward in time to amplify the effect.
Pressing the action button at the right time during an attack, you’ll complete a bonus attack that may give an additional attack or critical strike. The window isn’t so strict, so there’s a little freedom in timing. While the artwork and animation are superb, the combat sequences can be a little off, laggy – whatever you want to call it. The same method applies to your defence, as pressing the action button in time will deflect or parry an incoming attack.
Random encounters may send a few over the edge in the early days of Cris Tales as they’re persistent and if you can’t get the grip of the defensive timing, you’ll be reloading a save game until you master it. Save points are pretty generous, but you can’t restore health this way, nor can you recover with each level up. You’ll need spells, potions, or tents for that. The latter is another (expensive) consumable that allows you to replenish health, mana and crystal power at a save point.
Not only does time serve as a decent gameplay experience during battles and exploration, but the storytelling, too, and Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK have nailed the JRPG genre perfectly when it comes to the tale and characterisation.
Interactions with NPCs are enjoyable, and all fully voice acted with such enthusiasm that it’s infectious. These exchanges and the cinematics for when you delve further into the story, unlocking a new realm will (should) put a smile on your face. Just be prepared that you have to work for it initially.
The random encounters were infuriating in the game’s early hours without any healing spells or tents, which soon dissipated further into the game. Still, that doesn’t stop it from being mildly frustrating when you want to get from A to B without a fast travel option and frequently interrupted with a fight. I assume it’s not just me, but these events can be disorientating as you return to the world map, forgetting the direction you were heading. Then, in your confusion, you encounter another fight…
That said, the battles were enjoyable, and the tempo is just right – the added attacks and counters by getting the player to react is well needed and not just a case of spamming your way through the same old attack until your mana is up.
Available on multiple platforms, Cris Tales is worth seeking out on any device you decide to go for. In terms of presentation, it’s impressive but will translate just as well on the Switch as it would on the PC. You don’t need ray tracing to create a believable fantasy world where you can forget about all those grumpy so and sos in the real world and indulge in a spot of time manipulation where hanging out with a frog in a top hat is just a regular day. Just keep out of sight of the Time Empress until you’re really ready.