Ever wonder how a player’s actions in a video game can alter the future of the characters living within? Consider for a moment that these game worlds don’t just end on the spot. We’ll see the immediate effects up until the credits roll, but what happens beyond that?
Some may say that’s what post-release content is for, to further show the player’s impact on the world beyond the core story, but developer Dreams Uncorporated saw an opportunity to incorporate such a concept into the gameplay and narrative of a JRPG-like experience. It’s what became the basis of Cris Tales, a modern take on a classic genre.
Although Dreams Uncorporated clearly thought a lot on how to work time travel into the game’s narrative and gameplay, like anything that deals with the concept of traversing time, the end product is met with some issues. Most surprisingly, though, those issues have little to do with plot holes and paradoxes.
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Designs & Visuals
There is no denying that Cris Tales is a gorgeous game. It’s dubbed a “love letter to classic JRPGs,” and the world and character designs really hold true to that. The hand-drawn 2D art pops off the screen, enticing players with stunning visuals that really breathe life into the digital adventure.
Cris Tales features a distinct colour palette and such uniquely designed characters that it’s a shame that so much care and attention went into assets for what turned out to be a somewhat dull and uninspiring experience. Developers take heed – it wasn’t a myriad of issues that plagued this JRPG, but instead an important mechanic that seemed to have fallen by the wayside during development.
Balanced Character Roster
In Cris Tales, players join a new Time Mage, Crisbell, as she adventures across a fairytale world to stop the evil Time Empress from bringing about the end of, well, time. The land of Crystallis and the quartet of kingdoms thriving within provide plenty of immersion to draw players in, especially as the game delves further into how the past, present, and future influence one another.
Dreams Uncorporated did a wonderful job bringing Crystallis to life, and it almost feels like the perfect setting for an anime, more so than a video game.
One of the game’s standout features happens to be the people of Crystallis and Crisbell’s companions. This may be the easiest thing to mess up if personalities aren’t balanced, but Dreams Uncorporated found the perfect marriage of likable and practical characters.
If any part of Cris Tales feels like a JRPG, it’s the ever-expanding roster of characters, which includes a dapper talking frog named Matias. The deeper into her quest Crisbell gets, the more people she’ll have fighting by her side, and in true RPG format, they all come equipped with unique skills and abilities.
Combat & Time Manipulation
Making Crystallis even more fascinating is that players get to see it at three moments in time. Certain segments along Crisbell’s quest require players to alter different points in time to solve puzzles and progress forward. Watching how Crisbell’s actions change the world is fascinating, but also entirely underutilized.
It would have been great for this mechanic to be more prevalent in the story, especially since it’s a huge part of why Crisbell is even in the mess she’s in. Manipulating time does creep its way into the game’s turn-based combat, but it doesn’t have the same impact.
In fact, everything about the combat is a bit underwhelming. For being such a major component of the game, it seems to be the one Dreams Uncorporated put the least amount of effort into. Visually, the pop-up menu prompts are very reminiscent of Persona 5, just without the bevvy of useful options available to make it a robust and exciting experience.
Players and enemies take turns going through the motions, going blow-for-blow with melee and magical weapons. Anyone familiar with JRPG’s and turn-based combat knows exactly what they’re getting into, with traditional spells like fire and thunder rounding out some of the attacks. The biggest difference is Crisbell’s ability to use time in her favour. Just don’t expect to enjoy using it for long.
When it comes to the battle system, Cris Tales is largely unbalanced and inconsistent. Boss battles range from too easy to too difficult, making it hard to really enjoy devising a plan and seeing it through. Crisbell may also have one of the cooler abilities in the game, but as the roster of playable companions grows, the less likely players are to keep using her unique power.
It’s a shame that one mechanic can have such a drastic impact on the game’s playability, but there is quite a bit of combat as Crisbell dismantles the Time Empress’ world-ending plans. If there was a way to overlook the dull and repetitive turn-based fights, Cris Tales would be much easier to recommend.
Its visual style, voice acting, and overall story are high points that would really elevate most other games, but they aren’t enough to save the game from the all-too-familiar battle system.
The good news is that Dreams Uncorporated can rectify the game’s biggest pitfall in a sequel. And if it were designed with the same visuals and featured the same quality of storytelling and a revamped combat system, it would be a follow-up worth diving into.
Platforms: PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox
Developers: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK, Poppy Works
Publishers: Modus Games, Maximum Games
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