Perhaps seeing the review of this game, one might wonder how I took it upon myself to present it, knowing my tastes over the years. The truth is that before I moved on to the greener pastures of CRPGs for more mature narratives, my introduction to the genre (back then there was no separation, we all called them RPGs) was with Japanese games like Secret of Mana and Terranigma. Combined with the many review codes we received for games in July, I thought I'd take a walk down memory lane and give Cris Tales a shot. Not that I needed much of a push, of course, as from the promos I was enamored with the art direction and the time manipulation mechanic that promised an impact on story progression...
The story is very standard for the genre. Crisbell, an orphan heroine, after a disaster in her hometown, discovers she has the power to control (to some extent) time. Along the way, she finds companions in an attempt to protect the world from a great threat that could destroy it. Although the characters that make up our group don't fall overtly into the usual anime templates, after a few hours of playing, it becomes apparent that here too we have the idealistic but good hero, the sage of the group, the comic relief character, etc. It is understandable that Cris Tales is trying to acknowledge its influences, but we expected in 2021 a higher quality script that would give more depth to the characters. Instead we're left with a more superficial approach, with several characters not being as convincing as they should be. That is, of course, if you had expectations for anything more than an adventure aimed at younger gamers. At least there are some twists and turns, which, although they happen quite a bit later, help the story diverge somewhat from its trite pattern.
Στο gameplay από την άλλη, τα πράγματα παρουσιάζουν σαφώς μεγαλύτερο ενδιαφέρον. Η μάχη, κατά τα πρότυπα του είδους, πραγματώνεται σε γύρους. Στη μέση της οθόνης βρίσκεται πάντα το γκρουπ μας, ενώ δεξιά και αριστερά οι αντίπαλοι. Εδώ εισέρχεται το παιχνίδισμα του Cris Tales με το χρόνο. Η Crisbell μπορεί να γυρίσει πίσω το χρόνο στο παρελθόν στην αριστερή μεριά και να επιταχύνει το χρόνο προς το μέλλον στη δεξιά μεριά. Αυτό αρχικά μεταφράζεται σε περισσότερους τύπους εχθρών, όπου ο παρελθοντικός και μελλοντικός εαυτός τους να κρύβει διαφορετικές αδυναμίες, ικανότητες αλλά και αντοχές. Ωραία πινελιά είναι το ότι όσοι βρίσκονται ήδη στην προγενέστερη ή μεταγενέστερη δυνατή έκφανση τους και τους μεταφέρουμε αντίστοιχα στο παρελθόν ή το μέλλον, αντίστοιχα, δέχονται ζημιά, γιατί απλά… δεν έχει πιο πέρα. Το στοιχείο αυτό από μόνο του αυξάνει τις πιθανές τακτικές κατακόρυφα.
This is only the beginning. Crisbell's properties affect the powers of the other characters. For example, Willhem's Yucandra that explodes after a few rounds, if planted while the past is active and then returned to the present, the effect will take place immediately, without any need to wait. Or for example spells that applies the soak status on opponents, with a time advance (either from past to present or present to future) the effect changes to rust with more adverse consequences. Similarly effects like burning, poison etc that deal damage in small doses per round, with proper time management, can be very painful. In addition the attacks of some of our team members are different depending on the time period our enemies are in. It should be noted that it is possible for each character to concede his turn to the next team meber, letting them act first, an element that makes it much easier to execute the combo attacks in the appropriate order.
Ο μηχανισμός με τη μεταχείριση του χρόνου χρησιμοποιείται αρκετά και εκτός μάχης. Μπορούμε π.χ. να γυρίσουμε στο παρελθόν για να ακούσουμε κάποιο διάλογο που έγινε όταν δεν ήμασταν παρόντες ή να ανοίξουμε κάποιο σεντούκι που υπάρχει μόνο στο μέλλον. Πολύ βολικά, οι npcs που έχουν κάποια αποστολή να μας αναθέσουν, έχουν ένα εικονίδιο πάνω από το κεφάλι τους. Στο Cris Tales υπάρχει μια σειρά από side quests που η επίλυση τους επηρεάζει τη μοίρα κάποιων χαρακτήρων ή περιοχών. Μάλιστα, μόνο αν τα ολοκληρώσουμε όλα θα έχουμε πρόσβαση στο καλύτερο φινάλε! Δεν είναι ούτε κατά διάνοια στο επίπεδο που έθεσαν άλλες σειρές, είναι όμως κάτι που δε συνηθίζεται για τα δεδομένα των JRPG (αυτό βέβαια ίσως να λέει κάτι για τη στασιμότητα του είδους σε ορισμένους τομείς, από οτιδήποτε άλλο).
The exploration is linear, although initially the game hints at a more open world design. It generally follows the pattern of "new area with a town - one or two dungeons - undertaking side quests - move on to the next area". Both towns and dungeons are rather small by the standards of the genre, we'd say. Random encounters are only present in the latter and not on the world map, and thankfully they're not frequent enough to break the pace and cause fatigue. The above, combined with the absence of general optional content (bosses, secrets, hidden areas on the map, etc.) that is usually abound in most representatives of the category, constitute an adventure that can be completed somewhere around 25-30 hours.
Cris Tales' artwork has been carefully crafted and stands out effortlessly from the usual cell-shaded or pixel art that most modern JRPGs have. With bold colours, strict design lines and characters that, although they look like they were made of paper, boast beautiful animation. There's no doubt that a large part of the budget went into the game's presentation. This is reinforced by both the cartoon-like cut-scenes that play out at key points in the adventure and the voice acting. To my surprise, there isn't a single line of dialogue that isn't recorded! The performances are deemed satisfactory, for the most part, always in keeping with the characters who bring to life. In the same vein, the music is particularly well thought out. Without exaggeration, this is one of the finest soundtracks I've heard in recent times. There are no fillers, and each theme fits perfectly into its pertaining area.
Coming to the end of this text I would like to provide some disclaimer so that you have the full picture before you buy. Some bosses are immune to most status effects (a classic blight of the genre), rendering several tactics useless. Especially towards the last 1/4 of the game, coupled with the fact that the time mechanic is sidelined (it doesn't have much effect as they don't have different forms), encounters with them usually end up in brute-forcing them. Additionally, and most important of all is the fact that the fights have a form of Quick-Time Events: during the attack if we press the button at the right time (the hint is a flicker of the screen but we are in most cases able to judge correctly from the character's attack animation) we make an extra attack or deal extra damage, in the case of spells. Seasoned players will remember that something similar was implemented in The Legend of Dragoon, Paper Mario, etc. Likewise, when the time comes to be defensive. In fact, if we reacted at the last moment, we parry instead of deflect and take minimal damage. I didn't have an issue with this mechanic and I think it made combat less passive, but I have to mention it as it may not be for everyone.
Cris Tales was quite enjoyable, but without making any substantial steps forward. It's a tribute more than we'd like and a case of "been there, done that". Spending time with it made me remember some of the reasons why I gradually drifted away from the category. It's a worthy effort that's a good entry point into JRPGs, but the price will probably put a lot of people off. What the game sets out to do, it does relatively well.But it's like a band you used to listen to: you missed it, put on an album to listen to, but found that it's been outdated or that it is no longer doing it for you...