Developed by Columbian indie game studios Dreams Uncorporated and Syck, and published by Modus Games, Cris Tales is considered a love letter to the old and most beloved JRPG classics of older days, such as Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger. I was able to give this game a try and scratch that itch of discovering new RPGs.
Cris Tales is centred around main character, young orphan girl Crisbell, who after encountering a small, talking orange frog called Matias, informs her that she is a time mage. It’s not long after learning of this information that her town of Narim is attacked and thrown up in flames by an enemy, the Time Empress, and her legion of goblins.
It’s from here, Crisbell and Matias escape and are joined by Wilhelm, another time mage, that helps explain to Crisbell the extent of her powers, and Christopher, a warrior who has been fighting the Time Empress’ army of goblins beforehand. Together they venture to defeat the mysterious Time Empress and return the town of Narim back to its former glory and save the world.
To start, Cris Tales is gorgeous to look at. The hand drawn-like art style oozes colour and creativity with how lush and detailed the outdoors, towns and villages look, with a heavy influence from Columbian architecture that is noticeable as you play through the game. It pays off, with how lovely and pretty the game looks, and I can’t stress this enough.
Gameplay wise, Cris Tales is a turn-based RPG. Each enemy encounter allows you to do things you would normally expect in an RPG or JRPG, such as attack, use special character skills, the usual. One unique feature of Crisbell’s is that she is able to manipulate time to attack and defeat enemies to her advantage. For example, sending an enemy to the past to poison them may defeat them in one hit by then bringing them back to the present. It’s an interesting twist on the gameplay, even if I did struggle to fully grasp an understanding of how it worked for a while. An interesting aspect, just maybe not fully understandable until some hours in when I had time to get a good feel of the battle mechanic.
This time manipulation mechanic also takes a big part outside of battling enemies and it is the main focus of how field exploration works when around towns. The screen is divided into three parts, in the shape of a triangle. The left side represents the past, the middle is the present and the right side is the future. Crisbell will always be in the middle of the screen in the present, so manoeuvring her also shows the growth of life in each window of the past, present and future. It’s a cool feature that I did enjoy and works well with the whole theme of Crisbell being a time mage and having the powers of time manipulation. Depending on your action with the townsfolk or quests, you can see what changes you have made for the future with the help of your frog companion Matias, who (literally) hops through time to manipulate circumstances. It’s a nifty feature and pretty unique in the way it’s presented to the player and how it works. I like the creativity! However, there are a few things that unfortunately don’t work for me with Cris Tales.
For one, the encounter rate with enemies while traveling from one place to another is far too high, especially when you need to save somewhere or just want to get the hell out of the area. To make matters worse, there are loading screens to each enemy encounter, or moving on to a new area, and it takes way too long. I’m talking between 10-15 seconds just to load an enemy encounter to battle, then again once all enemies are defeated, and another 10-15 seconds to load the area you are just in, only for several seconds later to encounter another enemy or two and wait more to initiate the battle. For me, this was a massive turn off from wanting to continue to play.
There’s also no fast forwarding feature for battles to speed things up. Similar turn-based games like Bravely Default and its sequels have a fast forward feature that speed up the process of battles pretty quickly. So, it’s a little disappointing that Cris Tales does not have this, as it’s slow-paced approach to battles would be very beneficial of this feature. I am not sure if this is isolated to be a Nintendo Switch issue with the frequent loading screens, but it’s incredibly unfortunate, and in 2021, it’s sadly unacceptable.
It can also be very unforgiving when you battle enemy encounters and die, only to discover that you return to the last point at which you saved your game. Saving is allowed only on the overworld map or specific points in the game. Combined with the fact that things already feel too slow and are unable to be sped up, you can lose out on a lot of time if are in a situation where you are quite overpowered with enemy encounters, or if you’re not careful.
I found myself at the start of the game dying a lot from just trying to level up my team, and then changing my tactic to run back to a save point during my playthrough, only to die just before I had the opportunity save, with a good chunk of 30-40 minutes spent on the game completely lost. A quick save option would have been good to include when exploring dungeons, but this also added to my frustration with Cris Tales, alongside the already slow loading times.
There is no denying that Cris Tales has a stunning style and aesthetic, inspired by JRPG classics, and with some lovely music to boot. I am unsure if any other version plays this way, however, it’s sadly the slow-paced gameplay and the frequent loading times that really dampened the experience. It’s lucky that the story is captivating, with its time manipulation mechanic, which held my interest, but only just.
Cris Tales is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Google Stadia and PC via Steam. The game was provided by Turn Left Distributions for review purposes.