Nowadays, companies making games have shied away from the deep waters of JRPGs and other adjacent games. The time investment to make one is incredible, and while the market has grown there are other titles that are simpler to make for much higher payoff. Now, independent studios have tossed their hat in the ring by being the ones spearheading a lot of games reminiscent of the golden JRPG era. CrisTales is a result of this, and it feels like a genuine love letter from someone who found a spark of magic in those older games. With the powers of future, present, and past; CrisTales delivers both a nostalgic and unique experience. Even though there is a lot of new, some older tropes sacrifice quality of life to try and bring back an older JRPG feel.
CrisTales has a downright magical feel to it, the game is beautiful. While stylistically it’s not exactly like JRPGs of old, what it brings to the table is super unique. The way environments are colored and how the camera plays with perspective in environments is just phenomenal. Character designs feel unique and everyone feels like they could be a playable character or a boss, even some of the first NPCs you meet. This leads to a world that feels full and thriving even before you get your powers, a feeling a lot of games haven’t been able to get right. Enemy design is varied right from the start, with the first area having a decent amount of enemies to encounter all in its own. The variety this game presents is one thing, but the most prevalent game mechanic makes it so that this is all tripled- thanks to the crystals.
CrisTales’ main mechanic is the crystals, visions of the past and future the main heroine Crisbell can access at all times. The game is displayed in three separate triangular cuts, furthest left being the past, center being the present, and furthest right being the future. As you move, you will always be centered in the present crystal, but you can see how the environments and characters change as you move close to them. This leads to other prevalent mechanics, like time hopping. Your main friend and resident mascot character Matias the frog can “time hop” to the past or future crystal in order to gather information that wouldn’t be available in the present. This is for story and side quest completion, and being able to see the past and future of almost every environment is really cool. The past and future crystals also play a massive role in combat, seeing the way combat is structured. In combat you are always placed in the center with enemies on either side, and must direct your attacks either left or right on your turn. This plays into the crystals mechanic, as you can use Crisbell’s power to send anything on the left into the past and anything on the right into the future. This not only de-ages or ages the enemy and turns it into a different type, it also combos with skills and status effects your party members can use. A great example from the tutorial boss fight was applying the wet status, then sending the enemy into the future in order to rust them and give them defense down. There are tons of combat combinations that play very well into this mechanic, and discovering them is half the fun. This, paired with combat that’s incredibly reminiscent of Paper Mario leads to what should be really unique combat. The main downfall with the combat is feeling out the specific animations to land the sweet spot, and how little impact everything has. The tutorial boss fight was a massive slog, since it was just mashing attack for 10 minutes after rusting,
CrisTales really shines in a lot of places, the environments and character designs alone do a lot of the heavy lifting along with the crystal mechanic. That being said, it really tries to bring back JRPG tropes that are better left in the past. Quality of life reversions like specific save points and the tent system, along with loading screens before every single fight take away from the cohesive experience. When it feels like you’re about to get into a flow, attempting to restore yourself can be a slog. Even on new hardware the loading screens show up before every random encounter, and these times pile up when you’re running from place to place. I really enjoyed my time with CrisTales, but it falls just short of being phenomenal.
Score: 7 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5