From the moment it was announced, it became immediately apparent that Cris Tales was not going to be just another indie RPG that would inevitably get lost in the annals of time when it released. Developed by SYCK and Dreams Uncorporated, the game boasted a stunning and striking art style, complete with beautiful animations and a turn-based combat system that made use of time travel.
It was billed as a “love letter to JRPGs” and it’s not surprising to see so many draw parallels between Cris Tales and Chrono Trigger, the other much beloved turn-based JRPG that also uses time travel as its central mechanic.
Unfortunately, though, as much as Cris Tales tries to emulate the charm and simplicity of the JRPGs of yesteryear, its mechanical and technical flaws hold it back in a big way.
Time travel is the central conceit of Cris Tales; it’s baked into the story and its mechanics to varying degrees of success. Crisbell’s ability to see possible futures is what makes the game’s side quests so engaging, as you’re able to alter the course of fate for various NPCs, and immediately peek into the future to see how they’ve turned out. It’s rewarding, and genuinely makes you feel like your actions in this world do matter.
Just like in Chrono Trigger, the ability to change the future by doing things differently in the past or present is what makes this game so compelling. However, Cris Tales also peaks very early on in the game, as it’s not long at all before the player starts to feel like they’ve seen every trick up the game’s sleeve.
Crisbell’s time mage abilities are baked into the combat system, where you can potentially throw an enemy into the future so that they age up and become more frail, and you’re able to take them out quickly. Or, you could use a water spell to cause an enemy’s armor to rust, then throw them into the future where their armor has completely fallen apart. It sounds fantastic on paper, until you realize that there are only a handful of time shenanigan combinations to play around with, and then it starts to wear thin.
After a while, it becomes far more efficient to just hit enemies with a strong, singular elemental attack rather than wasting your time throwing enemies into the past or future, and that completely shuts down the need to make use of the time travel mechanic at all.
The time travel battle tactics never change up all that much either, and once you realize you’re just gonna be doing the same few things over and over again, you’ll start to feel more inclined to stick with straightforward attacks that save some time.
The key difference with Chrono Trigger here is that Square Enix’s JRPG didn’t just have time travel as its single, core mechanic. It also managed to keep battles feeling fresh and interesting with its diverse cast of party members, who were all able to synergize with each other with unique linked attacks. There were tons of different attack combinations to play around with in Chrono Trigger, but Cris Tales unfortunately ends up feeling very one-note in comparison.
It’s a shame that the combat ends up falling so flat in Cris Tales, as almost everything else about the game is on point. The cast of characters is colorful and full of personality, and the story unfolds in a way that quickly gets you invested in Crisbell’s plight and her personal journey. It’s got all the flamboyant, fantastical charm you’d want out of your fantasy JRPG, from the menacing ‘wicked witch’ design of Mother Superior, to the goofy talking frog that bosses you around wherever you go.
It certainly doesn’t help that the game seems to suffer from fairly lengthy load times across all platforms, and that only serves to drag out battles even further. Couple that with the fact that the PC build doesn’t even have basic graphics settings, and playing the game at all starts to feel like a drag.
Despite my unbridled disdain for Cris Tales’ combat system, I still found myself drawn into its unique and colorful world. The ability to see the past, present, and future simultaneously at all times definitely makes the game feel fresh and exciting. Cris Tales is firmly planted in the ground with its JRPG roots, while also taking risks with mechanics we’ve never seen in the genre before. This game is, without a doubt, a beautiful homage to classic JRPGs; it just could’ve used a little bit more polish.
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