Cris Tales E3 Impression
As much as the developer behind Cris Tales, Dreams Uncorporated, bills it as a love letter to classic JRPGs, there’s no denying that the title has plenty of unique ideas swirling in both its gameplay and aesthetic. This is a good thing since, as warmly welcoming as the familiar parts are, it’s when the game puts its best creative foot forward that the excitement level in the demo theater spiked.
In a nutshell, the innovative ideas behind Cris Tales, and much of the gameplay altogether, revolve around the ability to manipulate time. Crisbell, the main character, is a time mage. Using the Crystal of Time, Crisbell is able to see past, present, and future at any time, although she herself is bound to stay in the present. This is represented visually by the screen being split into three sections from left to right. As Crisbell moves around town, characters and objects pass from one time section to another, and subsequently change to reflect their own past, present, and future. An elderly man will show up as a spry adult in the past, while in the future, he may be entirely gone, having passed away at some point in the intervening time.
Crisbell and her frog mentor Matias can wander towns, which are designed and based on actual sites and landmarks in Colombia, the development team’s home nation, and accept quests as in most JRPGs. At times, however, the storytelling happens a bit more spontaneously, as is the case when Crisbell notices two buildings in the future that have collapsed into ruin. It turns out the miller and the apothecary are both infested with Ash Blight, and though the effects won’t show for many years to come, something must be done about it now.
What follows is a quest that requires talking to various citizens and investigating all three time slices in order to acquire some Greenleaf Tonic, a tincture that eliminates Ash Blight. Crisbell herself is tied to the present, but not so Matias, who can time hop into both the past and future in order to interact with objects. This quest is an entertaining puzzle that lets the player get a little glimpse into several citizens’ lives and history, and it ends with Crisbell having to make a difficult decision: ending up with just enough Greenleaf Tonic to free one building from the Ash Blight, the player has to choose which structure — and the family that lives there — will be unable to avoid its fate. Choices like this will affect the world around Crisbell in important ways, and may weigh heavily upon the player’s conscience.
After the episode in town, it was time for us to see how the conceit of time management has also been implemented into the game’s turn-based combat. Leaving town, it’s not long before Crisbell and her ally Cristopher get into their first fight. Cris Tales has the usual options to attack and cast spells, though by using well-timed button presses, characters can land critical attacks, while enemy attacks may be deflected. However, time plays an even more tactical aspect. Through use of the Crystal of Time, Crisbell is able to cast parts of the battlefield into either the past or future, and this will affect any enemies caught in the time anomaly. Throwing an enemy into the past, for example, can make them younger, and therefore less experienced and easier to defeat.
A very cool implementation of this concept was shown off during the boss battle against the Volcano sisters. The Volcano sisters use a big shield that blocks almost any attack and cannot be overcome, so a creative solution is needed. If Cristopher casts a water spell at the boss, it will douse the shield in water, though leave it otherwise unharmed. But once Crisbell sends them into the future, the shield will rust and crack, becoming weak enough to be shattered by just one more well-placed attack, leaving the boss now open to further damage. Other combinations of the party’s abilities with Crisbell’s time manipulation, including the power to fully restore previous states of the battle, have been teased by the team.
Characters in the game are fully voiced, with Crisbell herself being brought to life by voice actress Kira Buckland. The demo has definitely piqued my interest, and I am looking forward to seeing not only what creative manipulations of time will be possible in combat, but what intriguing narrative puzzles will be implemented into questing itself. The game won’t be released until sometime in 2020, for PC and all major consoles, but a demo consisting of much of what I saw at E3 is currently available for download from Steam.