Cris Tales is an incredibly charming, stylish game. Everything about it: the lovingly hand-crafted artwork, the unique time-travel mechanics, the old-but-new turn-based battle system, the unique Colombia-inspired fantasy setting. It feels like a love letter to the classic JRPGs of yesterday.
There’s a bit of Chrono Trigger with the time travel battle mechanics, a bit of Persona 5 with the sleek, tricked out U.I., a bit of Final Fantasy in the world map and environment design. But it does manage to feel unique. All of the architecture in Cris Tales, including gorgeous reconstructions of ornate baroque cathedrals, is based on the real buildings of Colombia, where the game’s developers hail from.
Main character Cris (voiced by Kira Buckland, well-known as the voice of 2B in Nier Automata) stumbles across a huge church where she’s granted the ability to navigate through time as a so-called Time Mage. The game’s time travel mechanic allows players to experience three different time periods simultaneously– past on the left side of the screen, present in the center, and future on the right. It adds a dimension to Cris Tales that I haven’t seen in other games in this style.
Sure, there are other games that center around time travel, but I haven’t played one where you can so clearly see the intersecting timelines laid out in front of you. Nor have I seen a game where the narrative seeds you sow grow (sometimes literally) right in front of your eyes.
Inside the Modus Games booth at E3, Cris Tales creator Carlos Rocha walked me through an early build of the game. He showed us some of the highlights of their already released Steam demo, and then guided us through an unfinished later area of the game, including a fascinating boss fight that showcased the game’s time travel mechanics.
Combat is balanced by time travel. In this boss fight, where Cris faced fierce twin-shield wielding warrior sisters who blocked all attacks with their huge shields, we could use our Time Mage abilities to send the boss into the future. Suddenly, their shield was rusted and they were vulnerable to attack. But the passage of time had made them more powerful, and their already-dangerous attacks even more deadly.
I really appreciated that balancing of party abilities to make time travel feel like an actual risk that could backfire, and I can only hope that the final game will produce scenarios as interesting as this in this carefully curated demo. We were told to expect the final game to run around twenty hours. In my mind, that’s a perfect length for this type of game, and a welcome antidote to the deluge of fifty to one-hundred hour RPGs flooding the market.
Expect to get your hands on Cris Tales in 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.