Cris Tales is an indie JRPG by Modus Games, inspired by classic 90s jrpgs such as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, with elements from more modern RPGS such as Bravely Default and Persona 5.
You play as a girl named Crisbell, who has grown up in an orphanage in a town called Narim, who, when she follows a mysterious talking frog with a top hat into the town cathedral, awakens to the ability to see into the past and future. The lady who runs the orphanage, Mother Superior, sends her to speak to an old time mage named Willhelm, who lives just out of the town limits. A young boy greets her, claiming to be him, and with some convincing gives her the Sword of Time, and agrees to teach her to master her powers.
Shortly afterwards her village is attacked, and she manages to join forces with a young man named Cristopher to fight them off. Afterwards, The two of them, along with Wilhelm and the talking frog, set off on a quest to reach the other cathedrals across the world, to further awaken Crisbell’s powers and give them the edge they need to defeat the Time Empress, whose armies infest the world.
I won’t discuss the story any further, because I think the game’s story is well done, and worth experiencing unspoiled on your own. With all its twists and turns, and choices.
It definitely is a game where you should try to do every side quest as it happens, some side quests will get locked if you progress the story. But the system for quests, and the menus in general, are clean and intuitive. The ui in general is well designed, and at any point with a click of a button you can get a hint or reminder of what your objective is.
Cris Tales does something very interesting and clever, the first moment of this game is combat. Which lets you quickly determine if you like the base combat. After a quick run of that you go back in time for the actual exposition and set up phase, but at least you got a taste right away, so you don’t have to work through an hour of story before even knowing if you like the gameplay. (Like in Persona 5, which did that incredibly)
The big unique factor is time manipulation. You can send enemies forward or backwards in time, one of the effects being making enemies older/younger. Turning large cats into small cubs or soldiers into wizened veterans. Though enemies will sometimes be stronger when they get older or younger.
You can also do things like applying a poison effect to something and send it forward in time, dealing all the poison effects at once. Or attack a metal enemy with a water attack and send it forward, rusting it.
Crisbell also gains some other time manipulation abilities for combat, such as rewinding any character to their status from 1 turn ago, health, buffs, debuffs,etc. Or abilities to increase or decrease the speeds of characters, which can swing the turn order in your favor.
The base combat is similar to various other jrgs, with a couple notable differences. Instead of being your team on one side and enemies on the other, your team is in the center, with enemies on either side, some attacks will attack all of one side, enemies on the right can only be moved into the future, and enemies on the left into the past.
Alongside this, they do a good job of making each playable party member play uniquely. Crisbell can manipulate time. Christopher is damage dealing, Wilhelm can set up effects for future turns. Future party members include heat management, RNG, and enemy capture and collection. Combined with distinctive visual design and stellar voice acting makes each party member distinct, memorable and engaging. Not to mention the stellar character design and voice acting for every single other character in the game. The game has voice acting for almost 100% of the dialogue.
The game has an art style like it’s a western cartoon, mixed with 3D backgrounds, creating a memorable aesthetic. (Personally, I think it most resembles the Tangled tv series, though I Think Cris Tales pulls it off better)
But what’s most interesting aesthetically, and quite possibly the most clever part of this game, is the three part view. In non combat areas, the screen is split into three sections. In the center is the normal view, the world and player character shown normally. To the right is the same area but in the future, and to the left is the past. The environment is shifted, buildings being in construction in the past, or older and decrepit in the future for example. And characters in the world are similarly affected, younger in the past, older, or gone, in the future.
This visual style allows incredibly clever visual storytelling. For example, in the opening town, a local farmer is arguing with the mayor and his assistant. In the past, you see younger versions of all three, and in the future, the farmer and the mayor are gone, and an older version of the assistant wearing sinister black armor, in a darker version of the town filled with soldiers. This single scene tells so much about these characters and world in a quick and natural way.
This style is the epitome of the saying “A picture tells a thousand words” seeing a glimpse into the past and the future allows you to gain incredible insight into any situation, and see exactly how your actions affect the world, which is also a major driving force of the plot. This allows them to have incredibly detailed stories and futures for each character, without having to display it through hundreds of lines of text. Telling their story through character and world design.
The soundtrack is composed by Tyson Wernli, and is very memorable, with high paced action tracks and atmospheric tracks. They do an interesting idea, where the base battle theme gets remixed multiple times over the game. Allowing them to use the same base theme over the entire game, without it getting as stale as it could be.
There are a couple flaws in the game. Unfortunately, most of the boss battles don’t take as much advantage of the unique systems as they could, time manipulation has little to no effect on them, which lessens the impact of the unique systems. Also the game lets me target my own party with attacks, something that I personally found a reason to do, and something I did by accident more than once.
Also there are times where the random encounter chance slows the game down, especially in situations where you have to do puzzles or interact and travel the area for other reasons,such as looking for items. It can sometimes discourage exploration, while a mid game unlock does allow you to disable them, it not only is too late in the game to be a huge help, it also makes you miss out on valuable xp and resources.
However, While the game has its flaws, the charm and creativity that oozes from it’s designs, mechanics and characters easily outweigh it. The amount of thought and care put into every detail of the world and characters, and the level of influence you have on affecting it, makes it easy to fall in love with it. If you even remotely like JRPGs, I would absolutely recommend Cristales, 100%.
MODUS Games has a number of other projects coming out soon, such as Soulstice in 2022, and if they’re even half as good as Cris Tales, I will absolutely check them out.
Cris Tales is available on PS4, PS5, XBOX One, XBOX Series X, Steam, and Nintendo Switch
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