Cris Tales may be the most innovative time-travel game since Chrono Trigger.
Time travel is a fairly common video game trope. Jak II, Sonic Generations, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, and a number of other games use time travel as a narrative framing device. Once that narrative frame has been established, games often stow time travel elements away, shifting focus towards telling an otherwise standard story.
That’s not the case in Cris Tales, which bakes time into every aspect of the game.
Time travel isn’t just a narrative framing device in Cris Tales; It’s an integral component to exploration and combat that you can't possibly forget about. Every interaction can be affected by time travel. The main character, Crisbell, is a time mage, so her perspective defines what the player sees.
Crisbell is on a quest to stop an evil empress from destroying all five kingdoms. While roaming the world, your screen is constantly divided into three sections. The leftmost side is the past, the rightmost side is the future, while the center is the present. You’ll usually walk around in the present, while the past and future sides act as windows to what your actions have caused. Both the past and future can be changed in real-time as you complete tasks.
You can also interact with both to gain key items. In the demo, a character said it would take nearly a decade to complete development on a tool Crisbell needed to continue the story. With no time to wait, Crisbell traveled to the future and rummaged through that character's belongings to obtain the necessary item. When playing Cris Tales, you can never forget how integral time travel is to gameplay.
Like many RPGs, Cris Tales uses a turn-based combat system. Assisted by a party of medieval-style combatants — complete with swords, shields, scythes, and time travel — Crisbell can shroud areas of any combat arena in time travel magic. This can force your foes to instantly become old and frail, making defeating you impossible. Conversely, it could make an enemy far younger, removing any combat potential.
Whenever time magic is cast, the battlefield feels dynamic. Having the ability to alter your foes' physiology on a whim is exciting in a way that status effects rarely are in a role-playing game.
Casting time magic isn’t always a boon either. Do it to the wrong foe, and you could inadvertently make them far stronger than before, perhaps putting them back into their prime. The precarious nature of this makes it even more alluring as a gameplay mechanic. While other stories throw time travel aside once they've gotten their setup, Cris Tales will always remind you of the insurmountable power time holds.
While Cris Tales’ time travel system is more than enough to distinguish it from most games released in the last five years, Cris Tales also excels in art and worldbuilding that both reinforce themes about time. It painstakingly apes the fairy tale aesthetic seen in storybooks and Disney films like Sleeping Beauty. If you’ve ever watched the 1959 Disney classic, you’ll know that the film takes place in a medieval kingdom. Characters move with the rigidness of a medieval tapestry, and ideas about good and evil often seem black and white.
Cris Tales gives everything a bright sheen while throwing in bubbly character designs for good measure. Characters look like they could’ve been ripped right from a children’s book, complete with thick hair, ginormous eyes, and a tacit optimism found often in every fairy tale. Like many of Disney’s best stories, Cris Tales is accessible to everyone even if it may look designed for children.
During Crisbell’s kingdom-hopping journey, she helps various humble peasants and strange creatures – one day, it’s a local activist. On another day, she assists a talking frog, who could easily be a nod to Glenn, a talking frog party member in Chrono Trigger.
Even with the medieval setting, every character has very contemporary problems. In a less skillfully crafted game, this could be jarring. You could easily ask yourself why there’s an activist in a medieval world? But you don’t. Every citizen feels real enough to exist in that era while staying relatable. The magic of the game isn’t time travel, it’s that Cris Tales toes the line between adulthood and childishness just right, making it one of our most anticipated games of 2020.
Cris Tales will be released for consoles and PC on November 17.