This stunning tribute to classic JRPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy has some cool surprises, along with a clever twist on time-travel gameplay.
Revealed at E3 2019, Cris Tales is a time-bending 2D tribute to classic Japanese role-playing games. In a similar vein to Chrono Trigger and Radiant Historia, Cris Tales brings together a cast of young heroes as they travel the world and explore three distinct time periods in the past, present, and the future. It leans heavily into time-manipulation gameplay by allowing you to explore and interact with characters across different eras in real-time, which results in various consequences, expected and otherwise, in your adventure ahead.
A free demo of the opening hour of Cris Tales is available now on Steam, but we had the chance to get an early look at the game's next major story event set in the walled city of St. Clarity. From here, we got to see how in-depth the game's time-travel gameplay can get. In addition to storylines and side-quests that can bend and alter with your actions, protagonist Crissbell can also manipulate the flow of time in battle, allowing her to amplify attacks and weaken foes with the use of her time crystals.
Speaking with GameSpot, Modus Games executive vice president of production Derek Neal and Dreams Uncorporated studio head Carlos Rocha Silva explained what went into the making of Cris Tales.
"For us, this is very much a passion project. Both Carlos and I grew up playing these traditional JRPGs like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, VII, the Lufia series, and even Suikoden," said Neal. "For me personally, the thing I feel is different about modern RPGs is that feeling of an epic, worldwide quest. Like all of those old school JRPGs, you had airships that you could go around places, and in Final Fantasy IV, there was a dungeon that was a castle, and then that castle would burrow under the sand and move into other places. So there's this feeling that they're going over this whole world and that your actions are changing the world. What we wanted to capture was that more subtle journey that these old RPGs built up to."
One of the more striking aspects of this tribute to a particular style of JRPG is Cris Tales' fantastic 2D graphics, which features some fantastic hand-drawn visuals that are stunning to see in motion. According to the developers, the works of Genndy Tartokovsky and Craig McCraken--the creators of the Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, respectively--served as key influences for Cris Tales' 2D aesthetic, which echoes that of a lush and vibrant animated fantasy series.
There's a lot of charm with the game's unique 2D style, giving way to some heartfelt and humorous moments with the characters and scenarios. That said, Cris Tales does tackle some larger social issues, which the developers noted were pulled from their real-life experiences.
"Yes, there's a lot of elements there, but we were very proud that a lot of those elements that you see there are heavily influenced by Colombian culture and architecture," said Silva. "So when you entered the walled city, St. Clarity, that's heavily inspired by Cartagena, which is a very touristic place here in Colombia that sees many visitors from all over the world. Outside of it, you see a lot of what happens in the touristy places near the beach, where a lot of people live in places that are not as nice. But another thing that we wanted to put in there is like the floods that you see in the city, that's also inspired by real floods that you see here in Colombia, in a city called Barranquilla, where you see how, whenever it rains the whole city stops. Because it's like a downhill city, and whenever it rains, the sewer system, it's so badly done that the floods happen throughout all of the city. So our inspiration for the design of the city pulled from real life."
During the demo, we got to explore the setting of St. Clarity, which revealed many of the game's more advanced time-travel mechanics and in-depth story-telling moments. An underlying element at play in St. Clarity is the social situation between the haves and have-nots. The city's lower-class live to the bottom trenches of the town, which is prone to flooding due to the city's poor sewer system, while the upper levels house the wealthy and powerful.
In Cris Tales, there's a significant focus on the concept of cause and effect, resulting in some moments throughout your quests that ripple out to different eras. While the actual mechanics of exploring towns and interacting with NPCs are very similar to other games of its ilk, Cris Tales introduces the active time-travel mechanics, allowing you to view three versions of a setting, simultaneously. Exploring St. Clarity's past, present, and future, all at once, leads to some unusual situations where you'll need to examine the past to make the present, and then the future, into a better place for all.
What I dug most about Cris Tales is how it makes its time-travel gameplay a constant element. This is especially true during the turn-based battles. While the standard attacks and magic skills with your party members are present, the ability to time-travel adds a surprisingly engaging and amusing twist to battles. For instance, the character Willhelm is a plant mage that can summon poisonous mandragora to attack foes. Initially, these plants are young and do minimal damage, but with Crissbell's time-travel abilities, you can age up the plants to have them grow faster in battle, allowing them to deal more damage. This also extends to enemies--you can age up monsters by taking them to the future and defeating their more frail form with ease.
While it wears its influences for the classic time-travel games like Chrono Trigger on its sleeve, the approach to time travel in Cris Tales feels more present, and I really liked how it kept this aspect of the game in clear focus. It didn't feel gimmicky, but rather a fully fleshed-out concept that can lead to some surprising outcomes. According to the developers, many of the choices you make in Cris Tales will eventually result in different endings for the story. Set for release later in 2020, Cris Tales is shaping up to be a fun tribute to classic games that has a stunning sense of style, and its own clever interpretation of time-travel.