Cris Tales has been everywhere lately. It’s like that phenomenon David Wong points out in John Dies at the End, when you learn a word for the first time then see it everywhere in the next 24 hours. I learned of Cris Tales through an online preview event Siliconera was invited to, then the next week or so of online preview events included some variation of Cris Tales coverage. This game has made the rounds and, after spending time checking it out, I can see why publisher Modus Games is putting that effort in. Not only does it have cool visual style and pretty music, it does awesome stuff with time travel both in the story and in the play.
Developed by a team based in Colombia, Cris Tales combines hand-drawn visuals and nods to Colombian culture and history with layers of homage to the JRPGs of the 16-bit era. Carlos Rocha Silva of developer Dreams Uncorporated spoke to me about his generation growing up with those kinds of games as a common language, which helped him and his peers connect with like-minded folks and developers around the world. And while Cris Tales isn’t directly about Colombia, there is flavor and direction within that you can find if you want to look for it. But even if that subtext doesn’t land, the common language of “JRPGs are dope” will.
At first I was a little put off by Cris Tales visually–the individual drawings and animation are amazing, but it was hard to see the characters as occupying a real space in screenshots. In motion though it works, as the 2D characters scale smoothly based on their distance or perspective, avoiding that sometimes “low budget” affect 2.5D games can stumble into. From the combat effects to the world and creature design, there’s a colorful other-worldliness to Cris Tales that feels like a fairy tale you’re encountering for the first time.
And speaking of time, Cris Tales’ time-travel mechanic seems awesome. It isn’t time “travel,” per se; it’s more like time… nudging? When running around the world, heroine Crisbell can perceive the past and future of wherever she’s standing. Cris Tales presents this by rendering the area, in real time, three different ways. The screen is sectioned off a bit to give you just enough of a peek, and you can use Crisbell and her frog pal’s powers to see more and lightly interact with either side. This can be used to find more information, or even change the present and influence the future.
Combat is where I really got on board with Cris Tales. It’s normal turn-based JRPG fare (with random battles! Woo!), but Crisbell can snap enemies into the past or future. This will age or de-age the enemies, which can and will alter their attributes. This will change the nature of a battle, for example aging a specific enemy type to be physically weaker, but at the risk of giving them access to new magic attacks. Status effects and special moves from the heroes are also impacted. For example, you can scoot a poisoned enemy to the future for extra poison damage, or manipulate time so one character’s plant-like summons grow from the past to bypass turn delays. My favorite example was using a water attack to inflict the “wet” status on a metal enemy, then sending it to the future to activate a “rust” condition. That stuff is rad.
There’s a demo on Steam right now, which was recently updated for the Steam Summer Gaming Festival. I’m going to wait for the full release, because I already know I’m interested. But if you’re on the fence about playing yet another JRPG about mucking around with time, or just want to get an early taste of a potentially great game, then now is a great opportunity to check it out. We won’t be seeing the full game until this holiday season, or later if you’re interested in trying Cris Tales out on next-gen consoles. For me, classic JRPG combat spiced up with malleable status effect interactions is extremely up my alley.
Cris Tales is coming to the Nintendo Switch, the PC, the PS4, and the Xbox One on November 17, 2020. It’s coming to the PS5 and the Xbox Series X at a later date.