When it comes to RPGs, there really is no shortage of games in the genre. Given how modern games tend to mishmash genres in a single game for a unique experience, there are thousands of games that fall under the RPG umbrella.
However, to some, the definition of an RPG is a game that focuses on characters, a great story, memorable party members, and turn based combat. When we look at it that way, the best of the best has mostly come from the east, loving referred to as JRPGs. And rightfully so.
Right from the NES days, we have had gems like Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy Series. While modern JRPGs have evolved along with time, there is still a fan following for those old school games. Serving as an homage and a love letter to those games is CrisTales.
A turn-based RPG, with time bending gameplay mechanics that looks to scratch that bare knuckle RPG itch. But does it succeed in what it sets out to do? Let’s find out. This is the game review of CrisTales.
Story and Premise
On the offset CrisTales’ story may sound as generic as RPG stories come. A young orphan who happens to be the chosen one saves the world from imminent doom. However, it is how the game manages to tell this story, that keeps things interesting.
CrisTales wastes little to no time putting the player right at the thick of the action, as the game begins with a confrontation with one of the game’s Villains. The game then quickly changes gear to the serene setting of Narim town, where Crisbell, the game protagonist is introduced.
Crisbell is soon acquainted with the power to manipulate time and see the past present and future at the same time in real time. The events in Narim serve as an elaborate tutorial for the adventure ahead and gives a good taste of the tone the game is going for.
Within this section the game introduces some charming characters with interesting traits in and out of combat, while also brushing with the themes of power, corruption, poverty and the impact of small decisions and their long-term ramifications.
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These elements are surprisingly maintained throughout the game’s 30 or so hour run time. The time bending elements not only have a big role to play in the combat, which we will get too in a moment, but is also a vital component in the game’s overarching narrative.
CrisBell’s crew comprises of charmingly memorable characters. From the downright goofy Zas, to the earnestly honest, yet cool as heck android JKR721, there are some characters in an out of the crew that you would find truly caring about. And it the attachment that grows towards these characters that makes each triumph, sacrifice and betrayal that much more impactful.
CrisTales has some genuine moments of awe, peppered here and there over the course of the adventure, and these usually stem from side quests that seem rather insignificant at first glance. These moments serve as a great incentive to move off the main storyline and experience these interesting side stories.
Some may not be more than just a fetch quest while others may result in a city thriving or being doomed in the future. Regardless of how you play the game, there is enough in CrisTales’ story to keep you hooked from start to finish.
Visuals and Sound
While the story is certainly good, equally as impressive, if not better, are the game’s visuals and audio. The game employs a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic, that falls somewhere between a fairy tale anime and a Saturday morning cartoon show.
This meshes very well with the tone the game sets, and everything feels right at home, thanks to this art-style. While the environments vary in quality, ranging from breathtakingly beautiful to looking like it was hastily put together, particularly towards the tail end of the game, the character designs and their voice work are the highlight here.
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Cristopher, who is one of the party members, has the best voice performance, and some of the best lines in the game. On the soundtrack side of things, there is a range of calming soundtracks that is unique to each town you visit. And the music shifts gear to a rather energetic track during combat.
This is a tried-and-true method and works well, for the most part. There are times though, when these soundtracks can feel a bit too on the nose, but that is usually due the structure of the gameplay.
While story, visuals and sound work as a positive for the game, the same cannot be confidently said about the gameplay. Combat, while interesting, and can be enjoyable in most circumstances, becomes repetitive during those grinds to level characters up. There are a good number of enemy types, each requiring a different tactic in combat, and different variations within those enemy types.
But, over the course of the hundreds of battles you will inevitably take part in, these enemy types and variations do start to feel stale towards the end of the game. Boss battles on the other hand are quite engaging and there are quite a few of them to take part in.
That said there are a couple of bosses that needed repeating the same strategy over and over while the battle itself lasted a long time. This reminded of the final confrontation between Shao Kahn and Rayden in Mortal Kombat 9, an overall brilliant fighting game with a boss fight that forced players to use one move particular move too many times, to overcome the battle.
But it is not as bad in CrisTales, as the bosses tend to be unpredictable and employ different tactics over the course of the fights. Combat aside, the minute-to-minute gameplay also lacks some quality-of-life features which bogs the experience down. Between and within the various regions in the game, there is a lot of real estate to cover, and the lack of sprint/dash button makes traversing and backtracking these areas a chore, especially when all of the secrets and stories the area has to offer have been discovered.
Adding to this is the lack of fast travel between locations which sorely missed and only unlocked towards the tail-end of the game. Otherwise, the game is well balanced in terms of levelling characters up. XP is earned at a steady pace offering just enough to confront the next boss, while also being a challenging experience.
Each party member has their own unique traits and abilities which, depending on the enemy type, can turn the battle on either side of the table. Levelling each character up not only improves their HP and attacks, but also adds new abilities in steady intervals.
However, choosing which character you want on your three-man party and upgrading those characters may not always work in your favour as other playable characters may have locked abilities that may help in upcoming battles. These choices make for some interesting scenarios, and the game does not punish too much for trial and error. Overall, the gameplay is solid if you can tolerate the little inconveniences of which there are quite a few.
CrisTales sets out with great ambitions and mostly achieves them through some truly memorable characters, fantastic visuals, and story that does not shy away from heavy themes, while at the same time offering a fun, intriguing plot to uncover.
The combat is good, and while the game falls short in general gameplay areas, it feels like a small trade-off for an overall solid experience. Well-made games from smaller studios deserve attention and CrisTales is certainly one of those games. If you are a fan RPGs, then CrisTales is an essential game and definitely one of the better games in the genre this year.
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