CrisTales comes off as a great homage to the old-school, classic JRPGs like the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games in all their pixelated glory. It borrows quite a lot from both in terms of gameplay, the turn-based combat, and design choices, traveling on the overworld map, and interacting with cities, dungeons, and other areas to enter and explore them but does add its own twist to both.
The story follows Crisbell as she learns that she is a time mage with power over the Time Crystal’s, learning to control her powers and discover her own past; all the while battling the forces of the evil Time Empress. She is joined by a variety of different characters including Cristopher, a black mage and tank hybrid, and Willhelm, another time mage that specializes in nature magic and uses Yucandragoras, tiny plant creatures, to attack enemies or support allied characters. The party is later joined by the android K and cliched anime cat girl, Zas.
When the power of the Crystals first appears, the screen becomes split in three with the left representing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future. This normally only occurs when in towns and is used on occasion to progress in the story as normal approaches are normally blocked off. This is done by changing something in the past to influence the present which would allow for a better future. The story does seem to drive home the fact that no matter what choices you make that future isn’t always changed for the better, but you need to stand by the decision.
This is also applied to side quests that can change the future of the various kingdoms when leaving. By completing the side quests, the future of the kingdoms and their citizens can change for the better, for example helping a shopkeeper by fetching the correct items allows them to stay open in the future but not completing it before the final boss battle could spell doom for the shop and its owner in the future which could potentially affect the kingdom as a whole.
The various kingdoms and dungeons can be accessed by traveling on the map with the locations that can be interacted with being highlighted. This is very reminiscent to the original Final Fantasy where the levels were broken up among the various locations with random battles occurring as you travel from location to location and exploring the various dungeons. Exploring the locations is also encouraged as chests are scattered throughout that contain helpful items or equipment. Each character does come equipped with a weapon that can be upgraded to better versions by the various shops using the Time Synthesis; as well as purchasing the equipment to improve some of the stats for the characters or keychains to change the abilities of the weapons; all using the game’s currency of Marbles.
It is in the combat that the game changes things up by implementing the game’s time travel mechanic and the ability to increase damage dealt to enemies or decrease the damage your characters take. The combat is very much the traditional turn-based gameplay with each character getting a turn to perform an action that is displayed at the top of the screen when in combat. There are spells that can influence the order such as Celeritas, which speeds up an allied character for 3 of their turns, or Segnitas that does the opposite for enemies.
By hitting the correct button, X on PS4, as the attack lands, you can either do double damage or decrease the total damage received. This is highly dependent on the timing as the blocking is split among deflected and parried with the latter blocking a higher percentage of damage and status ailments entirely. The same applies to dealing out damage as a good second strike will deal about half of the first strike damage and a perfect input results in a critical attack that has the same damage for both strikes. This also applies to most magic attacks and is needed to deal certain status ailments to enemies such as burn from fire and stun from lightning spells. Mastering the timing of this feature is crucial in making the combat easy-going or becoming a recovery item slinging slog.
The time travel feature is also used in combat and can be very useful in weakening or strengthening enemies by changing them to a younger or older version of themselves or by dealing all status ailment damage in one turn. Crisbell’s Time Crystal powers can change the enemies on either of the combat screen by using the Past Crystal on the left and Future Crystal on her right influencing how the stats of each one. This could mean a younger version could have more health but less attack and vice versa for the older versions. Along with the basic attacks comes the Synchro feature that allows you to combine Crisbell’s Crystal powers with another party member’s attacks to increase the total damage or apply status ailments to all characters without having to change the fields. This is a sort of ultimate attack that can be used to change the flow of battle or annihilate all enemies in one go. The bar increases with damage being dealt and fills up quite quickly so no need to hold on to a full bar until a boss fight.
The Crystal abilities can also be used in combination with some of the other character’s abilities and are sometimes necessary to win in boss battles. Part of the tutorial is fighting the Volcano Sisters who are immune to damage at first but by using Cristopher’s water spell, they become soaked, and then using the Future Crystal the shield they wield becomes rusted and this allows you to deal damage to them. As mention earlier, this can be also be used with status ailments like poison and burn to deal all the damage in one turn by either casting the spell on a past enemy and then reverting them back to the present or a present enemy before flinging them into the future. Willhelm’s Yucandragoras can also be used individually, affecting only one enemy or by planting them in the past or present and then changing the time back to the present or future to damage all enemies on the respective side. By using this tactic with the scan Yucandragoras, you can view all different versions of an enemy and their respective stats; as well as the enemy’s health always appearing above the portrait in the battle order for all future fights.
Overall CrisTales is very much a JRPG at heart with a few new ideas to keep things from becoming too repetitive in combat by allowing you to influence the battle and the damage that is being flung around by both sides. The story is a bit cliched, but the overall look of the game is brilliant and makes wonderful use of colours to show how pretty the present is and how bleak the future can become when not completing the side quests. The voice acting is superb and features a variety of talent along with a nice soundtrack that compliments the visuals on screen. The various options in the story also allow you to replay the game in order to get a different outcome but this is usually only cosmetic based to the kingdoms and doesn’t really change the gameplay once completed a first time.