Time travel in RPG’s is very much a staple of the genre. The concept of changing the past to change the future, and dealing with the butterfly effect in-between hasty time shenanigans, usually opens up a vast diversity to most games that choose to explore that narrative choice. Cris Tales is the latest RPG to join the time manipulation genre and attempts to stand out from the pack by letting you view the past, present and possible future simultaneously. Cris Tales was developed by Colombian indie game studios Dreams Uncorporated and Syck, and published by Modus Games.
Playing as Crisbell, an orphan with no knowledge of her past, you quickly find time altering powers awakened within you. Now a Time Mage, you’re thrust into a war against the Time Empress for the very fate of the world. Joined by an assortment of characters along the way, it’s your job to save the world while using your powers to make the best choices for everyone in need.
Time manipulation makes up the games core mechanic in Cris Tales. From the way you view the world around you, to how you manipulate enemies in battle, to jumping back and forth between timelines to grab items. Using a prism-like view, Crisbell is able to see the past, present and future of the world around her all at the same time. It’s important to be able to view these sections of the timeline as choice is another major component of gameplay.
Very early on you’ll find yourself put into positions where Crisbell has to make choices that affect the people around her. You’ll have to choose between saving the home of a friend or the shop of an apothecary, for instance, where saving the shop helps the town but leaves a friend destitute. From there the choices you make broaden in scope and severity. The future of entire cities – let alone the world in the main story – becomes your choice.
There are plenty of sidequests too and it’s important to note, that while many are the usual fetch quests, some of them will factor into which choices you’re given. At the first city, for instance, failing to complete a specific sidequest before the boss fight will lock you out of at least one of the options on that cities future. These are the moments that Cris Tales shines in as it forces you stop and consider the options presented to you.
Time manipulation factors into exploration as well, though to a much slighter degree. Matias, the talking frog that leads Crisbell down this rabbit hole, can jump to the past or the future, usually to grab items, plant a seed or listen to a conversation.
Combat is a typical turn based affair but the added time powers add some strategic depth to battles. Crisbell can cast time crystals to the past and to the future. You can turn an enemy back to its younger self, removing some of its more powerful attacks or you could cast poison on one and then throw it into the future where the over-time damage effects smack down all at once. A carefully planned attack can wipe out an enemy in one-shot, but it’s also possible to cost yourself a valuable round using the ability.
Sadly the game doesn’t use it’s time concept as well as it should. Crisbell’s ability so see the different timelines only applies in cities and towns. The main map, dungeons and forests, etc. don’t get afforded that luxury. In combat as well, your choices tend to get limited in later battles and I found it easier to just brute force my way through a fight with standard or magical attacks instead of using Crisbell’s abilities. As well, her abilities don’t work on later bosses who are immune or can counter them, making them ultimately feel a little gimmicky outside of standard enemy encounters.
The meat of any RPG though is its story. Cris Tales does a great job here. The interesting cast of characters and the writing kept pushing me forward to see what other choices I would have to make. Cris Tales manages to also throw in other themes, such as the destruction of the environment for gain, and just whose life is worth less than profit, though it doesn’t explore them as in-depth as it could.
Visually Cris Tales is absolutely stunning. The game uses 2D sprites to glorious effect and the artstyle is a visual standout that makes it easily recognisable amongst its peers. It’s fairly similar in the approach that Nintendo have used in their Paper Mario series, but with a sense of visual panache that is entirely its own. Most of the game is screenshot worthy. The voice acting, as well, is good.
There are two major areas where Cris Tales does suffer though. As a love affair to old JRPGs, it unfortunately embraces random enemy encounters, a mechanic I hoped we’d have left completely in the past by now. While not a terrible train smash by itself, when joined with the game’s other issue, it can become a chore. And that other issue is the loading times. Whether you’re jumping into a cutscene, from a town to the map or dungeon and, especially in encounters, the games loading times are far too many and far too long. On average each of these scenarios could take anywhere from six to fifteen seconds or more to load, and when you couple that with how often you’ll be jumping back and forth from place to place, having to watch a cutscene as you make a choice or between the random enemy encounters which could be anywhere from two steps to twenty, you’ve got yourself a lot of thumb twiddling on your hands.
Even with an interesting time-driven choice mechanic that isn’t utilised to its fullest potential, Cris Tales is still a fun and captivating RPG thanks to its stellar art design, good writing and memorable characters. If you’ve been looking for something to scratch that JRPG itch, then you should definitely be checking out Cris Tales.
A review code for Cris Tales was provided to Gameblur by the publisher
Audio8/10 Very Good
- Gorgeous art design
- Choices make you stop and think about them
- Memorable cast
- Time mechanic isn’t used to its full potential
- Long load times