Cristales Review. Adventures in the 4th Dimension.

The flow of time and time travel stories have always intrigued me. There are countless stories out there where people find a way to travel b...

The flow of time and time travel stories have always intrigued me. There are countless stories out there where people find a way to travel back to or peer into  the past and the future. Often it is followed by choices being made in that effect the protagonist's present, often unexpected. Consequences forged by meddling with the timeline. In CrisTales these consequences are explored as a game mechanic for both altering the lives of NPC's around you as well as a combat mechanic. We saw a preview of the game at Gamescom 2019 and it has been one of out most anticipated games from that show since. Now it has finally release and we had some time to explore.

What is it?
CritTales is a RPG or Role-Playing game, specifically of the JRPG genres with J standing for Japanese. The distinction is that it often involves a certain astatic, and turn based gameplay. This game is even boasted as a love letter to the classic JRPG's such as final fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Dragon quest etc. 
In ChrisTales you play the part of Chrisbell a girl who lives a fairly peaceful and uneventful life in an orphanage. When one day she discovers she has strange magic powers that allow her to peer into the past and the future and can manipulate them with the help of a magic talking frog. It turns out the Crisbell is a time mage and soon she has to learn to control her powers in order to  stop the time empress from taking over the kingdom. By using her newfound abilities Chrisbell can find weakness of her foes and exploit them as well as help the towns folk to get handed a better deal in life. However she will also quickly learn that she has to make tough choices in who she helps and who will be left to fend for themselves. Can she live with the choices she makes along the way or will she regret meddling in the first place?

As I mentioned before ChrisTales is JRPG Game. This means turn based combat, overworld map traveling, random encounters and an engaging and fantastical story.
Early on in the game you are give your powers and taught how to use them. When you gain the powers and walk across town you always see all 3 parts of time at once on the screen, past, present, future. This allows  you solve ,mysteries and help people across town. For instance you can notice rot in a building that in the future will destroy it. You can then use information from the past to make a potion to get rid of that rot and apply it in the present, hence stopping the future possibility from happening. 

This constant ability to see all 3 time states is very cool and is what creates a unique look and feel to the game as well as a unique game mechanic where you have to pay attention to your surroundings as you never know if you will be missing a side quest or important clue.

Once you start getting involved in combat the view is a more traditional side view turn based combat screen. Besides basic actions such as attack, defend or taking a potion, each of your party members will have their own unique skills  that are best  used in combination with each other. For example, you might encounter an enemy with a large shield. No way through it, it is jus to strong. But it is made of metal. If you have your party member wet it and then have Chrisbell send the foe into the future the shield will be rusted and you can now bash through it dealing game.  Now how you manipulate time does depend on where you are in relation to the enemies. Things on your right you can only send to the future and things on your left you can only push into the past. So you have to be creative and strategic about your choices, especially because these magical skills take mana and therefore are not infinitely available.

Your time manipulating interference will have effect on the world around you not only in combat but also in story. The effect are greater the more you involve your self in the side quests. Normally a mere time sink with perhaps an item reward, in CrisTales could end up world changing. Fore instance If you end up rescuing a particular persons life who has the drive to then stop the cities flooding problems it will change the location and ways you can move around in it. It makes side quests worth while and not feel like only busy work. 
So travel , explore and try things.

With the game following the JRPG style closely it does bring some of its features. And in modern gaming I personally feel it did not age well.  For instance, saving. For some people this is not a problem, but some of us have busy lives and one of the big peeves I have is the inability to save anywhere I need to.  In the game you can only save in certain locations and during some dungeon runs or overworld travel you will be hit by multiple random encounters that you do not see coming resulting in needing more time before you can walk away, or worse make a mistake, run out of resources or just be unlucky  and party wipe and lose all progress. Personally I am over that and would just like to be able to save when and where I like, even after every battle if I choose to do so. 
But again this is a personal gripe and it goes with the genre, it is not unique to CrisTales. Still I believe you should know what you get yourself into. 

In terms of enemy variety, as beautiful as they are drawn, is lacking somewhat and you end up fighting varies combinations of the same enemy types. Yes they might have some color variance, or accessory, but a slime is a slime and a wolf is a wolf. The boss designs are more unique, but behind that shiny coat of paint is often the same experience as well, find the weakness exploit it and slowly peck away at their hit points. This is less noticeable in the beginning of the game as you are still learning the new combos but after this there is not much of notable change ups or additions to the game.  As always this is neither bad or good it is just an observation.

Of course games need to have good gameplay at its core, but presentation is also very important and ChrisTales has that in spades. 
From the absolutely breath taking hand-drawn artwork, character design and color pallet the game also comes with a equally gorgeous soundtrack and included voice acting. The world building done both visually and in story are engaging and really pops on your screen. The animation frames walking up and down in a 2D world are a bit off but it does the job, those in the normal left to right direction as smooth and the whole thing has a distinct style to it that is inviting and intriguing.  It is another reason I personally would have loved a larger variety of enemies.  CrisTales style and presentations is infused with love and passion of its creators and it sets a high standard not only for smaller indie games but for all games in the genre.  

Final Thoughts
Where much of ChrisTales might feel familiar there is a lot to make it stand out from the crowd. The beauty of the game combined with its time mechanic gameplay brings life to a tried and true genre that after so long seems to be stale copy cats of the classics of the past. 
Due to the effort and love poured over the game it is able to withstand the downsides of the JPRG genre and bring an adventure that is suitable for both casual and experienced players.
The side quests fun , engaging and the game should give you plenty to do and see. 
If you are curious about JRPG's or loved them for years you might want to check out this game, but if you do not like some of the staple design choices in the genre such as overworld, turn based battles or limited save points you might want to think about it. As of this writing the game is free on XBOX Gamepass however so if you want to give it a try it will just cost you a little time. past, present of future. 

Game information

DeveloperDreams Uncorporated, SYCK
Publisher: Modus Games
Release Date: July 20th, 2021
Platforms Nintendo Switch / PlayStation®4 / PlayStation ®5 / Xbox One / Xbox Series X / PC / Stadia
Review platform: PS4/PC 
Genre: JRPG



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