Every now and then a game comes along that tries to rewrite the JRPG/RPG rulebook. Cris Tales is the latest of these titles.
Coming from Modus Games, and promising to be a “Love letter to classic JRPGS”, the advertising blurb for this game cites real classics; Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI as inspiration. That is a bold move. But hey, if you are going to have a crack at the classic JRPG market, there’s no point aiming low, is there? But can Cris Tales deliver on the hype, or should it have stayed in its box?
The story of Cris Tales does a good job of introducing the mechanic that goes on to define a lot of the game. Crisbell, our hero, is an orphan, and one day she meets a talking frog who steals one of her roses. I hate it when that happens. Anyway, after getting the rose back, she has a good chat with said frog, who introduces her to one of his friends, a Time Mage by the name of Wilhelm. And blow me down, but it appears that Crisbell is also a Time Mage!
What this means is that the game screen is pretty unique looking, made up of three segments or triangles. There is the present time, where Crisbell runs around, but on the left is the past and on the right is a view of the future. Well, it appears that some things they need to find only exist in the past or the future, and using Crisbell’s power, Matias (the frog) can either go back in time, becoming a cute little tadpole, or go forward in to the future, becoming an older frog, and retrieve various artifacts. Obviously, as you go these powers will be used more and more, and all in all the time mechanic works very well. Finding new companions along the way, Crisbell and the team must find and stop the Time Empress, who almost conquered the world years ago, and is now back to try again.
The first thing to strike you when you start up Cris Tales is the unique art style. It doesn’t have a JRPG feel in terms of the visuals, but is rather a more European take on anime-style graphics. That’s not trying to damn the game with faint praise, by the way, as the style is nothing short of absolutely brilliant. The way that the characters are designed, from Crisbell’s skinny stick legs to the amazing talking frog Matias, everything in Cris Tales has been designed and crafted to the nth degree; it is absolutely top notch.
Further, the world map feels like it has almost been crocheted, as the mountains and landscapes appear to be crafted from cloth. All in all its a fantastic looking game. You can add to that in that the running animations of Crisbell and the battle animations of all the characters are very good as well. Similar attention has been paid to the audio, with stirring battle music, and extremely good voice acting – for all the characters including a lot of the NPCs you can interact with. First impressions of Cris Tales are very good; how does the game play out?
Again, very well is the short answer. For the most part, it is standard turn-based RPG fare, albeit with a few twists. As you attack an enemy physically, pressing the A button at the right time will make the attack stronger, and in the case of JKR-721, a character that can be recruited to your team (there are more, but you know, I want to leave some mystery for when you play the game), pressing A each time he glows will cause him to do a whole heap of extra damage. It’s a similar story when you yourself are attacked; pressing A at the correct moment will either deflect the attack, doing less damage, or parry it, causing the attack to barely touch you. In this way, the game keeps you on your toes, and means that in every fight you are forced to pay attention in order to protect the team.
Time travel is included in the combat as well, and it’s here that the possibilities begin to expand. As an example, Wilhelm uses magic based around small plants called Yucandras. If he throws a poison Yucandra at an enemy, it is then poisoned, as you’d expect, but if Crisbell then uses her time powers and invokes a future crystal, all the damage that would have been done by the poison attack will hit the enemy at once, usually killing it. Crisbell can also invoke past crystals, moving enemies back in time, and this usually involves them becoming younger versions of themselves, and therefore easier to kill. In one of the boss fights, after doing a certain amount of damage the boss’ physical body crumbles and it can only be hit with magic attacks, but if Crisbell sends it back into the past, it becomes corporeal once more. As you see, there are a lot of permutations of attack and time to explore.
Are there any problems? Well, a couple of little niggles but nothing too worrying. For a while, the game refused to accept any input from my controller after every loading screen or fight, unless I turned the controller off and back on again. That particular glitch has thankfully fixed itself, as you can imagine having to do that after every battle really slowed the pace of things down. There is also a difficulty in seeing which enemy you are aiming at if there are two opponents on the same side of the screen. It can also be a faff to target an ally, for instance for with a healing move, but nothing too bad. These issues are more than made up for with the fun it is possible to have in Cris Tales: exploring, trying to find and solve all the side quests in each area and so on.
In conclusion, Cris Tales succeeds in what it sets out to do. It isn’t as good as Chrono Trigger but is still a very good RPG in its own right. I hesitate to call it a JRPG as it doesn’t have that feel, but is still as competent and enjoyable a game as I’ve played in a long time, all helped along by a great art style, enjoyable time-bending mechanics and a story that will keep you hooked. Add in the fact that it is free on Xbox Game Pass, and the question as to whether or not you should play Cris Tales becomes a no-brainer.
Embark on the journey Cris Tales sets out before you on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One