It’s fair to say that one of the more “harder-sell” game genres is that of hardcore Japanese role-playing games, or JRPGs. While incredible, and the genre including some of the best games ever made, the turn-based combat, overwhelming systems and stats, and often-confusing stories are always a deterrent for many. However, Cris Tales, from indie studios Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK, is one of the most refreshing, unique, and beautiful takes on the genre that may just be the gateway for many newcomers, and offer those who’ve ‘seen it all’ something new too.
It’s difficult to not begin praising Cris Tales without starting at its stunning visual design. The game features an art style that looks like something straight out of an animated Disney movie, which immediately differentiates itself from other games out there. You play as Crisbell, a young girl who has the ability to see into the past and future, and witnesses a world-ending event, which she sets out to try and stop. Characters are colourful, recognisable, and have their own cartoonish flair about them as they roam through their 2.5D world. This ‘softer’ approach to the aesthetic of the game works wonders, making it feel like a fantastical adventure into new territory, rather than retreading some of the same locales, environments, and character designs we’ve seen pop up in many games as of late.
This approach also extends to the UI and HUD on the screen. Instead of being bombarded with too many micro-menus and stats, Cris Tales keeps it simple: health bars, hit-points, and an on-character action wheel to plan your next moves. It works in drawing your eye to what’s needed and ensures that even the most uninitiated RPG-er will dive in with ease.
While the visuals take a less-is-more approach, that’s not to say that the game doesn’t offer some serious depth. While you get to control a handful of characters, each with their own attacks and powers to use tactically, there is also an element of time manipulation that makes Cris Tales stand out. Players have the ability to pair their attacks (or defences) with a time-altering effect, which adds a second layer of lateral thinking to every combat encounter. It’s essentially about finding out which time period your enemy is most vulnerable in — past, present, or future. So, for example, you can use a water attack on enemies with strong armour, and then send your enemy to the future in order to create rust on that armour in order to weaken them. This type of mechanic is used in a few different ways, and almost forces you to solve small time and element-combo puzzles mid-battle in order to beat enemies.
This meta-game within the battle system is arguably the best part, and while it doesn’t throw too many curveballs your way, it’s an incredibly interesting addition from the normal attack/defend combat routine.
There’s no denying that while Cris Tales is gorgeous, clever, and refreshing, it does feature a lot of small, grindy battles in order to get your stats up, which shouldn’t bother long-time fans of the genre too much; but newcomers should be aware of the long, slow-burn path many of these RPGs tend to follow. However, if you’re willing to put some time and attention into Cris Tales, you’ll find one of the best-looking and distinctive JRPGs on the market.
Cris Tales is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and Switch.