In my last review, I recommended you cast aside rational thinking to judge a book by its cover. For Cris Tales, a beautiful storybook-like RPG with a time travel mechanic, however, you might want to forget that bit of advice.
With an action-packed trailer with exploding colors and animation, you’d expect Cris Tales to be just that – an action game. Not only does this description miss the mark by quite a margin, but it highlights its least interesting elements.
As an unwitting time-traveling prodigy that discovers her powers at the start of the story, it’s up to Crisbell to fulfill her prophecy and save the world. In a very Disney-like manner, she pairs up with a talking animal, approaches bad guys in castles and makes friends on her journey to end the war ravaging the world around them. Her powers are a fun little time travel mechanic that has different features for each part of the gameplay.
In the towns, you can see its past, present and future by simply walking through it giving it a layered quality not possible in most games. It’s the best interactive part of this art piece and allows a unique approach to world-building allowing you to resolve issues and complete quests in the present from a combination of the past and future. It’s a brilliant mechanic and one that I wish was expanded further with more residents and areas.
I’m sure you’ve realized this already, but this Unity-developed game is quite the stunner with a clean and simple art style and smooth animation that you can’t help being blown away by as you walk around the beautiful towns dotted around the world. What this unfortunately did for me, was produce unreasonably high expectations, only for them to slowly sink into a malaise of mediocrity, as I realized that everything else on offer was simply average in comparison.
The visuals, worthy of their own cartoon network show, are supplanted by frequent loading screens, unsatisfying battles and voice-acting so awful I felt compelled to mute it. The Unity engine is likely both thank and blame for at least the first issue as it produces that specific look at the expense of engine resources extending the loading times.
The action takes place in the form of rather standard turn-based battles but allows you to use Crisbell’s abilities which can send enemies to the past and future changing their age and strength on one hand and gives you an opportunity to infect and affect them on another. Sending enemies to the past and poisoning them, for example, before returning them to the present magnifies your attacks.
The biggest downside to the battle system though is not the disappointingly standard animation in the battles, nor the singular audio track or even the overall affair being rather bland, but it’s the fact that they appear out of nowhere far too frequently through random encounters and there is no way to avoid them.
It’s so frustrating to have the screen turn white for no obvious reason with no sound effects and no warning only for it then cut to a loading screen as if you are moving into a new area. After this happens a few times, of course, you know full well that even after you beat the bog-standard battle in front of you, another is sure to come and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Another interesting mechanic facilitated by Crisbell’s ability is a situation where you are forced to make a decision between helping one of two parties in the town with the decisions having their own consequences and further affecting the town. This is also true for the number of side quests that you do within each location – the more you do, the more it changes – and this fosters and brings to the fore the personality of each areas’ characters.
Despite everything pointing to Cris Tales being for a Saturday morning cartoon audience the Teen-age rating and some awkward dialogue make this choice confusing, like the presumably intentional but completely out of place moment where one of the characters calls another a ‘pr*ck’ and seems as appropriate as Winnie the Pooh whipping out a machine gun and mowing down a honey thief in a spray of sweet-scented death.
Cris Tales is undoubtedly special, but how special is in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion, the RPG battle system spoils the sky-high potential afforded by its presentation and central mechanic. I mean, why would you even bother fighting when you could just manipulate time? Furthermore, it may have been better to expand the great town-based consequence-forming gameplay loop to something more similar to the tremendous system used in Where the Heart Leads.
Overall then, if you bear the unnecessary grinding of Cris Tales, there’s potentially something special waiting for you. I, on the other hand, will be jumping into a Delorean to see if the developer makes an improved sequel. Until we meet again…