In Cris Tales, Time Travel is More Than a Gimmick

The game's constant projection of the past and future reminds you that time marches on.

I’m working my way through Dreams Uncorporated’s RPG Cris Tales, and in the hours I’ve put in so far, I’m still enraptured by its take on time manipulation, and how it integrates that into everything you do.

Cris Tales stars Crisbell, a young orphan who finds herself central to a prophecy as she gains the ability to freely move through and manipulate time itself. She’s what’s called a Time Mage in this universe, and that means time becomes a tool to solve problems of the citizens our good samaritan comes across, but it also becomes a weapon more useful than any sword or shield she and her friends use to fight.

Walking through an environment within Cris Tales gives you a constant look into how things were and how things may one day be. The screen is divided into three sections: past, present, and future. Crisbell exists in the present but is able to see the history and possible fate of everyone and everything just by walking through a town. These can be fun little reveals, such as walking past an old, grouchy carpenter in the present, then moving the screen just enough to see him in his youth. But the future can also have some cute developments, such as seeing a woman and her baby in the present, then looking at them in the future and seeing that little tyke is all grown up.

But the future also brings the inevitabilities we’d rather not see. That same carpenter might be old and grouchy in the present, but panning over to the future and seeing he’s no longer there is a heart-dropping moment. Has he retired from working as a carpenter, thus having no reason to be there? Or has time caught up to him and I’ve skipped beyond the final page in his story? 

But not every development you find in the future has to be an inevitability. What’s the point of being able to manipulate time if you can’t change things in your favor? One of the first choices Cris Tales offers you is the chance to save an apothecary or a citizen’s home from destruction in the future. But only one. To do so requires a plant that only grows every few years, but by planting a seed in the present and jumping to the future, you can have a solution in your hands immediately. But even with all of Crisbell’s powers, they aren’t without their limits, and I won’t be able to prevent every future I see.

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Those choices would be enough to make Cris Tales’ time mechanics interesting, but the way they’re so intrinsic to the game’s turn-based combat elevates it to a higher level. On their own, Crisbell’s time manipulation spells are already incredibly useful. A powerful foe sent to the future will rapidly age and lose its fortitude, leaving it wide open for an attack. That same enemy sent to the past will be younger, with weaker attacks and less pain tolerance. But that’s just what these powers can do alone. Combined with other party members’ abilities, they create new, interesting tactics that make them paramount to combat.

The game is all about setting combos up and using Crisbell’s time abilities to execute them. In an early boss fight, Cristopher, a party member, is able to cast a water spell on an opponent that blocks every attack with a shield. Once the water was applied, I could send the enemy to the future, rusting their shield and giving us an opening to attack. Later, another party member, Willhelm, is able to poison enemies with his own magic. But as Crisbell, I could send poisoned enemies to the future, allowing the poison to run its course instantly. These elaborate setups took time to put in place, but I appreciated just how integral time remains in every facet of Cris Tales, even when it comes to combat strategy.

I’m still far and away from Cris Tales’ conclusion, but already its take on time travel and manipulation speaks to me in ways that elevate it beyond a gimmick. Simply existing in the game’s world is a constant reminder that time marches on, whether that be in watching a child grow up right before your eyes, or in seeing the haunting empty space where someone is standing if I look ever slightly to the present. I don’t know what the future looks like at the end, but I know that I’m interested to find out.

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Kenneth Shepard

Kenneth is a Staff Writer at Fanbyte. He still periodically cries about the Mass Effect trilogy years after it concluded.

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