Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC
Who knew that even a non-Japanese company could develop such a good JRPG? Is it still considered a JRPG if it’s made by a non-Japanese developer, right?
Well, in the case of Cris Tales, I would certainly say so. Developed by Colombian studios Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK, this is a beautiful game inspired by classic JRPGs such as Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, as well as recent JRPGs like I Am Setsuna and Persona 5.
However, the developers of Cris Tales have infused the game with distinguishing mechanics like time manipulation abilities and a refreshingly unique art style that’s different from most other JRPGs out there.
Cris Tales begins with the game’s protagonist Crisbell (fun fact: she’s performed by the same voice actress as NieR Automata‘s 2B) who finds herself becoming a Time Mage and acquiring time manipulation powers via magical crystals that show her an apocalyptic vision of her town getting destroyed. This leads to her setting off on a grand journey in an attempt to change the future and save the world.
Oh, and did I also mention that there’s a mystical talking frog named Matias wearing a top hat and bowtie with a British accent helping her? The second playable character is a cynical and bitter old Time Mage named Wilhelm who’s in a young boy’s body, and the third is a spirited teenager named Christopher who’s an Elemental Mage with a shield that splits into two arm-blades.
Yeah, it’s very old-school JRPG in essence, but there’s enough charm to make the game stand out. The interactions between Crisbell and her growing party of companions is easily one of the highlights of the game. It’s impressive that not only does every line of dialogue in the game is voiced, but the voice acting is great in general. This makes it a lot easier to get even more immersed and invested in the game’s narrative. The game takes its time to develop each and every character. I hate it when JRPGs just throw a bunch of characters at the player without bothering to flesh them out.
This is despite that the narrative is very much what you’d expect from any other JRPG, especially a traditional one like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. There’s an overworld that you can explore and visit a myriad of locations, including different cities and dungeons. The structure is simple enough, as there’s the main objective to follow (which you can check at any time simply by pressing triangle), and also side quests that can be triggered by speaking with NPCs.
What makes the narrative less linear is Crisbell’s ability to see the past, present, and future all at once. You, the player, actually do see everything at once. There’s literally a triangle in the middle of the screen at any given time. Anything inside the triangle is the present, while everything on the left is the past while everything on the right is the future. It is via these time-tinted lenses that you will solve puzzles, find secret chests and complete side quests.
For example, as you walk by an NPC on the street of a town, you’ll see all three timelines simultaneously. The left lens is their past, the middle lens is their present, and the right lens is their future. You can complete side quests, as well as make different decisions and choices during dialogue, in order to change their future either for good or bad. You can often see the effects of your actions on the world around you in real-time due to Crisbell’s future sight, which can either feel rewarding (if it ends up well) or disappointing (if it ends badly).
The time manipulation doesn’t really do much to improve the game’s puzzles, since they’re mostly simplistic and gimmicky most of the time. It’s the narrative and combat where the mechanic shines the most, so we’ll head into how the latter works. Combat plays out like a conventional turn-based JRPG but it’s more active. Similar to that of games like I Am Setsuna or Ikenfell, Cris Tales features a timing reaction mechanic where every action (be it attacking or getting attacked) requires the players to execute a QTE of sorts. You have to press the X button (I played on PS5 with a DualSense controller) at the right cue (just before an attack hits, the screen will flash) for it to be more effective.
The wrong timing just means that your attacks inflict less damage. Hitting the correct timing will result in Good or Critical hits that inflict more damage. This timing reaction mechanic also comes into play when your characters get attacked by enemies. Pressing the X button with the correct timing will allow your characters to Deflect or Parry the enemies attacks, resulting in less damage and even avoiding detrimental status effects like poison.
Overall, it’s not as punishing as the one in Ikenfell, so it pretty much just encourages a more active and engaging playstyle than the usual passive turn-based combat. That said, there’s no way to tweak the timing reaction mechanic at launch, so you’ll have to get used to it no matter how frustrating it is at first to time your attacks. Deflecting or Parrying an enemy’s attack can mean life or death in a single turn or move in Cris Tales.
However, the biggest highlight of the combat in Cris Tales (and its biggest selling point) is that Crisbell’s time manipulation powers open up a slew of unique strategies and tactics. Remember that triangle on the screen I mentioned? That’s also featured during combat. How that works is that Crisbell can send enemies on the left side of the screen to the past and the right side of the screen to the future. This can result in many ingenious and unique situations.
For example, poisoning an enemy and then sending them to the future will inflict sudden death, just as it would be if the enemy has been poisoned for a long period of time. In another instance, you can make your enemies easier to kill by sending them back to the past and turning them into a weaker and younger version of themselves.
That’s not all as Crisbell can work together with her allies to take advantage of her time manipulation abilities as well. For example, if Christopher uses a Water-based magic skill attack on an invincible enemy with a shield, Crisbell can send that enemy to the future. This causes that shield to Rust and therefore making the enemy vulnerable to attacks. A personal favourite of mine is for Wilhelm to plant a living plant bomb on a group of enemies. When Crisbell sends those enemies to the future, the bomb automatically explodes and inflicts massive AoE damage.
As for the visuals, you can probably see for yourself on the screenshots in the review how unique the art style looks, but the game’s smooth animations elevate that to the Nth level, making everything look even more phenomenal. The game’s world and characters come to life with vibrant and vivid colours. It’s truly a sight to behold and a rare one at that. It reminds me more of JRPGs like Dragon Quest XI Echoes Of An Elusive Age and Persona 5, both of which are known for their style and personality far more than just realistic graphics like Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The last time I saw art, visuals and animation this good was probably 2020’s Hades (yeah, I know that’s not a JRPG, but the visuals invoke the same feelings). Speaking of Persona 5, the developers probably took a lot of inspiration from that game when designing the game’s UI and UX. Cris Tales‘ menus are almost as stylish, especially during combat with its distinctive and unconventional shapes and fonts.
Out Of Time?
Unfortunately, Cris Tales isn’t only inspired by its predecessors in all the good ways, but the bad as well. Some of the mechanics and systems in the game can feel archaic in day and age for seemingly no good reason. For starters, there are no autosaves in Cris Tales. None whatsoever. What that means is that just like old JRPGs, you’ll lose hours of progress if you don’t remember to save every time you find a save point.
Save points are abundant enough, especially for JRPG veterans who are used to them, and you can also save at any time in the overworld (which is a moot point, considering that you don’t really spend much time there).
Also, I would like to point out that save points do not automatically restore your HP and MP back to full, like they often do in many other JRPGs. In order for that to happen, you need special items call Tents, which are extremely pricey and rare in the game; they cost an in-game currency of 10,000, which is preposterous, or go to Inns in towns (which is surprisingly cheap, but most players will likely overlook). The developers are clearly trying to discourage players from abusing the save points to mindlessly grind and become overpowered. In fact, I’m sure that’s exactly the intention of the developers.
Unlike other JRPGs, Cris Tales discourages mindless grinding by implementing those systems. This can be either a good or bad thing, depending on your preference. Since there are no difficulty options, the game encourages players to play smart by utilizing whatever resources they have and being tactical in combat. You can still technically grind moderately (if you know what you’re doing) and become a bit over-levelled, but you can’t brute force your way to max level and cheese the game that easily.
Another issue with Cris Tales is that there is no fast travel mechanic in the game. Sure, a lot of old JRPGs didn’t have fast travel, so you had to basically walk everywhere manually. Well, not only does Cris Tales not have fast travel, the game doesn’t even feature a single map or mini-map.
Because of this, it’s extremely easy to get lost in the game if you’re not paying attention. Pressing the triangle button will only give you a hint or reminder of what to do for the next main objective to progress the story, but there’s no map or waypoint to guide you. You’ll have to remember where certain buildings and characters are by yourself using your own memory.
One last old-timey JRPG trope that the game went for is one that most modern JRPGs has abandoned; namely random battle encounters. Even games like Dragon Quest XI Echoes Of An Elusive Age and the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei V are getting rid of this outdated mechanic. However, it looks like the developers have decided to keep random battles inside Cris Tales; perhaps as further homage to classic JRPGs. Oh, and members outside of your party don’t earn EXP from battles, which makes them severely under-levelled and useless after a while.
All that said, none of these aforementioned issues were game-breaking for someone like me, who are used to the archaic systems and mechanics of older JRPGs. Do I like them? Of course not, but veteran JRPG fans will be able to tolerate and get by them lickety-split.
They’re just part and parcel of the quirks of the genre as a whole. Those not familiar with classic JRPGs may find these problems more annoying and frustrating to deal with. In fact, since this game launched, I’ve actually seen many players who have complained about them on their social media, so I’m not just mentioning all this for no reason.
A Loving Ode
Cris Tales is definitely a praiseworthy effort from Colombian studios Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK, both of whom have crafted a JRPG adventure worth playing through from beginning to end. This game proves that even JRPGs can transcend their origin country, becoming a worthwhile and memorable experience, even with some of its issues.
Fans of the genre should check out Cris Tales to bask in the glorious homage to the best (and worst) of them.
- Nice time manipulation mechanic provides a refreshing twist to both combat and narrative.
- Beautiful and unique art style, visuals, and animation.
- A compelling and charming cast of characters.
- The timing reaction mechanic in combat may take some getting used to.
- Outdated mechanics and systems hinder the game.
Final Score: 80/100
Review copy provided by Ripples Asia. Played on PS5.