From Colombia, comes a love letter to classic 90s JRPGs: Cris Tales is an Indie with a well-defined identity and addictive gameplay.
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Cris Tales presented to the public at the 2019 PC Gaming Show, with a trailer that instantly captured our interest. An enthusiasm quickly cemented by the test Demo proposed by Dreams Uncorporated is SYCK, the Colombian teams authors of the intriguing Latin American JRPG, and a subsequent presentation event organized by the publisher Modus Games. About two years after starting this journey, we are therefore excited to be able to confirm that in its final incarnation Cris Tales has been able to fully live up to expectations, proposing a fairytale adventure full of style and characterized by a gameplay capable of offering the right balance between tradition and innovation.
While inspired by classics of the caliber of Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI, the JRPG does not expire in quotationism, instead proudly claiming its own playful and aesthetic identity. Available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Google Stadia and, from Day One, in the Xbox Game Pass catalog, Cris Tales is a lustrous Indie gem crafted with commitment and dedication by a small group of developers, who did not fail to be inspired by their land to create an adorable fantasy universe.
Of frogs and time magicians
Crisbell grew up in the Narim orphanage, a picturesque and colorful city dominated by a large cathedral that honors the cult of the Lady, protector of the entire continent. Under the guidance of the affectionate and wise Mother Superior, the little girl has transformed into a courageous and selfless young woman, a point of reference for the other little guests of the structure.
Crisbell’s placid daily life is interrupted one afternoon by the appearance of a funny mischievous frog, determined to steal a precious scarlet red from her. On the trail of the little amphibian, our protagonist finds herself in front of the great altar of the cathedral, where a shining stained glass window depicting the Lady of legends suddenly gives her extraordinary power.
Having abandoned the imposing religious structure, Crisbell is in fact struck by an overwhelming phenomenon: in his eyes, not only the present is shown, but also Narim’s past and future. This is how the most characteristic dynamic of Cris Tales, or a tripartite division of the screen, which simultaneously offers a view of different eras of the setting that is being framed. In this way, while from the left side we can see the scaffolding that led to the construction of the city, the right section offers instead a glimpse into the possible future of Narim.
Such powers shock Crisbell, troubled by a vision of her orphanage, destroyed and struck by flames in a disturbing future. Fortunately, with the peculiar abilities, the girl also gained an unexpected friend: the frog Mathias. Talking amphibian and royally dressed in a top hat, the latter explains to the young woman that he had watched over her for several years, waiting for her to reveal her nature as a Time Mage. Now able to exercise control over the flow of destinies, Crisbell is, however, bewildered and confused.
To guide her in this delicate passage, the hopping Mathias therefore leads his protégé to the abode of a second young wizard: Wilhelm the Wise. Quickly learned the mechanisms that allow her to influence the passage of time, our protagonist, however, does not have a moment of peace. Hordes of Goblins are in fact razing Narim’s farms to the ground, bearers of an unstoppable scourge. There is no agreement on the causes that led these creatures to the city: there are those who speak of the pollution produced by the industrial development of the area, but also a name whispered with fear on the side of the roads. That the Empress of Time is back, ready to start a new war?
The future is a mere possibility
From these premises, it begins an intense adventure with a fairytale atmosphere, through five great kingdoms threatened by impending and devastating conflict. The narrative plot of Cris Tales easily lasts between 30 and 40 hours, making light and childish tones coexist on the screen with the dramas of loss, betrayal and violence. A sweet and multifaceted story, which in several moments has brought us back to mind the atmosphere of the unforgettable Ni no Kuni by Level-5 (to learn more, here is the review of Ni No Kuni Remastered). Mathias, while not communicating in Roman dialect, in fact supports our Crisbell with the same apprehension as the funny Lucciconio conceived by Studio Ghibli, determined to support the protagonist in a path of growth and maturation.
And the first lesson to be learned is that the future – any future – is nothing more than a mere possibility. The actions we choose to perform are in fact capable of radically changing the destinies of people and places that surround us, in a kind of domino effect that involves every realm of Cris Tales. Our generosity can, for example, mark the fate of an aspiring musician, whose poverty seemed to have already condemned him to the fate of a disenchanted criminal, while the salvation of a child can radically change the fate of an entire city.
The Colombian JRPG constantly emphasizes the need to take responsibility for one’s choices, with Crisbell being called upon to thwart plots and unmask dark machinations in every kingdom. Greed, thirst for power or inequality are powerful vehicles that can lead to spirals of violence and betrayal, in an eternal perpetration of death and destruction. From the Latin American shades of Saint Clarity to the incandescent forges of Cinder, each city of Cris Tales can meet a minimum of three different fates. Even on the epilogue front, the player’s actions will determine which future will finally prevail in the world created by SYCK and Dreams Uncorporated.
An arduous path, but one that Crisbell can tackle in the company of a rich cast of supporting actors from the most disparate nature.
During our crusade to – obviously – save the world, we will be able to count on two allies in battle, but outside of the clashes our party will be much larger. From the wise and reserved Wilhelm to the intrepid Christopher, passing through bizarre androids and redeemed souls, the cast proposed by the JRPG, although not exterminated, manages to draw a coherent and multifaceted virtual microcosm, where human beings and multicolored anthropomorphic birds tread the ground next to civilization capable of erecting monumental crystal palaces. Between courses and temporal recourses, legends, childish comedy and a wide selection of well thought out twists, the narration of Cris Tales he left us a considerable satisfaction at the end credits, for a fairy tale capable of effectively closing an articulated evolution. An excellent path, which runs into slight shortcomings only in some of the final stages, when a partial acceleration leads the players to perform a backtracking which, although not demanding, we found in part excessive. A retracement that does not take too long and that is well contextualized at the narrative level, but which could be managed with greater balance.
The story of the exploits of Crisbell and companions is accompanied by a gameplay full of ideas, which once again places the manipulation of time at the center of the scene. Going through minimal but evocative 2D handcrafted scenarios, our party is called upon to face an interesting bestiary of creatures and opponents, to be faced, in full JRPG tradition, with a combination of magical arts and physical attacks. Each of our allies has their own vocation, between elemental arts and support skills, to be staged in a combat system that hybridizes real-time dynamics and turn-based battles.
From time to time, and for each party member, the player selects an action to perform, but the effectiveness of which is often influenced by their level of timing. For example, supporting a slash with the pressure of the button assigned to the attack can be worth the right to a second hit or to the signing of a critical damage. Timing is even more relevant in defense, with the possibility of preserving one’s life with detours and parry in real time.
To make fighting in particularly enjoyable Cris Tales however, it is the grafting of gods onto these foundations Crisbell’s temporal powers. Depending on the position on the screen of our opponents, it is in fact possible to send them in the past or in the future, with the most disparate effects on the dynamics of the clashes. For example, a powerful shield hit by a water elemental attack in the present will turn out to be rusty, and therefore less effective, in the future, while a ferocious wolf will turn into a more harmless pup once sent to the past. Experimenting with these dynamics turns out to be quite interesting, as well as absolutely essential to overcome the most difficult and complex boss fights.
With a good level of challenge, Cris Tales also manages to put in difficulty in some situations, prompting players to review their strategy, through changes to equipment, the use of special tools or the upgrading of weapons. On the other hand, very few circumstances led us to resort to farming, however, practicable within the many dungeons that we will have to overcome during the game.
The latter, characterized by random encounters with enemies, moreover, they proved to be adequately differentiated, thanks also to the presence of small puzzles and enigmas, to be solved – for example – by moving mobile platforms or recovering objects between the folds of time. In the latter case, Crisbell can resort to Mathias, who can be sent to the past – in the form of a tadpole – or into the future – in the form of a toad – to find lost objects or eavesdrop on lost talk. Overall, the dynamics proposed by the JRPG interact with each other effectively, although not always at their full potential. The second half of the game, in particular, sometimes left us with the feeling that the authors could have pushed the accelerator further on the interactions between plot evolution, time flow control, secondary missions, fights and explorations, to compose a less guided experience.
In closing, it is impossible not to mention the merits of the artistic sector of Cris Tales, which presents a truly remarkable aesthetic style. Although his appreciation is obviously linked to personal tastes, the amount of work carried out by the development team remains undoubted, which has recreated, for each setting, at least three different incarnations of the scenarios, so as to offer a present, past and future key.
An operation in some situations articulated, given that among the possible outcomes of the narrative arcs of each kingdom it is possible to mention even their destruction. The accompaniment offered by the soundtrack is also excellent, simple but effective, and the work done in the dubbing (in English only) and in the Italian localization.