REVIEW: ‘Cris Tales’ – Storybook Visuals Meet Turn-Based Combat (XSX)

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Cris Tales

Cris Tales is a turn-based RPG developed by Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK and published by Modus Games. Crisbell is an orphan living a quiet life at the local orphanage until a fateful day when an unusual frog wearing a top hat steals her rose. This meeting marks the first steps of Crisbell’s journey to discover magic, new friends, and powerful enemies. But it seems she is the only one with the power to save her world from the Empress of Time. Will she be able to rise to the challenge?

The indie landscape is littered with odes, tributes, and spiritual successors to the great games of yesteryear. Where many of these games fail, though, is in adhering to the classic formulas we loved 20+ years ago that don’t hold up as well as we remember. We have grown, and gaming has grown with us. The best tribute games are ones that capture the things we loved while modernizing away the rough edges and delivering their own unique take on their respective genre. Cris Tales manages to do all these things while delivering a fun and lighthearted narrative.

Since I first demoed the game last summer, it has been on my radar. The demo promised charming characters, light-hearted adventure, and unique time-manipulating mechanics set on a backdrop of Saturday morning cartoon-style visuals. Having gotten to experience the finished product, I can happily say it delivers all these things. Cris Tales is perhaps one of the most well-rounded packages I’ve experienced in gaming in quite some time. There are only a few minor stumbles in the game’s finished product, and those are easily overwhelmed by all the things the game does right.

The structure of Cris Tales’s narrative is pretty simple. Upon discovering that she is a time mage of unusual power, Crisbell and a handful of companions set out to defeat the Empress of Time. As their journey takes them from place to place, they find themselves embroiled in local struggles that the group will have to resolve before continuing their main quest.

Now, here is where the first potential trip up for this tribute to classic RPGs could’ve gone wrong. Any long-time fan of the genre has experienced games where you are forced to do far too much side content when you just want to move the story along. It’s my biggest gripe with Final Fantasy XIV, which I started playing just this year. So the first time a new location started embroiling me in local squabbles, I felt a sinking in my stomach. How long would I have to run around solving problems for people who have no connection to my story? Happily, Cris Tales knows just how long to make the player experience a new place before it gets stale. New places are explored just enough to create a connection before moving on to the next area.

Cris Tales

The one area where the game’s storytelling felt deficient to me initially was the lack of weight in the story. Maybe it was due to how heavily this game borrows from a genre filled with heroes desperately striving to save worlds from great darkness and despair, but the story felt weak initially. Then I realized that the story wasn’t trying to be that. It was just trying to be an adventure. Sure the world’s in danger, but we are making friends! And even as the game addresses the various social issues that plague the towns the party visits, like wealth disparity, distrust of immigrants, and more, the game always keeps the issues straightforward, easily explained, and simple to solve. It’s rarely nuanced, but it gets the point across.

While the player is exploring locations, they will have the opportunity to partake in a few side quests should they choose. These will yield useful items and, thanks to Crisbell’s time mage abilities, the player will get a glimpse at how the player’s extra effort will improve the lives of the people.

When not talking to townsfolk, Cris Tales’s gameplay centers on classic turn-based combat. When exploring areas, the party will periodically encounter unseen enemies. While these would probably be defined as random encounters, that term doesn’t feel right to me. There is always a significant time lapse between encounters that, while they may not be specifically timed to an exact interval, doesn’t feel like the random encounters of the games Cris Tales takes its inspiration from. Rather, it’s an improvement that allows the feel without the frustrations of getting swamped by rapidly occurring encounters that sap the player of their resources and health.

Once the fight is on, Cris Tales jumps to the traditional battle screen, but with a twist. Rather than the usual setup where the two sides line up on either side of the screen, the player party is in the center with enemies arrayed to either side. This setup has a direct connection to one particular battle mechanic, Crisbell’s time manipulation.

Enemies on the left side of the screen can be rewound, transforming them into younger versions of themselves, while enemies on the right side of the screen can be fast-forwarded into future versions of themselves. These can have effects on enemies’ stats and actions, as well as create combos with party abilities. For example, an armored enemy who has been soaked by a water spell, if sent to the future, may find their armor has rusted, lowering their defense. The game provides numerous ways for party abilities to combine with time manipulation to allow for some neat tricks. However, most fights in the game can be weathered through timely healing and persistence. So if you like the look and narrative of Cris Tales but aren’t the biggest combat tactician, you should still be able to manage.

The only place where Cris Tales’ gameplay really stumbles for me is how many immunities some of the bosses sport. While it’s standard practice for bosses to be immune to some of the more potent abilities, this game frequently takes it a bit too far. For example, poison is often a no-go, and even scan, which simply gives me information about the boss, wouldn’t work. Why give me a scan if the only characters I actually need to use it for are immune?

The other element of Cris Tales‘s gameplay is the leveling and equipment systems. As the characters level up, they unlock a fairly steady stream of abilities. Each character has their own niche and is generally useful in most situations. Players can also upgrade and enhance each character’s weapons, along with equipping a wide variety of items to adjust the characters further to fit their strategies and play styles.

Cris Tales

The final area that needs to be talked about in Cris Tales is the visuals. The best way to describe this game’s look is to compare it to a Saturday morning cartoon show. Character designs are fun and stylish, and there are lots of bright colors and unique designs throughout the game’s world. And yet again, the most unique aspect of the game’s appearance stems from Crisbell’s time powers.

While in towns, the screen is divided into three sections. The largest, centrally located section of the screen shows Crisbell and other characters and places in the present. On the left and right sides of the screens, objects, places, and people are shown in the past and future, respectively. As Crisbell’s group interacts with communities, you will often see the future of characters change when viewed on the right side of the screen. Also, there are times when treasure chests or storyline objects are only acquirable in a different time period. Luckily, Crisbell can send Matais the frog to either period to fetch them for her.

So while Cris Tales’s story and gameplay may come up a bit light for some, it manages to provide a fun, unique experience that, rather than simply imitate the games that came before it, takes inspiration from them and strives to build something unique.

Cris Tales is available on Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Xbox Game Pass.

Cris Tales
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

So while Cris Tales’s story and gameplay may come up a bit light for some, it manages to provide a fun, unique experience that, rather than simply imitate the games that came before it, takes inspiration from them and strives to build something unique.