Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Cris Tales is a beautifully drawn and orchestrated sort of homage to classic JRPGs. A tale of magic, adventure, friendship, and time shenanigans, is Cris Tales a game that will be talked of well into the future, or a game that will be left in the past? Well presently, we’re about to find out!
Cris Tales tells the story of Crissbell, a young girl living in an orphanage run by the local head of the church. Life is going as normal for young Crissbell, until she encounters a frog in a top hot that steals her rose! A short time later, and she’s embroiled in a war between time mages and saving the world from destruction, as all JRPG protagonists should be. Along the way she meets friends who will help her on her quest, as well as enemies attempting to bar her way. Will Crissbell succeed and save the world, or is the world fated for destruction?
I have to say, playing through Cris Tales was…an interesting experience. Everything is there to make Cris Tales a great game. The cast is diverse without many overlapping character traits, even if they are meant to be the cliché tropes, the art style is gorgeous hand drawn 2-D animations, and the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. That being said, there were also a great deal of technical flaws throughout my experience. It honestly feels like there was little to no play testing actually done, or if there was, it was done poorly.
The game has combat where the enemies either an absolute joke or it feels like the enemies are blatantly cheating, menus are awkward to navigate, the time mechanic is woefully underused, there are some blatant technical issues, the combat mechanics are poorly implemented for about half the fights, and your character feels like they are moving at 75% speed constantly, which unfortunately makes the game feel longer and more drawn out than it should. I wanted to love Cris Tales, I really did. I mean, I certainly still like it, despite its flaws, but the problem right there is the flaws and how many there are, and how often they com into play.
Let’s start with an overview of how the game works. As with most traditional JRPGs, you will be walking around a town, field map, or world map, getting into fight, completing side quests for NPCs, purchasing and upgrading equipment, finding chests full of goodies, and acting on the main story line. You’ll find yourself running back and forth between areas to complete those side quests, so be prepared for that if you want better results for the towns you visit, as completing side quests will, in fact, affect the future of the town. While in towns, you have this time power activated, where on the left side of the screen you see the past, and on the right you see the future. So let’s talk about the first issue I noticed shortly after unlocking the time vision: the frog.
You’ve got a token mascot character, Matias, who is a talking frog. While the main character cannot go to the past or the future, Matias can. He can collect chests, listen in on conversations, or acquire items for you. Matias has two issues though: he has the attention span of my cat, and he’s slow. Matias is supposed to follow you while you’re walking around the towns, but he doesn’t follow next to you as a tied animation, he has his own sprite that is individual and “tries to make its way to you”. This means he you significantly outpace him while walking around, and then need to wait 20 seconds for him to find you, because yes, apparently he needs to be “close enough to Crissbell” to go time hopping. A fact the game will happily open a tutorial window for you every time this happens. The second problem is that Matias moves at a snails pace, either as a tadpole in the past, or an old man frog in the future, so make sure you’re almost leaning on what you want him to interact with.
The second major issue is the camera angles. As you explore, you can not only walk left and right, but also into and away from the camera. The camera is supposed to move to accommodate this, but I found that half the time the camera would hide behind a wall, preventing me from seeing where I need to go. As an example, in the first area of the game, where you are first given the freedom to explore the area populated with random encounters, there is a part where you can go through an underpass for a chest. I got into a fight halfway through, and when the battle ended, all I could see was a wall of greenery. I left the underpass, went back under, got in another fight, had the camera wonky again.
This happened a few times throughout the game, but was most notable in the beginning. Speaking of the beginning, the difficulty curve is all over the place. Up until about level 5 or so, it feels like all the enemies you fight are ten levels above you and out for blood. There is a certain enemy type in the first area that can hit the whole party for, at that time, an unreasonable amount of damage. There can be two of these enemies in a fight. In fact, the tutorial-ish area at the beginning was actually the hardest part of the game. The only other times I had issue were when I walked into a boss fight with a quarter of my HP remaining. The rest of the fights were a joke, apart from a few select enemies that just decide to blow up turn one to kamikaze you for a huge chunk of damage.
All of this is punctuated by some pretty harsh load times. You ever played Tales of the Abyss on PS2? Yeah, that type of load times. In towns and for screen transitions it isn’t too bad, but out in the field where you have random encounters? Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Every random encounter isn’t telegraphed, and you don’t have a screen effect. You’ll literally be walking when BAM: loading screen. For 15 seconds. You get in a fight, there’s two enemies, you one-shot each. More loading. It’s…rather frustrating. It makes the whole game feel slow and exasperating, not something you’d want. This slow feeling is also translated into your character movement speed. It might just be personal preference, but it really does feel like you’re walking a little too slow. It’s a little better on the world map, but since areas aren’t labeled, be aware that you may have to go find them if you’ve missed it or though of the area you’re looking for as background.
On a more technical note, and what I’d imagine is an issue more for the Switch that I played on, there is a controller vibration you can’t turn off. This wouldn’t be bad if it were light or infrequent, but the controller vibrates every time you make an action command in battle. Which is a lot. Literally it’s almost every turn. Sometimes even more than once per turn depending on character and action. With no option to turn it off, this is a little ridiculous. Another technical issue is the in-game timer on the Switch: it keeps going up even while the Switch is in sleep mode. After 2 hours of gameplay, I had a 10 hour time on my save file.
As far as I can tell, it doesn’t really do anything to you, it’s just really annoying to look at every time you’re in the save menu. A menu you may be seeing a fair bit, especially if the game crashes on you like it did me. There were a few times the game crashed while I was trying to save, most notably after beating one of the earlier bosses. The fight was easy enough for me, but it was quite frustrating. Thankfully it never happened afterwards, but I’m always afraid it will now. The last technical issue is that, occasionally, there will be a cutscene without a screen transition, where the game plays new music overtop of the already playing music.
Now it brings us to the combat section. Combat is set up really well in Cris Tales. The problem is, it just doesn’t follow through as well as it should. In battle you will be going with the turn-based method, where speed stat affects turn order, mostly, which is reflected in a bar at the top of the screen. You can select skills, normal attacks, pass your turn (which is handier than you think), guard, and attempt to flee. I would like to point out here that passing pushes the characters turn back one icon on the turn gauge, but has no negative impacts, making it easy to set up combos with other members, or prepare your healer for use after a big attack from an enemy or boss.
When attacking or being attacked, you can hit “A” at the right time to increase damage dealt or reduce damage taken. Fair warning: it feels like the developers made the game in mind around you being able to guard and attack well, so practice those attacks and defends! In addition to all this, the main character, Crissbell, can invoke the past or future on the left and right sides of the screen respectively. This can be used to revert changes, speed up poison damage, cause rust, or speed up timed skill uses. The problem here is that most of the fights you get in, it will be much more efficient to just beat the enemies down instead of playing with the time mechanic. Couple this with the fact that the action command timing only has two types: reasonable and “what the hell”, and the combat becomes pretty fast and not very player intensive.
The time manipulation is a great idea, and would have worked well if enemies had more traits that may have required you to change time instances to damage or something similar, but when every enemy can be dispatched easy enough with normal attacks, the time manipulation doesn’t see much use. The action commands are also an interesting idea, and games like Legend of the Dragoon did this really well. Unfortunately in Cris Tales, the action command timing is really poorly indicated, with a really subtle black flash around the edge of the screen, that I didn’t even notice until about two thirds of the way through the game.
Add to that the fact half the enemies have actions commands between animations, and suddenly thing get a lot more frustrating. Action commands are pretty much required to do any significant damage, and to keep you from dying, so good luck on that. Coupled with the random battle choice, this means you may be fighting enemies every two steps in some cases, and if you get a bunch of the more awful enemies? Bye bye! A bit of a warning as well, but characters outside the immediate party don’t earn exp, and if a character leaves, they take the items they have equipped with them. Remember that.
Now all this may seem like I’m tearing into Cris Tales, and honestly, I am. Don’t get me wrong, I actually rather like Cris Tales, despite its many faults. The characters, especially those you get later, are all interesting and full of charm. Pretty much every line in the game is voiced over, and with pretty decent voice acting too, the graphics are beautifully hand drawn, the soundtrack is amazing, and despite being trope ridden, on purpose mind you, the characters don’t usually fall into those cookie-cutter villains or protagonists, despite seeming like it at first, something I greatly appreciate. The battle set-up is good, although it has poor implementation with the action commands. Every character is a viable party member, even in most boss fights, which is good to see, and the time mechanic is also really interesting. All the groundwork was laid out for what could have been an extremely excellent game, it just fell out in a few places.
Overall, Cris Tales is a game that I can’t really recommend outright. For whatever reason it’s decently cheaper on the Switch, but with the amount of technical issues and gameplay mechanics that need refining, it would still be best to wait for a sale, or part of a package deal, before I could advise playing. I liked Cris Tales, I really did. It’s charming characters, great visuals, outstanding soundtrack, and engaging battle mechanics are all aspects I enjoyed. The poor implementations, long loading times, horrid timing windows, and occasional technical issues however really can’t be overlooked. I truly hope the developers take this as a learning opportunity to produce something more refined in the future, as I’ll be looking forward to it if the kinks can be ironed out.
Score: 6.75 / 10