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Cris Tales Switch Review – Past, Present and Future

Cris Tales Switch Review – Past, Present and Future

Cris Tales is a self-proclaimed love letter to the JRPG genre, developed by Dreams Uncorporated, and this is good news for fans of the genre. But maybe not so much for those either unfamiliar or that actively dislike those kinds of games. What I mean by this is that Cris Tales uses a lot of the trappings of their preferred genre, and it also falls into a lot of the same pitfalls. With this in mind, and the fact that nothing has been radically altered between this game and other examples of the genre from decades ago, Dreams Uncorporated seem to be focusing mainly to cater for an existing fanbase, which is no bad thing, mind you.

To step back a bit and provide more context, Cris Tales is an adventure story following a young girl named Crisbell, a top-hat sporting frog, time magic, and a cast of familiar yet new characters. This game isn’t the first RPG to take on time-travel/manipulation for its central story (Chrono Trigger anyone?), and it’s far from the first RPG to cast a young seemingly normal orphan as a hero of legend (see… virtually almost any JRPG). Again, like a lot of JRPGs, the story starts off somewhat slowly and begins to paint itself in as time goes by. I won’t get into any specifics, as the story is one of the selling points of the game so spoilers are a no-go. Suffice to say, Crisbell will team up with various characters, visit various towns and areas, and fight a bunch of things from weirdly aggressive animals, to goblin armies, and potentially kill god or another world-changing figure (After all, it’s a JRPG).

Combat is turn-based, select a skill, item, defend, or pass, rinse and repeat until one side is wiped out (Hopefully the enemy), gain experience, and rewards, grow stronger, do it all again. If you’ve played a JRPG, then you know what to expect really. The developers have also opted to use an “action” system, which has appeared in many games, notably the Paper Mario franchise. The “action” system essentially means that certain attack commands, mainly your standard attack, with each character can be increased from a single hit to a dual hit if you press the action button again at the correct moment. Similarly, some attacks can be defended to either reduce or even remove damage/effects if you can figure out the timing.

Unfortunately, this feature is also one of the notable failings of the game. While most games that use action commands are fairly forgiving of the timing, giving you a few frames to hit it (Once again the Paper Mario franchise, or Bug Fables for example), Cris Tales is either incredibly punishing or the system just doesn’t always work. Trying to time the presses visually is virtually impossible. Luckily, there is a vibration effect on the controller that is far more responsive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t also seem to trigger, mostly on Crisbell’s attack and some enemy attacks, and it seems like when the vibration doesn’t happen that even pressing it at the expected timing doesn’t trigger it.

Defending also seems to be a lot harder to time than attacking. I was convinced that a certain attack was not able to be blocked as pressing the button at any point of the vibration did nothing, and I got hit by the attack approximately 35 times over a few attempts, and then suddenly I parried once (You fight the same enemy again other times, and I think I was able to block 3 out of 50+ attacks with no rhyme or reason between the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t).

This brings me to another issue with the game: pacing. Now there are two different types of pacing, story and difficulty, and Cris Tales seems to have issues with both. In terms of the difficulty, the game hand-holds you in the opening (As most do with tutorials), but the first boss doesn’t pull any punches, which means if you can’t get the timing right, especially with blocking, you’ll likely get wiped out a few times and have to replay the preceding minute or so again. Once you do manage to beat it, you’ll get to the first area where you can actually have random encounters, as per most JRPGs. I took this as an opportunity to do a little level grinding before moving on. However, what I did not realise is that save points don’t heal you without a ‘tent’ item, which you only had one of and it was used automatically without really explaining it. Leveling up doesn’t heal you either, and at that stage, you have no healing skills.

Naturally, I didn’t think the no-heal-on-level-up or lack of healing skills were issues until I found out that resting was not an option without a tent. Frustratingly, the tents are still visually shown on that screen, so being told “we need a tent” was an extra kick in the pants.

And so I had to use the few healing items I had found and just flee from battles (Which doesn’t always work) until I found the exit (Which had a tent and a save point mercifully) shortly after I managed to find a cheap inn, and when I regained free-roaming, I was able to head back, level up which unlocked healing spells for two of my characters, and get back on top of things. Realistically, this difficulty pacing issue was essentially caused by my actions, but at the same time the use of some JRPG tropes and not others I feel justified my confusion.

Difficulty pacing issues, fairly minor after that first boss, however, the story pacing issues that are present in a lot of classic JRPG’s seem to be almost worse here. Things start off light, then all hell breaks loose, followed by family politics and exploration. While a lot of JRPG’s follow this same type of framework, there is normally a more gradual ramp-up between relaxing and the impetus of the story. Like you’d normally do tutorial battles against a slime or a wild boar, head back to town, go to bed, and then the town would get assaulted and you’d need to run away, whereas here the tutorial battle happens immediately as you start. It’s against the goblin army, then you’ll spend an hour or so learning about fetch quests before that same battle happens again. If this is your first JRPG or use of Action commands, the time between tutorial and the first boss is pretty much unacceptable.

I have spent a fair bit of this review focused on fairly minor complaints, but honestly, it’s a really fun game. It carries the spirit of classic JRPGs without feeling like a clone of any one game. The art style is really bright and crisp, almost more European comic than Japanese anime, the game has full voice acting with a lot of really solid VA work, the story is interesting, and the time mechanics are a really fun addition (Although I sort of wish they were used more).

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Speaking of the time mechanics, it would be a disservice to the game if I didn’t explain them. So the short version is that Crisbell in some situations is able to see the past, present, and future all at once (Past on the left, present in the middle, future on the right). This is used for some light but fun puzzle-solving, e.g. the future looks bad, a house is destroyed from rot, in the present. You can get someone to provide a potion to solve this, but they need information from the past, so you can send your frog friend back in time to get the information, give it to the apothecary in the present, and then give the potion to the person to fix the future outcome for their house.

Additionally, you can use the time mechanics in battle, with the ability to send enemies into the past or future (Depending on where they are standing), and then back to the present. For example, you can poison an enemy in the present, and then send it into the future for all of the poison damage to apply at once. Also, most enemies have a few different time variations which you can take advantage of, either making them younger or older to try to weaken them.

It’s somewhat limited, as only Crisbell can move things between times, so you need her to both be alive and take turns before the enemies, but it’s a fun addition that perhaps could be fleshed out more in a future game assuming the developers choose to stick with time-based JRPGs, which I hope they do.

Cris Tales Review provided by Nintendo Link
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Dreams Uncorporated
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Price: $39.99£34.99€39,99
Game Size: 5.3 GB


Beautiful crisp artwork

Time mechanics are fun for puzzles

Time mechanics organically implemented in battle

Overarching story is interesting

Full high quality voice acting

Love letter to JRPG's


Pacing issues (story)

Pacing issues (difficulty spike)

Action commands are inconsistent (and borderline required)

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