There’s something magical about walking around in Cris Tales, like exploring scenes in a pop-up book. It’s in the way the camera dollies and trucks to follow protagonist Crisbell into the layers of delicate dioramas. It’s in the fairy tale colours and ink lines and impeccable paper characters. But also in some actual magic, as Crisbell is a time mage who sees the past, present, and future all at once.
Within cities, the current reality lies in the centre of a split display, with its before and after states to the left and right. A cart becomes a tractor as it passes into the end window; a tough-looking guard seems less intimidating when you scroll him to the margins and see him as a child. It’s mesmerising, tempting you to tour locations in this Colombian-made ‘JRPG’ purely to admire how they warp around your presence.
It’s not just for show either, but a tidy means of fleshing out Cris Tales’ appealing cast, showing that each is a culmination of choice and circumstance, capable of redemption or decay. With that in mind, Crisbell sets out to strengthen her powers and defeat a tyrannical empress, aided by Matias, a debonair frog who talks like a posh South Park character, and a growing band of misfit mages whose amusing banter offsets the serious matters at hand. Cris Tales then drags you into various regional political struggles, touching on issues such as automation and xenophobia. It’s light but sufficiently elaborate, as are parallel side quests that affect the outcome of each chapter.
Yet, despite early promise, the time-bending mechanics can’t keep pace with the plot or the lavish presentation. The turn-based battles, for example, initially focus on Crisbell’s power to age and de-age opponents. It’s an idea bursting with potential, in that enemies might change suddenly – one rewind transforms a pathetic blob creature into a huge carnivorous insect – or you can ‘plant’ certain abilities and then forward time to increase their power. But mostly it doesn’t matter, and late on, the concept is seemingly abandoned. And while the underlying combat is solid, thanks to Mario RPG-style timed inputs and varied character abilities, it’s also stunted by a paucity of enemy types, plus a challenge level that evaporates so completely in the second half it feels like a miscalculation.
It’s a similar story elsewhere, as basic tutorial puzzles repeat rather than evolve, and dungeon exploration never advances beyond rudimentary object manipulation. It’s more legwork than brainwork, especially near the end; even if you still enjoy the walking and talking, there’s a lot of dead space around it.
Like the aforementioned pop-up book, Cris Tales is full of charm and imagination, but as time passes, its pieces remain glued in place.
The one character that best exemplifies Cris Tales’ humour and creative spark is Paulina. One of the world’s mysterious ‘witnesses’, she’s a helpful giant statue who transports you between continents and offers her shoe as a makeshift boat. You’ll just have to put up with her cutting remarks about your fashion sense.
Cris Tales has immense charm and beauty, but spreads its content too thin.
Format: PC (tested) / PS5 / XB S/X / PS4 / XBO / Switch / Stadia
Developer: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK
Publisher: Modus Games
Release: Out now