Cris Tales Is Oh So Close To JRPG Brilliance
Cris Tales wants to stand tall with the beloved JRPGs of old. With the first few hours under my belt, it definitely has the potential to match or even exceed the best of the genre – though there are a few tiny annoyances holding it back from true greatness.
From a single screenshot, it’s clear to see Cris Tales is absolutely gorgeous. In motion, it’s even better. Flourishing animations breathe abundant life and personality into even the slightest of interactions, with battles fought against the imaginative combatants feeling full of spectacle.
Even on Switch, this plays out quite smoothly, with the only dips in frame rate being in between loading screens. And there stands the first of these niggles. Load screens are frequent, particularly early on while the game is teaching you the battle system – sometimes multiple times in the same battle. It’s not really that big of a deal, it’s such a small thing – but I’m usually someone who doesn’t even notice these things at all. It did take me out of the experience constantly when all I wanted to do was be fully in this beautifully crafted world. Again it’s not something that really matters in the grand scheme of things, but it’s worth noting if you’re keen. Perhaps the PC version might be for you in that case.
Reminiscent of its inspirations, Cris Tales slots into that familiar rhythm of travelling between fantastical lands via an over-world, chatting to the townsfolk of each locale and diving into combat-focused dungeons. Areas feel like they’ve been carefully, physically handcrafted out of paper and patchwork. Cities and towns are lavish and grand. Character portraits, facial expressions and models are absolutely beautiful.
Even with only a few hours, I’d likely have to change my SD card over thanks to an ever-growing collection of screenshots. Well, that’s if I’d be able to take them, anyway. In one design decision a little too close to its Japanese brethren, the screenshot button is fully disabled. It’s honestly kind of heartbreaking. Thankfully, however, my prayers have been answered – well, my question to the devs, anyway – as they’ve noted to me, a fix will be patched in post-launch.
Battles in Cris Tales are traditional turn-based, with a turn order adorning the top of the screen and your units jumping in and out of the foreground as their turn comes up. Though I haven’t gotten too deep in the systems yet, I can already see the awesome potential. While your party members have their own specializations – water or electricity skills, for example – main character Crisbell’s time magic steals the show, elevating the potential of all other character’s abilities.
Depending on which side of the screen enemies are on, you can send them to either the past or the future – altering their abilities, HP and so on. Combine this with your party members, and you can pull off some awesome effects. The classic example the game gives you is poison. Infect an enemy, then send them to the future – smashing all poison damage onto them in a single go, rather than waiting for it to chip away over time. The result of these cool effects helps mitigate a scourge of RPGs – mana preservation. Cris Tales immediately makes you want to use your skills, instead of playing things safe.
Yet, there are just a few tiny things with its systems that I wish were either different or maybe toggle-able. There’s potential for more damage for your attacks by timing a button press as your character slashes its enemy, or resist some damage if you block at the right time. The problem is, instead of feeling like a bonus, it comes across as a punishment. It’s more deflating when you don’t get it, rather than elating when you do. I’m… terrible at this type of thing. This was another question I put to the developers prior to release, and I’m happy to say they are looking at accessibility options for those who have trouble with timing-based inputs – great to see the team willing to look into options for its players.
This is also more personal preference I suspect, but I just wish these games displayed the HP of each enemy. There have been hints that a type of inspect ability will come up at some point, so fingers crossed this will be mitigated – but if it does, it kind of would be better to be available from the jump. It’s another one of those things that lines up with the classics, but… maybe some things are better left in the past.
It might sound like I’ve been picking Cris Tales apart a little, but the truth is we’re always pickier about the things we love. This type of RPG is so beloved for a reason and comes with high expectations. I’m only critical because I’m honestly really into what I’ve played so far – all I want is for this game to succeed beyond its wildest dreams.
Review embargo or no, if life had given me the time to play through the full 30-40 hours in the 5ish days I’ve had code, I wouldn’t have even hesitated. I positively can’t wait to see more.
Cris Tales is currently being reviewed on Switch via code provided by the publisher.
When not playing games, Chris enjoys chilling with his Fiancé, cats and dog. He will probably never stop banging on about how amazing Outer Wilds is. Forever in search of the best Margherita pizza.
Chris writes on Latji Latji and Barkindji land.