Although in Poland the genre of jRPG somehow never managed to find the appropriate applause and break into the mainstream, in the world it was of fundamental importance for the development of interactive entertainment. To prove the esteem of this genre, it is enough to recall that during this year’s opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, the leitmotifs of many iconic jRPGs resounded. This is a genre that helped change the face of gaming, especially on consoles.
His greatest classics were released more than twenty, and in some cases almost thirty years ago, which means that the children who played them and built their taste on them are already adults. Some of them entered gamedev. This is obviously obvious, but it shows how nostalgia can affect market trends, especially in the indie sphere. And since people raised on the SNES and PSX are just developing their careers, you can come across titles more or less referring to that period. One such spiritual successor is Cris Tales.
It can even be said that it is an informal continuator of the ideas from the iconic Chrono Trigger, because also here the story and mechanics are strongly based on playing with time. The only difference is that we do not travel in time, but manipulate it … Never mind the nomenclature, because the message is clear: by changing the past, we are also changing the future. However, this does not only apply to the Chrono series, because the game also draws inspiration from other representatives of the genre, such as Final Fantasy VIII. It also adds something of its own to this handful of references, i.e. a fantastic setting that you could only dream about in the days of the first PlayStation.
And when you hear about Cris Tales and look at the game, it feels like something. A long-awaited love letter to the genre by fans, right? But no. Although I had a lot of fun playing the game, it lacks the claw to be more than a pleasant jRPG. A common problem with spiritual heirs is that they offer nothing new, simply becoming a carbon copy of proven solutions. A player who has had contact with old titles will have an overwhelming feeling that he has seen it somewhere before. However, this is not the only problem with Cris Tales. This is a game that I could replace with a dictionary definition of ambivalence, because I love and hate it at the same time.
Like Chrono Trigger, the story begins calmly. The hero, or rather the heroine, is Crisbell, the title Cris, a young girl and a pupil of an orphanage in the town of Narim. Her task is to take care of the roses that grow in the garden. Although there are no signs that this day will be special, one of the rose seedlings is stolen by a frog.Chrono Trigger had this problem, and Cris Tales also has, but I think this is the domain of many jRPGs that want to start calmly and then get going. The introduction to the plot is simply boring, because it takes the form of an over-the-go person-to-person and daily activities. The game does not provide me with a catch that I would catch on and take off into the whirlwind of further events. We chase the frog calmly to save the world from an ancient threat at the end of the game. I definitely prefer the Final Fantasy VII approach here, where, jumping off the train, we get to the very center of the action and makes you want to know what will happen next.
I mentioned saving the world from an ancient threat, which means that the plot unfolds in a classic way for jRPGs and at the end it takes on a planetary scale, although not to such an extent as to fight the gods. If someone does not like this scheme, he will not find attempts to break out of it here. The story featured in Cris Tales is pretty good, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. In addition, it has several problems related to pacing, the rate at which we interweave calmer fragments with those that cause more tension.
Stops in old jRPGs are commonplace, because even Cloud stopped at the amusement park while chasing Sephiroth. In some moments of Cris Tales, they are an integral part of the story, so sometimes it feels like watching anime fillers. The first half of the game boils down to going to four cities and visiting temples there that increase the heroine’s powers. We have the impression that everything important happens to the side, and we run around these temples and we come across bad guys by chance. There is a hard line between these cities. We’re done here, let’s move on. And we should rather be guided to go further by action.
Especially in the last 1/4 of the game, the story becomes very… mechanical. It’s not a good word, but I can’t find a better one. In the sense that it becomes merely a pretext for a game, not a story to be told. In many jRPGs, this is a stage where the story takes the baton and provides a straight path to the finale, and in Cris Tales it is the other way around, as if the creators wanted to extend the game time, but they ran out of ideas or did not have too much time to do it carefully. After the moment when it would seem that the events will culminate, a plot twist suddenly takes place and we are forced to monotonously visit locations we have already been to.
We are to go to them, but this time go deeper. And – of course – do it four times! It all boils down to this: go to the four dungeons, come back, go there again, but come on back, and only then will we open the door to the final boss.And this is reflected in the hiccups of the game’s very linear design. Because even if we wanted to anticipate the plot and explore these places earlier, so as not to have to return, we cannot. There are even situations when the game sometimes takes us back from some rooms while exploring the dungeons. The heroes say it’s too dangerous or something and we can only get through it later, when the plot allows.
For this, I must praise side quests. There aren’t many of them because the game offers a total of ten tasks, but they are really well thought out. I certainly liked it more than the side quests from the old Final Fantasy, where I completely didn’t want to do them because of the too much commitment they required. In Cris Tales, the quests are short and you do them by the way. You can see the influence of Western philosophy on side activities. There will be no laborious breeding of chocobos here, nothing like that. Rather small and closed stories.
And what should be emphasized, side quests have an impact on the ending, because completing them unlocks new choices that affect the state of the kingdom. Usually it looks like that in one city we have several tasks related in some way to the main plot and their performance allows the heroine to discover something new, which at the very end of her stay in the city will affect the fate of this place. On the one hand, this is an interesting procedure, because it encourages you to squeeze everything you can out of the game, but on the other hand, people who only want to pull the plot will be punished in some way.
I must also praise the characters. Even ordinary traders, who usually do not care about anyone in jRPG, can be remembered here. Well, because instead of a random merchant who you visit only to buy items, we have, for example, a traveling merchant who travels the world with his dog and accidentally comes across the heroine everywhere. And this merchant will not fail to mention during his trading that, for example, the water from this lake has a great influence on the dog’s health. Not much, but someone thought about going a step further and adding some flavor to these typically functional characters.
There is a word wholesome in English that I do not know how to translate into Polish so that it does not lose its meaning. I have the impression that the authors’ idea was to make the characters in Cris Tales as wholesome as possible. This also applies to companions who are always supportive of Crisbell and can somehow enhance the player’s well-being. And although there aren’t many of them, they are a character pack with a unique playstyle. They are not typical war / mage / archer classes; We have, for example, the tanker Cristopher, who splits his shield during attacks, or the Randomized Zas, which throws things from his bottomless bag at enemies.We chase Time Empress most of the game. And this, despite the fact that she has Cossack powers and looks, her plot potential has been used to a minimal extent.
Speaking of the boss, it’s time to finally move on to the meat of Cris Tales, i.e. combat mechanics. This is a classic turn-note for the genre, although the authors have tried to introduce small nuances. One of them is adding QTE during attacks. Clicking the button again at the right moment in the animation allows you to deal critical damage. It is similar to the Squall gunblade from Final Fantasy eighth, except that this property is imposed on all companions here. And it works well during attacks, because someone who doesn’t click at the right moment will simply deal basic damage. Worse in the case of blocks, because often only a perfect block allows you to bypass the deadly debuff of the entire team, which is applied during boss attacks.
There are also sync skills that are cast with companions that are a bit like the combined attacks of the Chrono Trigger. The difference is that in order to perform them, we must first load the bar by normal attacks. Another novelty is the ability to manipulate time. Each opponent has three states and using Crisbell’s powers we can move between the future, past and present. Although it sounds intriguing, unfortunately it’s a bit of a lottery, as we don’t know what version of the enemy we will get. Is the enemy from the future stronger because he is developed and experienced? Or is the enemy from the future weaker because he is old and infirm? We are not sure which enemy variant we will get, so for the sake of peace and quiet we prefer not to experiment and fight with the basic version of the opponent from the present.
The fights themselves are not difficult. Sometimes we can run into bigger problems depending on the set of monsters drawn during random matches, but in fact, we can easily break through dungeons. Bosses are much tougher, as they are very gimmicky and require you to find one way to defeat your opponent. Take the healable boss as an example. Well, it seems to be idiocy. I am attacking and attacking here, and the enemy renews all HP in one move! The catch is to use the appropriate Crisbell skill and return the boss to the state he was in the turn before casting the spell. But to do this, you need to properly line up in the attack queue so that, as Cris, you have your move right after the boss. This requires a proper mix of waiting and managing attacks. Cool, but on the other hand it limits its own playstyle and one mistake with queuing up wrong is starting the whole match all over again.
And you know what else is cool? Design of dungeons! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such good dungeons in old school jRPGs.In Cris Tale, you’ve managed to find a middle road. Dungeons are not a straight path, they have branches, and often require a puzzle to find a way out, but at the same time they are not a vast network of corridors to get lost in. They reward exploring, but they don’t last forever, and we spend as much time in the dungeons as we do outside. Even the frequency of random fights has been optimized and there is no situation where we fight every five steps as we used to in the old Final.
And the creme de la creme, which should probably be mentioned only as a formal obligation, because everyone can see what Cris Tales looks like. And it looks LOVELY. If they give awards for the most beautiful games of the year and Cris Tales is not among the nominations, I will be severely disappointed and surprised. The visual side of this title is really carefully made and consistent. This game literally looks like a cartoon! Stylistically, it reminds me of an older fairy tale from Cartoon Network House for Mrs. Foster’s imaginary friends. And it is a good association! There is also a good graphic effect on city screens, which divides the screen into three and allows you to see timelines at the same time. Sometimes it is even used when looking for chests and allows you to see the effects of decisions immediately.
And literally at the very end, one more tablespoon of tar should be added to this honey. Technical problems and not fully thought out elements, such as loading before each fight. Loading through every fight! Imagine how frustrating this is while exploring the dungeons. But it is not everything. Some skills get buggy and one time I couldn’t heal my companions because the game didn’t find targets. The key mechanics of Zas, i.e. roulette, also broke down for a moment. Debuffs did not work on some bosses. And when companions leave the party, the inventory is not automatically removed, it only stays with them. It was Final Fantasy VIII that had the option of a quick swap, so that the player would not be doomed to play with a weaker team without proper equipment!
Cris Tales is far from the best jRPG I’ve played. It is a tremendously uneven game. It has a lot of well-made elements, but on the other hand also those below average. And although my heart would make me like Cris Tales more, unfortunately I can’t. Hence my ambivalence. Nevertheless, I had a pleasant time with this title for over twenty hours. And although this is a wasted potential, I can recommend the game to both fans of the genre and new audiences. If you do not want to be passionate about a masterpiece, you will get a nice production that you will surely remember thanks to the beautiful graphics …