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July 2024

Cris Tales

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: SYCK (EU), Dreams Uncorporated (US)
Release Date: July 20, 2021


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Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Cris Tales'

by Thomas Wilde on July 24, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Cris Tales is a lush RPG following a heroine's quest through past and future visions of her world to curb a merciless Empress' rule and prevent a cataclysm.

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First announced during the PC Gaming Conference at E3 2019, Cris Tales was described by one of its developers as "a love letter to classical JRPGs and to our Colombian heritage." It's a lush, animated sort of fantasy city, inspired by coastal cities in Colombia like Cartagena, and full of the developers' home's classical architecture and fashion. Usually, when someone says they're making a "classical JRPG," it ends up looking like a random episode of any given '90s fantasy anime, but Cris Tales has a lush style all its own.

The "Cris" in Cris Tales is a young woman named Crisabel (Kira Buckland), who acquires a special set of crystals one day that allows her to perceive and manipulate the flow of time.

This is reflected on-screen by a peculiar pyramid design, where Crisabel herself is always in the present, but the left side shows the past and the right, the future. You can walk through Crisabel's hometown, St. Clarity, and watch buildings under construction on the left that are complete in the present, but have fallen into disrepair and ruin on the right.

Crisabel also immediately acquires a sidekick, Matias, a yellow talking frog in a top hat and bow tie, who's designed to look like the Colombia golden poison frog. Matias is full of useful exposition, but he can also "time hop," which allows him to physically enter the past or future, which Crisabel can only look into.

The Cris Tales demo at E3 showed a lengthy puzzle as an example of how the Time Crystals work. Crisabel can tell from her glimpses of the future that a couple of the buildings in town are affected by rot, and if left unattended, they'll collapse. One belongs to the local apothecary, and the other is the home of a single mother and her kids. Crisabel can visit a carpenter to try and repair the damage, but the rot is caused by an infestation, which requires a special tonic to get rid of.

Naturally, the apothecary can make that tonic, but the local children have gotten into her stash of chemicals and mixed up the labels, apparently because they think the poison-warning stickers look cool. In order to figure out which bottles contain the tonic's ingredients, Crisabel can dispatch Matias into the recent past to dig through the apothecary's cabinets and find the bottle while it was still labeled.

That, in turn, lets Crisabel get the tonic she needs, but that leads to a choice. There's only enough of it to get rid of the rot in one house. Either the apothecary has to close down in the future, or you end up leaving a single mother homeless. You can fix problems here, but you can't fix everything.

Cris Tales's past-present-future "pyramid" extends into the game's combat, shown later on, as Crisabel continues to master her powers and teams up with another time mage, Willheim, to take on a threat called the Time Empress (Jennifer Hale). The battle system is a deliberate JRPG throwback, both turn- and timing-based in the spirit of something like Paper Mario. A well-timed hit can do up to double damage, while a well-timed defensive move could eliminate some or all of an attack's impact.

Crisabel can use her time powers in a number of ways during a fight, such as by setting a "Time Checkpoint" early on, which lets you return to a previous point in the battle, resetting your stats and status to how they were when you set the checkpoint, for good or ill. You can actively send enemies to the past or future, which incarnates them as younger or older versions of themselves, which in turn can add or remove abilities; you can also inflict a damage-over-time effect on an enemy and then send them into the future, so all the ticks from the DoT fire at once.

The E3 demo showed off a boss fight against a pair of fighters called the Volcano Sisters, who were initially invincible in the present day due to both of them having a pair of thick metal shields. However, by hitting them with a water spell and throwing them into the future, the shields became rusted, and the sisters became vulnerable. As a trade-off, however, they also became distinctly more dangerous, as they now have the benefit of several years of additional combat experience.

Enemies you send to the future don't actually level up, and as such, aren't worth more experience. The idea is that the mechanic is meant to create clever ways to get around defenses, supply burst damage, or interact with Crisabel's other spells.

I didn't actually get to go hands-on with Cris Tales at E3, but I walked away from the behind-closed-doors demo impressed by it. It's cool to see an RPG with a different set of design influences than the usual Tolkien-by-way-of-Japan pastiche, and a lot of the game is made with a frame-by-frame animation style that makes it look like an old cartoon. I've seen a lot of games that identified themselves like Cris Tales did, as a tribute game to old Japanese RPGs of yesteryear, and many of those games were a self-conscious imitation that came off like a second-generation photocopy. Cris Tales, by comparison, is going off in its own direction in a lot of potentially interesting ways.

There's a playable demo for Cris Tales right now on Steam. It's scheduled to come out there in 2020, with additional versions planned for the PS4, Switch and Xbox One.

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