Indie games are everywhere nowadays, but Cris Tales is one of the few JRPGs that stood out recently, making it a prime target for a review!
Made by Columbian developers SYCK and Dreams Incorporated, the game is published by Modus Games and is available on Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Stadia and PC via Steam. This review of Cris Tales is based on my experience playing it on a PS5.
Without further delay, let us dive into this Cris Tales review.
Time for time travel
In Cris Tales, players play as a young and optimistic girl named Crisbell who has to save the world of Crystallis from the Time Empress. As you can already guess, time travel plays a huge part in the plot. However, unlike many pieces of fiction which use time travel as a plot device, Cris Tales story never gets too convoluted.
In fact, the writing of the game feels like something out of a fairy tale. It is simple and charming, which works well for the game’s overall presentation. The characters are bright and oozing with personality. Rarely is there ever a dull moment in the game. That goes for even the supporting cast.
Most of the story is presented in visual novel-style dialogues alongside the occasional animated cutscene. Each line of dialogue is fully voiced which is rather impressive. There is no option for Japanese audio, but the English voice acting is absolutely stellar.
Timeless art style
By far, this is the most pleasant part of Cris Tales that makes doing this review so worth it. It is not just the pretty visuals of the game, it is how everything flows together, from the UI to the animation. The closest comparison in terms of this visual quality is Cuphead, despite it having a different cartoon art style.
The game’s art direction plays heavily with geometric shapes and really blends well with the theme of time travel. It feels as though everything fits perfectly in terms of the composition of its environments and backgrounds. The end result is an aesthetic that encourages you to explore and appreciate the beautiful and bountiful world.
This also extends to the game’s animation. Even the simple idle animation of Crisbell standing still can express so much about the character’s personality. Even more impressive are the animated cutscenes, some of which look jaw-droppingly fluid. Overall, the art direction for the game is absolutely stellar.
Turn-based combat with a twist
Combat in Cris Tales follows traditional turn-based JRPG battles, where you can command your party to attack, use skills, items or flee. Timing is a big factor when performing just about any action. For example, you can perform an extra attack if you input the attack button again just before it connects to the enemy.
The game also uses time travel as a mechanic in combat. For example, one of the enemies in the game has a powerful metal shield that makes it impossible to damage the enemy. To overcome this, I needed to use water magic and send it to the future where that same shield will be weaker due to rusting from my water magic. This is a really cool and unique feature. Sadly, this mechanic is very underutilized. Most of the game can just be brute-forced without thought.
Despite these interesting features, combat overall feels very slow and tedious. This is made worse by the game’s progression as it is quite unbalanced. The grind gets gradually worse and there is too much unnecessary backtracking towards the end of the game.
Outside of combat, time travel is a lot more relevant and interesting to experience. Changing the past or future is a requirement for a lot of the side quests. Depending on how you choose to affect the past or future, you may be left with crucial choices that can change the outcome of a particular event.
Quality of Life
Aside from battles and progression, they are several quality of life issues which really gnawed the back of my mind during this review. First is the lack of an auto-save feature. I can understand that auto-saving was not a feature in early JRPGs, but it is 2021 and not having auto-save is a major pain.
There is also a problem with the random encounters. There is no distinct transition or any sort of clear visual cue besides an awkward white loading screen. It happens a bit too suddenly and feels quite out of place.
Another complaint I have is towards Matias the Frog, a helpful character who follows Crisbell around and is vital for performing Time Hops outside of battle. Time Hops are important for completing the main quest and side quests, but Matias travels far too slowly. Crisbell runs a lot faster than Matias and the end result is a lot of unnecessary waiting for Matias to catch up to the player.
Cris Tales is an extremely beautiful, charming and unique game. It really stands out from its JRPG peers but is hampered by problems such as slow combat, awkward progression and quality of life issues. If these problems did not exist, I would boldly claim that it can stand toe to toe to recent JRPG greats like Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler. Despite that, the game is still an enjoyable experience as a whole, just not as great as I hoped it would be.
|Phenomenal art direction||Combat is stale and does not make good use of time travel|
|Charming characters||Balancing and progression is not done well|
|Creative side quests||Lack of quality of life features|