by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
Beautiful but Shallow
The most striking thing about Cris Tales is its art style. The game resembles a Shojo manga crossed with an early-2000s Cartoon Network show. This couldn’t be further from my own preferred aesthetic of medieval woodcarvings and heavy metal album covers, yet even I’m forced to admit that Cris Tales’ hand-drawn backgrounds and characters look pretty damn good. Moreover, a great deal of effort has clearly been poured into them, as evidenced by the fact that aside from the city guards and wandering monsters, there are almost no copy-pasted NPCs anywhere. Even more impressive is that all these unique characters have alternative models in the past and future, and sometimes multiple future variants.
The story is a serviceable, albeit unoriginal, tale of a young girl named Crisbell (yes, the title of this game is a groan-inducing pun) who after a chance encounter with a talking frog discovers she has the power to use the Time Crystals to see into the future and the past. In short order, she’s swept off on a quest to develop her powers and defeat the evil Time Empress.
Despite being fully voiced, Crisbell has about as much personality as the mute RPG protagonists from the SNES era. She has a generic desire to do good deeds and a faint uncertainty that she’ll be able to use her powers responsibly, but she’s so flimsy and agreeable that she quickly fades to the background in her own story. The supporting cast has a bit more depth, occasionally bickering with each other but never going so far as to actually express an opposing viewpoint. A bit of genuine interpersonal conflict would have livened up the story a bit.
Fittingly for a game partially about gazing into the past, Cris Tales' gameplay has mostly been lifted from 20-30 years old RPGs. You have the obligatory turn-based combat, the tedious fetch quests for side objectives, and even the frustratingly imprecise timed button prompts from Super Mario RPG. The one, somewhat, original idea in the game - the ability to shift time forward and backward in combat - is somewhat interesting and presents the player with interesting options for combat. It is too bad that after an hour or two of playtime it becomes completely superfluous as you’ll be able to easily brute-force your way through any combat encounters.
Can I Play Daddy?
By far the biggest problem is the way the game constantly holds your hand, lest you have to momentarily engage your brain. The worst instance of this comes during the first boss battle where you’re facing off against a pair of enemies protected by a huge iron shield that blocks all damage. [Partial Spoiler Alert] The way to defeat the boss is to use a water attack to soak them and then fast-forward time to cause the shield to rust. All things considered, it’s a pretty good introduction to the game’s time manipulation mechanics. The only problem is, if you don’t instantly figure out the trick the game will flat out tell you what to do. There’s not even a lull of a few turns to give players a chance to work it out by themselves.
Nor is this an isolated event, it is present throughout the entire game. From the way side-characters will point you towards your objective with explicit instructions, to the way the game will prevent you from jumping to the end of a quest line preferring instead to force you through each laborious step. It’s even reflected in the design of the dungeons which are more often than not just one long winding corridor with no branching paths of any significant length
What’s more, there’s no real reason for leading you around by the nose, as Cris Tales is not an especially larger or an especially difficult game. Indeed, combat quickly became so easy that I stopped resting at inns and gave up managing my equipment entirely. Even then, playing the game as recklessly as I could, I never once saw the game over screen. Indeed, I was never in any danger of losing a single boss battle. I could forgive this if Cris Tales was aimed exclusively at very small children, but this game is rated teen!
In addition to the larger flaws, this game is loaded with minor issues and problems that seem like nitpicks on their own but quickly add up. For instance, when you get into a random battle there is no noise or animation to indicate this, instead, you’re just plopped into a loading screen with all the ceremony of a kick to the groin. You can’t even blame this oversight on the game’s deliberately retro style as RPGs as old as the original Dragon Quest had this feature.
Periodically you’ll need to use Crisbell’s time powers to send your talking frog companion, Matias, backward or forward in time to grab some clue or key item. This is a nice little feature that lets you get a better look at the past and future, which are normally hidden off to the side. But it is a real pain the ass in practice as Matias moves like an elderly sloth in both the past and future, making getting anywhere exhausting. Moreover, in the present, he moves significantly slower than Crisbell, and if he’s too far behind her when you try to initiate a time jump the game will cover the whole screen in an annoying popup telling you to wait for the frog to get closer. Why not just make the frog move at the same speed as the character? As it stands I’m tempted to call up Snake Walker to solve my frog problem.
Then there is the character of Zas, who comes along after the midway point and proceeds to turn an already annoying game into a downright insufferable one. Zas is one of those characters whose entire “personality” consists of constantly spouting out an endless stream of quirky babble. She sounds like someone is deliberately trying to make fun of Borderlands characters by dialing up all the obnoxiousness to even more obvious levels. The whole thing is so damn cringe-worthy that I feel secondhand embarrassment for the poor voice actress who had to read these lines.
Maybe Cris Tales has an audience among very small children but in almost every case you’d be better off digging up an old copy of Chrono Trigger. That said, this is Dreams Uncorporated’s first game, and while I'd hardly call Cris Tales a good game, it shows considerable promise in visual flair if nothing else. I’ll be curious to see where they go from here.
Remember to follow us on Instagram for reviews, news and more.
Gorgeous art style, Some interesting combat mechanics, Fully voiced
Combat is too easy, Dungeons are linear, Side quests are repetitive