One of the quickest ways to stand out is to literally stand out. Dokuro, anything by Vallinaware and many more have fascinating art styles that get players talking. Cris Tales does this with a stylized world and vibrant color palette, invoking the same feelings you’d get from Disney’s Small World ride. With the hardest part done, does Cris Tales make use of the attention or does it fall under the weight?
There are a lot of things going on in Cris Tales that manage to both enhance and destroy the core narrative. After the Time Empress attacks Crisbell’s home city, she learns she has the power to control time, is possibly the chosen one and fights against this impossible foe.
Instead of relying entirely on enhancing her power and defeating this global treat, Cris Tales attempts to make full use of Crisbell’s powers. With the past, present and future shown most of the time, Crisbell can use Matias to travel between time to arrive at the desired future. At first this is fixing a home and keeping a business afloat, with it advancing to saving lives and preventing a town from flooding, before being tossed to the side as an irrelevant gimmick.
Each town also has its own conflict that uses Crisbell’s powers to resolve. As a whole, they feel out of place and like a pointless time sink, with each feeding into some part of the Time Empress’ overall plan. Come the end of the adventure, there are a lot of twists and turns, many of which fail to land because the core foundation is almost non-existent. Most can only sustain themselves through logical assumptions based entirely off time travel tropes. While criticism of the story could honestly fill this whole review, it’s far from the biggest problem in Cris Tales.
For all of Crisbell’s supposed power, there is something ironic about the person supposedly in-control of time, being the person bound the most to it. Even if you save every city, right every wrong and kill those who need to die, Cris Tales is almost painfully linear and scripted.
There will be time you see important items in the past or present but if you’re not supposed to mess with them natively, they essentially don’t exist. Instead, everything, no matter how small, is linked to something. Might be an optional quest, post-game activity or just later in that adventure, which is frustrating to say the least. Especially since it gives away plot points or suggests where the adventure is eventually going to go. Not to mention, it takes agency away from Crisbell. I never felt like I could control her adventure, I was just going through the motions until the next boss appeared.
Since time travel is also a core component of fighting, Cris Tales largely likes to dictate how you play as well. At first the combat system is suggested to be fairly deep, making great use of the time mechanics. This is getting a shield wet, going forward in time and now it’s rusted and weak. Another example is hitting an enemy with poison, advancing time and forcing them to take all that damage at once.
Initially, several bosses play into these time mechanics. One is a monster that starts to die if you age it forward, another is a robot that is either being built or long past its best days, it’s once you get about 30 to 40 percent through the story Cris Tales decides against this.
It makes sense that certain enemies would be above the time mechanics. Obviously the Time Empress herself would be, I mean, she also controls time in some capacity, with certain characters having mechanics that get them around your powers and more. The problem isn’t that these enemies exist, it’s that they dominate boss fights.
After the monster that is weaken in old age, there is someone who can control Crisbell and force her to keep them in the ideal period of time. Then there is a creature that doesn’t change in any amount of time Crisbell can control. Following that boss there is a robot that basically controls what period of time it wants to be in. Next there is a girl who gets stronger in the future, with no past version. Cris Tales changes things up by making the boss that comes after have a device that outright disables your time magic. At this point your time powers actually work, they can be used to dictate what type of attacks the enemy does, with another boss that is best fought without gimmicks and at this point you’re at the Time Empress.
Some of the fights also fit into the aforementioned feelings of being scripted. The Time Empress is actually the perfect example of this. You need to attack her in a specific order, during predetermined times, with a lot of elements like defense and health being irrelevant. You win that fight by following a rotation and being able to anticipate attacks, not leveling your team, having the right build or anything most RPGs expect.
In a lot of ways this is almost an unavoidable, arguably fundamental issue with Cris Tales design. For example, Cris Tales plays like any RPG, just enemies appear on the left or right side of the screen, with Crisbell having the ability to send them to the past or future. This is dictated by their position, so left is past and right is future. However, so many choices negatively impact the experience.
For example, to learn anything about an enemy, including their health, you need a character that can scan them. For about 80 percent of the game, that is Willhelm and only Willhelm. And if you want to run two of the later characters, JKR-721 and Zas, you have a mechanic that has the potential to kill your whole team (even a trophy/achievement for doing that) or all your attacks rely on RNG. The latter would be fine if there weren’t bosses and enemies who actually heal if you use certain elements. So, I can pick Zas, have the chance of doing critical damage, average damage or heal the boss, or I could select Cristopher, select the ideal magic and do critical damage. The last character fulfills more roles, but she comes at a time when your options change, making her the ideal for things like scanning.
You look at something like builds and so many options seem pointless. There is a keychain system, basically you clip something on your weapon and it does one of four things. However, many enemies are immune to poison and flames, making those less useful, one that adds pierce damage and the last one increases your attack by 30 points but deals 30 percent of the damage back. I actually tested it and don’t even understand why this option exists.
At 312 attack and pierce, my Crisbell does 129 damage against the final boss. When I equip the attack boosting keychain, her attack goes to 332 (pierce gives 10 attack), the last boss now goes before her (pierce also gives some speed) and I do 106 damage while also taking about 20 damage.
Come the end of the game, you have bosses that make defense and to a lesser extent HP irrelevant, are immune to the time travel mechanics, have as many mechanics as a raid boss in Destiny, two characters that are a detriment to your team compared to the others, a single keychain that is worthwhile, are immune to practically every status aliment and force you to build around what they do. Like, I’d love to say I overcame the final boss through sheer grit, determination and a long hard look at my build, but instead I just went to one of the towns, bought three Basalt Necklaces (immune to burn) and won it without breaking a sweat.
Cris Tales Review Verdict
In the end, it’s hard to deny the effort that went into Cris Tales. It looks amazing, but it almost feels like a lot of things were thrown at the wall in hopes they’d stick or just to do them. Does there need to be a shoe that you ride between two puddles to get to a location? Did Crisbell really need a dragon to fly between islands right before you fight the last boss because your previous mode of transportation is removed? Are there many players hoping to fight bosses that instantly drop you to 1 HP and then spinning a wheel to see how many characters get healed, with the AI deciding who that is if you don’t land on everyone? Is anyone looking to play Pokemon right before the final boss fight for useless skills, like status aliments that largely won’t work on the bosses you fight or an HP drain that does a whole 87 damage and heals my girl for an impressive 4 (yes, four) HP out of a possible 616?
Add this in with an opening that is brutal, even more mechanics that get thrown away or ignored long term (why have the tent that heals your party cost 10,000 marbles, what Cris Tales uses for currency, when by the time you can afford it, you’d have no use for it?), spending most of your time talking to people in towns that are obvious padding and so much more. It’s a shame Cris Tales simply can’t live up to the charm of its art but there is no consistency on what it wants to be. Even the bosses go from a joke to making me feel like I am woefully under-leveled, back to Neptunia level in the span of 20 minutes and one level. For some the art might be enough, but if you want a good RPG, this isn’t it.
[Editor’s Note: Cris Tales was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]