Almost a year ago now I had a stream which has been my favorite during my tenure on Twitch. I chose three demos from my Nintendo Switch library and decided to show them all off in a single night. I started with Cris Tales, then moved on to Aerial Knight’s Never Yield, and finally finished off the show with World’s End Club. I enjoyed each game I showed off, chat was engaging and fun, and when the night ended I felt really great about the experience. At the time I intended to pick up all of the games I had played a demo for that night, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Time went on and I didn’t add any of the titles to my library, for varying reasons. However, thanks to the weekly free games on the Epic store, I was finally able to scoop up one of these titles and revisit it after almost a year away: Cris Tales.
Cris Tales is an RPG that tells the story of a young woman named Crisbelle, an orphan at an abbey in the fantasy world of Crystallis. One day while pruning roses, a strange yellow frog with a top hat plucks a rose from Crisbelle’s grasp and absconds with it. When she runs off to catch the offender, she journeys into the town cathedral and there is granted the power to see into the past and the future. This begins a series of events that puts her on a grand adventure to save her home and the world at large from a terrible evil. While the basic premise is standard RPG fare, there are a few things that make Cris Tales stand out.
Perhaps the most obvious when you first boot up the game is the graphics. Cris Tales is gorgeously animated with an art style that resembles stained glass in motion. While the characters themselves are 2D, they move through beautiful 3D spaces that are full of detail and color. Even though I had seen the game in action before, I was struck again by just how lovely it was when I booted it up for a second time on my PC. The level of effort put into the art clearly went into other aspects of the production as well, with every line of dialogue from the one-off NPCs to the major characters fully voiced. One or two voice performers are recognizable talent, too, with Crisbelle played by Kira Buckland (Jolyne in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, 2B in Nier Automata) and Sean Chiplock providing a number of NPC voices (Revali in Breath of the Wild, Mishima in Persona 5 Royal).
Mechanically, Cris Tales has a lot in common with many other turn based RPGs. In the overworld you walk around towns talking to characters and solving minor puzzles. The core puzzle mechanic in Cris Tales is built around Crisbelle’s ability to see the past and future alongside the present. This is represented on screen as dividing the picture into three distinct segments. The left side of the screen is in the past, the right the future, and the center the present. As you move around you can see the surrounding location change as you move through time. Crisbelle’s hat-wearing frog companion Matias can then be sent backwards or forwards as needed to make alterations in other times. Examples from the tutorial include using information from the past to solve a conundrum in the present, or planting a seed in the present and then sending Matias to the future to pluck the fully realized fruit.
Battles are turn-based with timeline at the top of the screen showing the turn order of the player characters and enemies. On your turn you choose an action such as attacking, using a special skill, using an item, or defending until your next turn. Similar to the Mario RPGs or games like Bug Fables and Ikenfell, Cris Tales uses timed button presses to make battles a little more active. Hitting the attack button at the right time during your offensive increases the damage dealt, while hitting the block button at the right time when an enemy attacks will reduce the damage you suffer. The meat of the combat, though, is in using the magical spells of your different characters to create interesting combos.
The example from the tutorial uses Crisbelle and a shield-bearing magician named Cristopher. Cristopher has a water spell he can use against the tutorial bosses, who wield a giant pair of shields together in tandem to make themselves immune to attacks. The water spell inflicts the soaked status, which when fast-forwarded through time using Crisbelle’s ability creates rust that reduces the effectiveness of their shields. After the tutorial, you add the nature magician Willhelm to the party and learn to use his various poison skills. By planting a poisonous seed in the past and then returning enemies to the present, he can grow a tree that poisons all the foes on one side of the battlefield at once. He can also poison a single target in the present and then deal all the poison damage at one time by having Crisbelle send them to the future. The interactions between the characters are key to maximizing your potential in combat.
Crisbelle’s time abilities effect enemies even outside of their combination potential. Foes can be made younger if sent back into the past, or older if sent into the future. Depending on the opponent this will have different effects. Making an adult into an infant monster, for example, may make it much weaker, but fast-forwarding an enemy sorcerer to a more advanced age where they have more powerful magic won’t end well for you. Experimenting to see which enemies are easiest to beat in which state is key here. Some of it comes down to luck, too, because just as in the overworld the past is on the left and the future is on the right, the same is true of Crisbelle’s abilities in battle. If someone you want to turn into a baby is on your right side, you’re out of luck. Maybe next battle. One other potential advantage of changing time is that enemies who are already near an extreme – being sent to the past as babies or being sent to the future as elders – will take damage from going through a time break. Combining this with another effect, like Willhelm’s poison, ensures you’re doing a lot of damage at once when changing the time.
It’s a pretty interesting combat system that I do think has some potential, but whether or not I think that potential is realized will depend on me getting further into the game. While I have played further than where the demo ended on my stream, I still haven’t really encountered any unscripted battles where it seemed like most of these special abilities are all that useful. For most of the random encounters, it saves resources and is just downright faster to use your regular attacks to take out enemies. Going out of your way to set up the tricky combos is only useful when those combos are worth the time you invest in them, and this only seems to be the case in boss fights for the most part.
The other thing I have concerns about in terms of the gameplay now that I’ve gotten a little further than the demo is the potential for grinding. When I reached the first shop in the game I was flabbergasted by how high the prices were for defensive equipment and weapon upgrades, and even for essential utility items like potions or tents. Given that most battles gave me at most between 100-200 marbles (with plenty giving me less) and the good equipment at the shop cost upwards of 2000 (and remember, I’d theoretically want to buy one of these per character), I can see Cris Tales asking me to spend a lot of time fighting random enemies for money rather than focusing on the storyline. It is possible there are side quests which could reward me with money or with stuff I could reasonably sell, but so far in the first major town you reach after the tutorial I have not found anything other than random battles that rewards you financially.
Overall, what I really remember working about Cris Tales during my stream does still work now. The presentation quality is excellent and the time mechanics, when made necessary by the challenge presented by the encounters, are compelling to engage with. However, I anticipate that a need for grinding may slow down the game somewhat, and many of the random encounters don’t require you to engage with the most interesting parts of the game’s systems. I can’t see the future like Crisbelle, but I am cautiously optimistic that Cris Tales can still impress me moving forward.