Cris Tales and The Love and Care of Independent Studios
Traditional RPGs are something that has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, whether it’s from AAA developers such as Square’s Octopath Traveller and Bravely Default or via smaller developers, like Dreams Incorporated and Syck with Cris Tales. The two developers responsible for bringing Cris Tales to life are two independent Columbian developers, backed by publisher Modus, who have historically helped bring the talents of worldwide developers to a larger scale.
This is more clear from the packaging alone, which includes a small pamphlet explaining who the company Modus is, as well as who Dreams Incorporated and Syck is. I wouldn’t have known that small blurb about the Columbian developers was it not for that piece of paper not only showing who the developers are but also promoting players to spread the love for the game using the hashtag #ModusMoment so that the developers would see fan feedback.
The game also includes a free poster as well, something that not only took me off guard, but it shows off the impressive artwork featured on the cover. The bright colors, rounded faces, and simple artwork are but a teaser to the game’s actual graphics, which features impressive hand-drawn art that feels like something out of a cartoon. In my initial playthrough, I was comparing the art to something like Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends and other Cartoon Network cartoons.
A Rift Through Time, Space, and RPG Generations
What’s also impressive is the voice acting, as each line and character featured voiced lines that, in itself, is rare to see in a JRPG game outside of important cutscenes. The voices themselves are expectant of what one would hear from an RPG like this, as young characters sound nasally and bratty while elder characters sound grainy. The protagonist, Crisbell, also fits the same bill as well as the supporting characters themselves.
The main draw, as with most JRPGs, is the story and the gameplay in which it’s a fairly simple one. A young girl named Crisbell is raised at an orphanage and through a chance encounter with a yellow talking frog, discovers that she has the power to control time. As one of the Time Mages, she has the power to shift time from the past to “possibilities,” which becomes a focal point in determining the fate of her village.
One situation requires her to decide whether to save the apothecary or save a home to prevent a family from being homeless. Depending on the decision made, it’d affect the possibility of a future, which would reflect later on in the story ideally. This type of decision-making immediately reminded me of Life Is Strange, where coincidentally, features a young woman as a protagonist who has the power to control time and must make decisions that would change the course of the plot.
How this correlates to gameplay is the usage of changing the passage of time. When Crisbell activates her time powers, the screen is split into three, with the leftmost section being the “Past,” the far-right being the “future,” and the middle being the “present.” As Crisbell is always in the present, she can send enemies to the “future” and “past” depending on their location in battle, which usually debuffs them to a weakened state, giving the party the advantage in the present.
The Concept of Time Applies In Battle As Well As The World of Cris Tales
A better example of how this incorporates in strategy is the very first fight involving two villains who hide behind a giant shield. In the beginning, no matter what attacks the player does, it’s an unwinnable one as the enemies will always block the attack. Following this, a long intro sequence showing the player what happened before that point leads to the introduction of the time mechanics, fast-forwarding back into the present time in the same fight.
With the player’s introduction to Crisbell’s time powers, her partner can use a water attack that will “douse” the shield in which the enemies will hide behind. Following this, Crisbell can send the enemy into the future, in which the water-soaked metal shield becomes rusted, breaking their guard. A strategy like this is something that I would expect to persist throughout the game as Crisbell and her party will need to find strategic ways to defeat enemies who are either far too skilled for their level or requires a puzzle to break an opponent’s defense.
Outside of specialized mechanics for specific boss fights, I felt the beginning fights didn’t exactly show the full potential of Crisbell’s time powers. At times I was taking unnecessary damage trying to figure out the mechanics, only realizing that her time powers affected enemies in the plan that they are in. So, if an enemy is on a plane to the right, utilizing the “past” time spell will not work as the “past” will only work on the left plane, with the right reserved for the future.
Despite Its Premise, Cris Tales Is An Easy Game To Understand
If any of this sounds confusing, then it’s not as it’s just trial-and-error, but enemies can be unforgiving as far as dishing out damage early game, quickly adding on damage to Crisbell and her party members. This is where other mechanics kicks in, known as the “Parry” and the “Double Strike” system. As a party member attacks a foe, the player can attack twice in a row by timing the attack button at the exact moment before the first strike hits.
Conversely, when an enemy attacks, players can parry the attack, mitigating the damage taken if they press the attack button to deflect the attack at the exact moment the attack connects. Both of these mechanics are possibly the most important to learn, even more than the time mechanic, as learning how to properly attack ensures you won’t give away free damage, while the parry mechanic means the difference between taking 30 damage versus only 5 damage.
Within the end of the prologue boss before the title screen splash, Cris Tales looks to be a game for traditional RPG enthusiasts who wish to explore the unique art styles of developers from locations that are unique in their own right. As the indie genre grows steadily over the years, many artists and game designers continue to show homages to older titles and genres, all the while creating masterpieces in their own right and Cris Tales is no different.
Cris Tales is currently available on the PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox Series X