From the moment I first saw it, I KNEW I had to play Cris Tales. RPG gameplay with a time-bending twist where your actions across different timelines really do have consequences? It feels like something we’ve been promised a million times over by games in the past, but this time I had a good feeling it was going to deliver.
It’s felt like it has been a long time coming, but after one last delay late last year, I’ve finally got the adventure in the palms of my hands on the Nintendo Switch. I’m happy to report that it has lived up to all of my hype too, with the clever implementation of time-travel genuinely complimenting the more traditional RPG mechanics of Cris Tales and helpingestablish it as a truly unique experience.
Check out a gallery of screeenshots for the game down below:
The story of Cris Tales tells of a young girl named Crisbell, who finds herself destined for a grand adventure after a chance run-in with a frog in a top hat. Always an interesting way to start a story, right? Well, whilst chasing down that frog to recover a flower she picked might not be too treacherous, obtaining the powers of a Time Mage in the process and having to defend her hometown from incoming baddies certainly is.
What follows is a grand adventure that sees Crisbell and the group of colourful folk that join her explore the wider world as they look to bring down the villainous Empress of Time. With her new time-bending powers in tow, Crisbell will also have a wider effect on the many kingdoms that make up the world along the way – sometimes for better, and sometimes for worst…
Time-manipulation is hardly a unique idea when it comes to RPG storytelling, but the way it is integrated in the world of Cris Tales felt innovative throughout. Crisbell will face countless situations in her adventure where she’ll be able to travel to the past or future to make changes that affect the world, with a lot of these playing out into the grander scheme of things and affecting the conclusion of the game. Cris Tales has multiple endings, so players will have to think their actions through carefully if they hope to see a happy one.
“Time-manipulation is hardly a unique idea when it comes to RPG storytelling, but the way it is integrated in the world of Cris Tales felt innovative throughout.”
However, whilst your actions can have severe consequences across the wider scale of the world, there are also plenty of smaller instances that can be affected by Crisbell’s choices. These were some of my favourite moments in Cris Tales; there isn’t so much pressure on the player to necessarily do the right or wrong thing, but there’s a consequence to be felt either way. These are often on a smaller scale, but it’s always clear in the game world that a difference has been made. It helped make the story feel more engaging, but even more so when you know that even the smallest of actions can be significant.
Whilst the time-manipulation is cleverly utilised in the narrative, it also plays into the game’s combat. At its core, the combat of Cris Tales is straightforward as far as RPGs are concerned. It’s all turn-based, with the player’s party and the enemies taking it in turns to perform your typical RPG actions. The turn-order is clearly indicated too, so it’s easy enough to strategize and formulate plans when battling.
In a similar vein to the combat of Paper Mario, there’s also an emphasis placed on timing button presses to both strengthen attacks and nullify incoming ones. This can be a little finicky to get used to (especially when encountering some attacks for the first time), but it’s otherwise a neat idea that brings an extra dose of action to the battling where players need to be switched on at all times.
“Crisbell is able to use time to change her enemies, whether that’s by making them older or younger. Depending on the foe, this will change their capabilities.”
It all sounds pretty ordinary really, right? That’s because I haven’t mentioned the time-bending mechanics yet. Crisbell is able to use time to change her enemies, whether that’s by making them older or younger. Depending on the foe, this will change their capabilities. It can be a double-edged sword, though; whilst some older enemies will become weaker with age, others will become more experienced and stronger. On the flip-side, a younger foe may be more inexperienced and easier to defeat, or they may have more energy and become deadlier.
It’s a really clever idea that demands experimentation from the player, with the way that time affects enemies certainly proving to be unpredictable. It adds an extra element of strategy to battling, but also brings with it a sense of tension given that players won’t necessarily know if the change in time will actually prove beneficial. I was a big fan of the system, with it bringing a meaningful and narratively appropriate evolution of your typical turn-based RPG battling.
“Besides turn-based combat, Cris Tales features plenty of your typical RPG hallmarks – you know, dungeons to explore, puzzles to complete (that utilise time-manipulation in some neat ways), new gear to equip and upgrade… that sort of stuff.”
It is worth mentioning that there isn’t a retry function found in Cris Tales’ battling though, so if you die, you’re going back to your last save point. Maybe I’ve been a bit spoilt by modern RPGs being more forgiving in this regard, but there were a few occasions where I lost a bit of progress because I was defeated in battle and hadn’t saved for a while. Saving is old-school too, with it only done at specific save points or on the world map. Again, this is traditional design for the genre so can’t be held against the game too much, but I would have preferred it if it was a little bit more forgiving – especially since players can get themselves in an unnecessary spot of bother when experimenting with time-manipulation on enemies or figuring out when to hit the button to try and nullify incoming attacks from them.
Besides turn-based combat, Cris Tales features plenty of your typical RPG hallmarks – you know, dungeons to explore, puzzles to complete (that utilise time-manipulation in some neat ways), new gear to equip and upgrade… that sort of stuff. There are a ton of side quests available too, many of which will shape the outcome of the story. As mentioned, Cris Tales features multiple endings based upon your actions, but the fate of the kingdoms you explore are also affected on an individual basis. Getting the best for them demands exploration and the completion of quests, so players will really have to invest themselves into the world if they hope to create a brighter future.
“Cris Tales features multiple endings based upon your actions, but the fate of the kingdoms you explore are also affected on an individual basis.”
It’s something that I actually loved about the game. So many RPGs feature side quests that are just there as filler content, but everything felt like it had a bit more purpose here. The stakes were low for a lot of them, but the fact that almost everything you did affected the world in some shape or form made it easier to invest in – especially since the actions you complete in the past can shape both modern times and the future.
The way that the world changes in time is clearly displayed in-game too, with each locale you explore split into three segments on the screen: the past, the present, and the future. You’re essentially exploring three variations of an area when playing and you can see it all in action in real-time, with it easily standing out as one of the game’s most impressive and unique features. It’s hard to put how cleverly implemented it is into words, but seeing how your actions across time affect the future is REALLY cool. It’s one of the best forms of time-manipulation I’ve seen in any video game.
Whilst Cris Tales’ story is engaging and gameplay is fantastic, it also manages to look beautiful too. It adopts this unique cartoon-like aesthetic which wouldn’t look out of place on a Saturday morning TV show, but that also feels distinct in design. The world is full to the brim with colour, whilst the slick environment design and creative characters all help build a visually appealing world. Add to that the dazzling time-manipulation effects and the way that the world and characters change across each moment in time, and it becomes hard not to be left in awe of the game’s visuals.
“The world is full to the brim with colour, whilst the slick environment design and creative characters all help build a visually appealing world.”
I’ve had a REALLY good time playing through Cris Tales, but it did bring with it some little flaws. Whilst there was my aforementioned issue with saving in the game (which is more of a personal issue instead of something I severely hold against the game), I also noticed that the load times could be quite lengthy. It’s especially noticeable when entering random battles, where players would see a delay before the encounter even starts. This wouldn’t be so bad if the encounter rate wasn’t so high in the game, but battles are VERY frequent when exploring dungeons… sometimes frustratingly so.
Maybe I’ve been a bit spoilt by the SSDs on modern consoles, but the loading did feel like it broke the pace of the experience a little in these instances. It’s probably an issue that’s exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and last-gen versions of the game though, so those with their nice and shiny SSD-equipped consoles shouldn’t have to worry too much.
Cris Tales utilises traditional RPG mechanics but applies a wonderful time-manipulating twist across all facets of its design. The narrative, the combat, exploration – everything is based around altering time and it really makes for a brilliantly unique experience. It also just so happens to look beautiful too, which is always a plus.
There are a few things that let it down, such as the unforgiving save system, the high encounter rate, and the loading times. Thankfully, these problems don’t stop Cris Tales from being an utterly engrossing RPG experience and one that I certainly look forward to re-visiting again in the future.
Developer: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK
Publisher: Modus Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC