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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5

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Cris Tales   PC (Steam) 

Systemic Mediocrity    3/5 stars

“Cris Tales” is the inaugural effort by Columbian Indie studio, Dreams Uncorporated, with some assistance from Columbian mobile game developer, Syck. I first became aware of “Cris Tales’” existence alongside the rest of the world, when it was revealed at E3 2019. With mainstream Games Industry journalism constantly looking for excuses to aggrandize and glorify marginalized populations and/or third-world countries, as an introductory effort by a completely unknown Latino studio, “Cris Tales” just might have gotten more attention than it actually warranted. However, with its immediately eye-catching looks and the fact that traditional Turn-Based RPGs are a much-sought-after treasure and all-too-rare in our modern gaming ecosystem, there were, nevertheless, plenty of legitimate reasons to get excited about it. Releasing two years after it first went public, however, “Cris Tales” met ‘mixed’ reviews, failed to make any major impact on the Role-Playing genre, and within a year was given away as a freebie by the Epic Games Store – never a good sign! So, is “Cris Tales’” lackluster reception merely the result of Systemic Racism against Brown Latin Americans? Or is the game really nothing special?

“Cris Tales” immediately makes an impression with its vivid, stylish, and stylized visuals. While everything in the game is 2D digital art, there are two major things that stand out about it: First, the art style is a striking pseudo-anime style that blends the look of both Japanese animation and Latin pop-art (read: graffiti), with intricate animations and vibrant colors throughout. Second, but by no means secondary, is the fact that the game’s environments are built from numerous 2D objects to form a 3D world, reminiscent of paper-craft or classic pop-up books. Combining this world design methodology with intentional camera angles results in a lot of artistic – if not illusionary – depth. Unfortunately, while “Cris Tales” is beautiful to look at and shows a lot of artistic talent, it has a few issues that get in the way of gameplay. Remember those intricate animations I mentioned a couple sentences ago? With the way “Cris Tales’” battle system works, these animations can feel too ‘busy,’ and make it difficult to read exactly what an enemy is planning to do. On the other hand, while the discrete towns and dungeons are interesting to look at and explore, the overworld that connects them is rather sparse and empty, with oddly-stylized environmental objects that can make it difficult to tell what’s what.

Audiowise, “Cris Tales” is just as pleasant as it is visually. The original soundtrack is full of pleasant, catchy tunes that fit their associated scenes admirably. Likewise the vocal cast – for the English localization, at least – seems to consist mostly of the same grade of professional anime dubbers used by big-budget Japanese games. Really, the only nits I can pick regarding the audio are that the fully-voiced dialog is often too slow, leading me to read the dialog boxes and skip ahead without listening to the whole performance. Then there’s the head-scratcher of why the game’s random encounters just quietly jump to a white loading screen – the same as transitioning from area to area – instead of playing any kind of “attack incoming!” noise to indicate what’s happening.

Technically, “Cris Tales” is alright. While I never experienced this first-hand on my fancy new NVME SSD and current-gen PC hardware, I’ve read numerous reports from console peasants players and budget PC owners who still use mechanical hard drives that “Cris Tales” has horrendous load times. I guess I’ll take their word for it. In my personal experience, “Cris Tales” is free of the kinds of bugs and glitches that will ruin a person’s day, but still has a handful of annoying little issues, such as showing the wrong numbers of items owned in the shop menus. It includes native Xinput support out of the box in the PC version, which should go without saying, but sadly doesn’t. However, it does rely on an archaic save point system instead of allowing the player to save anywhere.

“Cris Tales” is the story of one Crisbell, a teenage orphan girl living at a cathedral, where the Mother Superior oversees an entire stable of orphans who tend a large flower garden for a living. One day, a talking frog in a tophat steals Crisbell’s roses, sending her on a short wild goose chase that ultimately leads to the awakening of magical Time Mage powers within her.

Following the advice of the talking, behatted frog, Crisbell meets up with a Time Mage hermit named Wilhelm to learn more about her powers. These powers, of course, couldn’t have made themselves known at a more opportune time, as Crisbell’s hometown comes under attack by the goblin armies of a woman known as the Time Empress, who has her eyes set on complete world domination.

Leaving home on a pilgrimage to visit all of the other cathedrals in the world and unlock the rest of her powers, Crisbell sets off on a coming-of-age journey with Matias the frog, Wilhelm the child-hermit, and a child soldier named Cristopher (Cris and Cris, yeah, that’s not confusing), all set against a backdrop of political intrigue, class warfare, and global conflict. Is a group of kids really up to this task?

“Cris Tales” falls into a lot of generic RPG trope-holes, not least of which being the rut-worn ‘chosen one’ meme, with its narrative further suffering from rather heavy-handed and tactless preaching of things the writers like and dislike: Yay, Socialism! Boo, aristocracy! Yay, free education! Boo, pandemics! Yay, Church! Boo, war! None of the characters receive any particularly interesting development, either. Of course, with a ~20-hour runtime, “Cris Tales” doesn’t really stick around long enough to have a nuanced view of anything. Its plotting feels rushed, it ends before it really has a chance to get started, and the plot twists aren’t exactly shocking or novel.

“Cris Tales” is a “Super Mario RPG” clone. As in every single one of those plumber-based RPGs from Square, Nintendo, and whomever else, combat is a bog-standard turn-based affair, with the opportunity to deal increased damage with attacks or take lessened damage from enemy attacks by tapping the main ‘confirm’ button (A on a standard Xinput controller) just as an attack animation lands. Each of the characters who joins Crisbell on her quest comes with a unique set of skills, each with different button timings to go along with their overall discrete utility. Of course, as I mentioned at the top of this review under ‘Presentation,’ the overly-intricate, frilly, and busy animations used by most enemies can really make it difficult to figure out the ‘deflect’ timings to reduce the damage.

However, the primary way in which “Cris Tales” differentiates itself from the pack of similar RPGs with similar mechanics is in its time-manipulation mechanics. While walking around in a town or a dungeon, Crisbell perceives the game world as fractured into three triangles, with the left triangle representing the past (roughly a decade ago), the central triangle representing the present, and the right-most triangle representing the future (again, roughly a decade hence). By seeing how things were and how they might be, Crisbell can solve all manner of mysteries, even sending Matias the Frog on short ‘time hops’ to retrieve a missing item a decade before it disappeared, or to eavesdrop on a conversation between two people who are currently dead.

This time mechanic functions during combat as well, allowing Crisbell to send enemies on the right side of the screen into the future or enemies on the left side of the screen into the past. This either ages the enemy or de-ages them, resulting in different looks, stats, and abilities. Enemies that are already “old” on the right side can be damaged by hitting the ‘temporal limit,’ as can enemies on the left side who are already “young.” Some allied skills can be combined with Crisbell's time-shifting magic, such as poisoning enemies, then sending them to the future, where they take a decade of poison DoTs all at once, or setting up a time-delayed AoE spell, then sending it to the future and forcing it to detonate immediately… but that’s really the extent of it. The ability to perceive three different time periods simultaneously really isn’t all that interesting or well-utilized, either in or out of combat. Solving puzzles and mysteries using temporal perspective is always painfully straight forward and simplistic, but requires specific dialog flags to be triggered before Crisbell or Matias can interact with an obvious Thing of Interest in a different timestream. Likewise, in combat, Crisbell’s turns are better spent healing or buffing party members’ speed with her Celerity spell than farting around with aging or de-aging monsters. Part of the lack of utility of time magic in combat is simply the lack of diversity amongst the monsters: There are goblins, wolves, slimes, bugs, human warriors… and that’s really it. There are pallet swaps, and of course bosses, but many boss battles are re-used over and over again, while the stat differences between the “young,” “normal,” and “old” versions of enemies aren’t significant enough to amount to anything.

And speaking of bosses, while “Cris Tales” loves to re-use boss battles, even when they aren’t rehashed, they fall into the category of ‘poorly balanced slogs.’ Bosses have way too much health, and most of the time don’t do anything particularly interesting or threatening, outside of applying a variety of status ailments. As in most old-school RPGs, bosses are typically immune to such status ailments themselves… except when they aren’t, which leads to tedious trial-and-error experimentation… that ultimately pales in comparison to the bland, basic strategy of “hit enemy with strongest attack, heal when necessary.”

While “Cris Tales” may be eye-catching and easy-listening, its beauty is truly only skin-deep. The rushed and un-nuanced story and bland characters leave a lot to be desired, while the turn-based gameplay falls flat due to a lack of variety in the bestiary and poorly-tuned encounters that drag-on longer than they should. While it definitely isn’t the worst RPG I’ve ever played, it’s easy to see why it was an Epic Store giveaway.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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