Have you ever started a game and liked it well enough in the beginning, but also gotten glimpses of elements that you felt might be off-putting later on? This was my experience as I began my full playthrough of Cris Tales, an RPG I experienced first as a demo on stream and now am playing on my own time. I was pretty impressed with the demo but as I played a bit deeper into the game, I was starting to see some elements that had me a bit concerned. I could see Cris Tales moving in two directions: it could be a cute game that offered a cleverly streamlined version of the classic RPG experience, or it could be bloated by the mechanics that are often used to make this genre “worth your time” – read, take a lot more hours to play than it should. While I won’t be able to say for sure until the end of the game, the second chapter has given me a lot more confidence that Cris Tales is heading in the right direction.
This article will have mild spoilers for the story of the second chapter, the St. Clarity arc.
The second chapter of Cris Tales finds Crisbelle and her new friends Christopher and Wilhelm in the city of St. Clarity, where Christopher’s parents live. The city is divided into two distinct sections. The main city stands on high, defensive walls meant to protect the people from danger on the outside. Below the walls is Floodtown, so named because water from the main city’s sewers regularly floods the streets. The damaged infrastructure and increased likelihood of sickness makes Floodtown a dangerous home for the working class citizens who live there. I was surprised to see Cris Tales dealing with a class divide as a major story element, but it was an interesting (if slightly shallow) concept for the first major chapter outside of the tutorial section of the game.
St. Clarity is the first location in Cris Tales to introduce the side quest mechanic. Side quests are indicated visually by an icon when standing near characters who offer one. They tend to have about three to five distinct steps which may take place at different locations and require you to talk to characters, look around an environment, or defeat certain enemies. The tasks are conveniently structured in such a way that they fall rather naturally into the progression of the story; they’re less like distractions and instead add a bit of depth to the areas you are already exploring. Completing them often nets you a reward, but the game also lets you know that completing all the side quests for an area helps you to finish out the story there in a way that has a bigger impact. The game warns you when you are about to cross the point of no return so you can verify whether or not you’ve done your side quests before progressing. This is a nice touch for those driven to complete everything.
Now as part of my first impressions, I mentioned that there were aspects of Cris Tales that had me a little nervous. Specifically, the low rate of monetary rewards versus the high price of items, and the potential for grinding being a necessity in order to keep pace with the game’s challenge. I’m pleased to report that these are concerns that have been alleviated for me in a couple of different ways. The first relates to equipment and finances. While the monsters I’d met before St. Clarity seemed to drop pennies when defeated, the ones in the new areas unlocked during the quests related to the city were a lot more generous with currency. This is also helped along by the fact that plenty of treasure chests in the overworked supply you with either consumables or with equipment to supplement your defensive stats or magic attack or speed. Finally, equipment honestly doesn’t seem to make that big of a difference. The game mechanically feels like your strategy matters significantly more than the quality of your gear. In my case, I did fine against the mobs and mini bosses of St. Clarity with equipment I found in the wild, and by the end of the arc had enough money to buy most of the best equipment available and buff up for the boss fight.
My concern about possibly needing to grind was similarly addressed by the fact that Cris Tales cares a lot more about how you use your skills than about how high your stats are. Different monsters have their own weaknesses, so often during combat you’ll be looking at the combos available to you to determine the best approach for a particular group of enemies. And honestly, for most mobs you can pretty well get by just using basic attacks. The deeper mechanics of the game – things like blending different status problems or setup moves with Crisbelle’s time shifting in order to execute devastating attacks – can sometimes feel like a waste of time against simpler foes. I typically found myself saving resources like MP and CP for mini bosses and handling standard enemies with good old fashioned steel.
That’s not to say that you can just ignore the mechanics and mash attack when it comes to the more important battles. Most boss-type characters will require you to identify weak points in their attack patterns and change your approach to suit how they fight. Once you figure out an attack pattern, it’s simply a matter of execution. Against a particular foe, I realized that using Crisbelle to send them to the past would bait them to take over her turn and make her return to the present. I could combine this with Wilhelm’s plants so that when the boss took over Crisbelle, he would actually activate a trap that dealt himself and his minions a significant chunk of damage. Once you learn these weak points the actual length of boss battles is relatively short, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting bored just exploiting the same patterns over and over.
Cris Tales is filling a niche for me in terms of gaming: something that scratches the turn-based RPG itch while also respecting my time. Nothing about the game outside of perhaps the graphics is really anything to write home about, but the game is still executed at a competent level and there’s enough going on to keep me interested. There is something satisfying about finishing a quest and getting a glimpse into a future where the character you just helped shifts from being miserable or dead to instead being happy and healthy. And the fact that I can finish a “chapter” of the game in a couple of hours as opposed to an entire day makes it a lot easier to fit Cris Tales into my schedule. With my worries about the game alleviated, I’m looking forward to seeing what awaits in the next segment of the game.