Many role-playing games deal with time travel and ever-changing fortunes, but the thesis that no future is guaranteed is the thesis of Cris Tales. When a young girl named Crisbell learns to use the power of mystical time crystals, the player benefits from the advantages of the innovative mechanics both in turn-based combat and when exploring the environment. Unfortunately, as these unique mechanics evolve as the adventure progresses, they stagnate before the story ends.
Cris Tales doesn’t waste time showing off his strengths; the downright beautiful, hand-drawn aesthetic offers surface pleasures, while the grandiose turn-based combat mechanics offer thrills that are more than just superficial. Fighting crowds of monsters and minions is easy thanks to easy-to-understand combat menus, while a wide range of combat skills lets you approach encounters in different ways. Cris Tales adds a timing mechanic to keep the battles interesting. Pressing a button at the right time during your attack will score a critical hit, while during an incoming enemy attack you will do the same to minimize damage and status discomfort. This active approach creates a lot of excitement, but it does require you to memorize the animations of each enemy type. Even then, sometimes the timing doesn’t feel like the action on the screen.
Your group members bring different powers to assist you in battle. I always felt competent and creatively empowered in combat, from William’s collection of offensive and defensive vegetation to Cristopher’s effective elemental magic or Zas’s fun roulette skills. The main attraction, however, is Crisbell’s suite of time crystal forces. With their ability to move parts of the battlefield forward or backward in time, you can get inventive with your approach to combat. In one encounter, I used their powers to transform two vicious beasts into younger, less powerful versions of themselves. I also poisoned the enemies with Willhelm before speeding up the time which caused the poison to hit them all at once. In these sequences the fight of Cris Tales really shines; I felt powerful as I masterfully interwoven Crisbell’s time powers with the rest of the group’s skills. However, the more I played, the more I felt trapped in a time warp.
As you travel through each dungeon in Cris Tales, you repeat many of the same battles. Fighting your way through random encounters with the same subset of enemies is nothing new to the genre, but the repetitive battles have encouraged me to go the most efficient way despite the great powers at my disposal. Since this strategy caught on in the random encounters, I hoped boss fights would encourage more time manipulation, but that’s rare too. While some bosses come in different shapes depending on how you manipulate their time, the strongest enemies have no incentive to play with these unique tools. Instead of serving as the culmination of everything you’ve learned, the later bosses of Cris Tales ask you to ignore the most distinctive mechanics of the combat system by rendering them ineffective.
I also liked using the time powers to solve simple puzzles in dungeons, e.g. Unfortunately, these mechanics never get beyond a rarely used gimmick. The dungeons also tend to have long, everyday trails that appear to be designed to trigger random encounters on your way to an isolated treasure chest, rather than enticing explorations.
The time shift systems carry into the cities as you can see the past, present and future of each destination. I found it worthwhile to see how my actions and completed side quests affect people or places in real time; Combining these consequences into an already lovable and engaging story (albeit one full of whiplash-inducing twists) got me even more excited to dig into the optional content.
Unfortunately, a lack of names for people and places hampers exploration of the world. For example, if a side quest tells me to talk to a specific person and I can’t remember who that person is, I need to talk to each character so that their name and dialogue appear on the screen. Likewise, cities in the hub world are frustratingly unlabeled, which means you need to keep an eye on the name and location of each area. These are minor inconveniences on a grand scale, but were especially annoying due to the many side quests that require you to speak to several specific people. This problem came to a head in the endgame when I was given the task of getting people from each city, but with more than 30 hours of gameplay between my interactions with some of the city dwellers, I had no idea who some of the characters were going to let go of by their names.
Despite these issues, RPG fans still have a fun, and often delightful, adventure to play. However, with tons of frustrations, repetitive actions, and mechanics that don’t live up to their potential, Cris Tales falls short of the greatness it was designed to be.