The big gimmick in the JRPG-inspired Cris Tales is being able to control time. Say you're fighting an enemy clad in metal armour. Cast a water spell on them, fast forward time, and the armour will be rusty and useless. It's a neat idea in what seems to be a game full of them.
Hero Crisbell can see the past, present, and future all at once, both in battle and while exploring the game's beautiful, delicately hand-animated world. Inspired by Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Persona, and the Paper Mario series, the game mixes tactical turn-based combat with side-scrolling exploration.
Crisbell's time manipulation powers are useful in a scrap. Poison an enemy and you don't have to wait for it to slowly sap their health: just jump forward in time and they'll take all the damage at once. Or you can throw an enemy into the future and watch as they grow old and weak.
Although Cris Tales is turn-based, the combat has some timing-based elements. Press a button at just the right time, during an attack or special ability, and you'll pull off a critical hit. Think Squall's gunblade in FFVIII. Time it perfectly and you'll inflict additional damage or even a debuff. You can also parry and block, which the developer says will be extremely difficult.
The combat looks great, but it's when she's not fighting that Crisbell's time powers become really interesting. Cris Tales has an overworld map, which is something I miss from the role-playing genre. And as she journeys across this beautiful, papery map, she and her party visit a city called Saint Clarity.
This is the classic divided town trope, which is a hallmark of JRPGs—the rich and privileged living in the gleaming city above, and the poor living below. Although this idea is taken to an extreme, with the poorer citizens periodically being drenched by waves of sewage from up top.
Not exactly subtle, and Cris Tales' art is so lovely that even the slums look nice, but it's what you'd expect from a self-described love letter to JRPGs. As Crisbell wanders the streets of the city, the screen is divided into three, showing three different versions of it in the past, the present, and the future.
This means you can see what the city once was, and what it'll become if it continues along its current path. What happens if you keep dumping sewer water on a place where people live? Gaze into the future and you'll see the slums submerged and in ruins—which you, thankfully, can help put a stop to.
There are smaller stories to find too. You see a boy in the past, a teenage boy in the present, and… nothing in the future. Because the kid died. It's quietly upsetting to see, but through a side quest you can alter the future and save him. It's nice to see him alive and well in the future afterwards.
And there are dungeons, of course. Crisbell and her crew descend into Saint Clarity's sewers, as part of a quest to deal with that sewage problem, and find themselves in a maze of grimy waterways filled with slimes, dodging waves of water. There's a boss too, a massive sludge monster, that will test your time-bending skills.
Cris Tales is a beautiful looking thing, and it sounds great too with the kind of evocative, high-energy soundtrack you'd expect from a good JRPG. The voice acting is a little too shiny and anime-like for my tastes, but I'm excited to see some of the other ways I'll get to meddle with the past and future.