Time travel in a linear story is hard. There are so many different ways to approach it and so many examples of it working (and not working) across all kinds of entertainment like movies, books, and video games. Cris Tales by Modus Games is the latest title tackling time travel in their own unique way. What if a character, and the player, could view different stages of time at once? Is Modus Games able to pull off a temporal RPG adventure successfully?
In Cris Tales, you play as the orphan Crisbell, with no recollection of her family she’s been raised in the Orphanage of the small town of Narim. Our adventure begins with Crisbell interacting with the stained glass window at the back of the cathedral and awakening the power to peer through time into the past and the future. What Crisbell sees in the future though is disconcerting as she also suffers a vision of Narim and other cities around the world exploding, all signs point to the Empress of Time as the cause of this destruction.
Pairing up with another Time Mage, Willhelm, and talking frog companion Matias, Crisbell sets out to visit each of the major cathedrals of the world to further grow her time powers, hoping that they’ll be the key to saving the world. Along the journey, Crisbell and her ever-growing party travel to towns steeped in economic strife, plagued volcanic regions, and dense luscious forests.
Even though Crisbell is visiting places she’s never seen before, by virtue of a shared connection in the party or previously met NPCs, the story does a good job enveloping the party in the local conversation. It’s not just that Crisbell shows up and is allowed in important meetings as some kind of “Chosen One,” instead party members might be relations to local activists or daughters of well-known inventors. It never feels strange that Crisbell is present and getting so involved in local politics.
The framing of the world through Crisbell’s eyes and the ability to see into the past, present, and future do amazing things for world-building. Even as you first enter a town and have a reeled-out view of the landscape you’re able to see where a city was built up from, but there’s also the ever-present view of the destruction that you’re working to prevent.
It’s a fantastic way to show the effects of characters' actions when you solve a dilemma in the past and you can see how it will directly affect the future of a town. This also helps to remove any need for exposition about town history, or the player being able to see a flashback but the characters need to be told it if Crisbell is able to see it all too.
Cris Tales begins with a lot of very smart ways of handling Crisbell’s powers over time, and Matias’ ability to leap into the future and past. Early on a special fruit is needed to create an antidote for wood rot that you see take the village. You can use your time powers to plant seeds in the past and collect the fruit in the present. Even in the major story, you’re able to retrieve information from the past or use knowledge of the future to get important characters on your side. Unfortunately, late in the game, the time shenanigans go a bit off the rails.
Just as you feel you’re at the conclusion of the game, Cris Tales dives deep into the time travel theme and a whole fourth and fifth act. Time travel and the repercussion it has on a linear narrative has been seen to make or break a lot of video games, movies, and books and Cris Tales unfortunately isn’t exempt from that. In this case Cris Tales plot, unfortunately, gets a bit too gung-ho in alternate timelines and time travel clones for its own good, and while the first twenty or so hours of the game keep a consistent tone, that last ten hours muddies the story.
An additional issue with that back ten is how unnecessary the plot points are. Any other game would see the adventure you’ve taken, and the conclusion you’ve reached and call it there but Cris Tales loops in additional fetch-quest style missions forcing you to backtrack to previous areas of the game multiple times, that doesn’t even add much more but hours to the game's runtime.
While I can't speak for all versions of the game, I encountered a number of technical issues playing on Nintendo Switch. These included frequent game crashes, only the left joy-con vibration working (but only ever at max vibration), frequent dropped inputs, and a final boss fight where he just stopped attacking me.
Combat in Cris Tales also has its fair share of ups and downs. These turn-based battles pit your party of three against enemies positioned to your left or right. Cris Tales has a ‘paper Mario-esque style of interactive combat. You’ll select your attack and then try to time a button press to maximize damage, alternatively, you can actively block to reduce incoming damage. This is a fun system, and a good way to add an active and engaging component to combat, but the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining when you’ve gotten the timing correct, that or the window of opportunity is extremely precise.
Timing of button presses is also an issue with some character's special attacks which require repeated presses, hit the button as fast as you want to “charge the meter” and I found the bar would drop, but that there would be some perfect timing that would work better. It’s unclear if the difficulty of timing or button responses is an intended effect, which would be strange for changing a meter, or whether the game happens to be dropping inputs frequently. Some attacks of enemies I wasn’t even able to find a window where I COULD attempt to block, instead sitting helplessly as my party took full damage.
Scaling enemies and the stats of your character also don’t seem to quite balance right. Early on in the game, nearly every encounter was difficult and resources and money were extremely limited. While you could certainly get through areas of the game you’d be forced to use all you had. After the second city though this seemed to be completely flipped on its head. The increase to HP and MP would far outweigh the spell costs of advanced techniques allowing you to go all out in every battle and still have enough MP to make it to the next Inn. When your most effective move is only 18MP and you have 500MP to spare you can just keep sending those Fireballs. Aside from a few key fights that seem to force you to adopt a specific strategy expect to steamroll through a lot of combat.
It would be impossible to finish a review for Cris Tales without bringing up how good the game looks. Each building and character has so much intricate detail on them, creating so many unique looks and great character styles. This attention to detail is further emphasized when walking through a city with a split-time view. Getting to see a cathedral in the middle of being built in the past, and seeing it line up perfectly with how it’s laid out in the present is an incredible sight.
Character designs also remain extremely legible from far back, but when you get close you’re able to see so many unique details too. Walking through the world there’s a certain level of cohesiveness between the different denizens of the world that immediately clue you into who they are and what kind of life they lead. You can tell that the visual creation of the past, present, and future of this world was a labor, but a labor of love.
Cris Tales manages to set up a lot of good aspects. The story has a solid hook and a fully fleshed-out world for the characters to explore but then manages not to stick the landing letting the plot get away. Likewise, combat is enjoyable but with the active mechanics seemingly dropping inputs and the difficulty not correctly scaling it finds and then loses that sweet spot. If Cris Tales was about 80% of how ambitious it tried to be it could have come together as a more succinct title. If you’re craving a new RPG to play then Cris Tales should scratch that itch, just be wary of when it loses itself.
A copy of Cris Tales for Nintendo Switch was provided to TechRaptor by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia, and PC via Steam and Epic Game Store.
- Story Starts Strong...
- Gorgeous World
- ...Loses its Way, Hard
- Unclear Reactive Combat
- Balance Issues