When it comes to discovering new and exciting games, sometimes hidden gems can be found in plain sight. That was indeed the case with CrisTales, a gorgeous RPG that initially debuted during the PC Gaming Show at E3 2019. It immediately set itself apart from the rest of the titles during the showcase, miles away from the heavy-hitters like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 or the gore-tastic Doom Eternal. This brilliantly-colored role-playing game was massively different than the games that came before it or after, and was a very obvious homage to the classics of the genre. Viewers took note of the brief footage shown off during the PC gaming presentation due to its unique art style and tone, and for good reason.
Tucked away amidst the Modus Games booth (where I also checked out Trine 4), a plethora of exciting indie titles were being shown off, as well as a seemingly modest little game from Colombian studio Dreams Uncorporated. Yes, CrisTales, the exciting game first shown off only a few days ahead of the conference, was available on the floor to check out. I spent some time at the booth as Dreams Uncorporated's team showed off a live presentation of the game, several new areas and mechanics, and shed more light on what kind of imaginative scenarios we'll be able to look forward to playing when the full game is out.
CrisTales follows a young time mage named Crisbell, who stumbles into the ability to see into the past and the future. Not only can she do both, but she can do it all at the same time. Technically, she can see the past, present, and future simultaneously, which as you can expect makes for an intriguing mixture of mechanics. You can see Crisbell's powers in the form of a tri-fold view of each time period as you move through the 2.5D world. A triangular "windowpane" is seen in the middle of the screen, with the world of the past on the left, the present in the middle, and the future on the right. The differences in the overworld seen throughout the years will be seen in real-time, so you can move only a few inches to the right or left to see a beautiful structure turn into a dilapidated building. The fact that this all happens as Crisbell simply moves about the world is stunning, to say the least.
Exploring, interacting with townsfolk, and getting to the bottom of the impending threat of the Ash Blight plague terrorizing Crisbell's home is at the heart of the game. As such, you can approach parts of it as you would other RPGs. But following that, their paths will inevitably diverge into something much more exciting than just another retro-tinged legend. No, there's way more to it than that.
The normal environments you'll explore will be rife with puzzles. One such part of the demo found Crisbell determining that one of the houses in town had collapsed in the future, leaving its inhabitants homeless. She determined the collapse was due to rot from the destructive Ash Blight, but only with the help of her time manipulation. Strategically using knowledge from the past to change the present and future, she's able to lean upon NPCs to help figure out the issue at hand: what's causing the Ash Blight, and how to stop it. But there were two different houses with the same problem. Unfortunately, I was faced with only one, and given that we were part of a crowd demo, the majority ruled -- we were to save the woman who owned the apothecary in town for the greater good. As far as any sort of ramifications that came from this, we'd have to learn later.
Combat plays out much like Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario. Crisbell will square off against enemies with additional characters (up to two others in her party). I especially loved the Persona-like battle menu (not pictured) that fans will undoubtedly squeal upon seeing. Combat plays out much like Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario. Crisbell will square off against enemies with additional characters (up to two others in her party). It's a turn-based affair where characters will continue trading blows until the enemy has finally been felled. If you press a button when you land a hit, you can do additional damage. If you do the same when an enemy targets you with a hit, you'll defend against damage from an enemy. It should feel like old hat for any RPG fan, but it's the time-based mechanics that set it apart.
Cris will be able to use her time mage powers to enact status effects, send enemies into the past or future to change their powers, weaknesses and strengths, or even do more damage. It's going to be wild to see what kind of changes the dev team decides to allow players to make, as it seems even standing from here there's a wide variety of different ways this part of battle could potentially be utilized. I was blown away by the creativity -- this is going to be an exciting way to test new combat strategies.
Of course, the game being interesting and exciting is great and all, but the artwork is absolutely stunning. It features an eye-popping palette that the developers themselves stated was directly inspired by the Colombian countryside and architecture within, down to the color. It's rife with a wide variety of palettes throughout each vision of the past, present, and future, and makes expert use of color to create interesting environments.
CrisTales will include full voice acting for all characters, even for the smaller roles. Crisbell herself will be voiced by Kira Buckland, who you may recognize as the English actress who portrayed 2B in NieR: Automata. While it wasn't immediately obvious who portrayed Matias the frog (my guess is Todd Haberkorn) or the charismatically evil Volcano Sisters, the voice actors on display here were on point. It's high quality stuff, to say the least.
The short demo I was shown didn't feature much beyond a short puzzle, a sampling of combat, and a brief glimpse at the next town, but I very quickly fell in love with what I saw. There's a demo available via Steam that you can check out right now if you're curious, and it'll be available until June 24. For anyone who's ever fallen in love with an addictive, old-school RPG or a unique aesthetics, CrisTales should be high on your list of games to check out. As far as when we can expect it? The team at Dreams Uncorporated are hoping for a release in 2020, though nothing is confirmed just yet. This is one game I'd love to be able to use time magic on to speed the development process up with, though.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, CrisTales E3 2019 preview: Time for a change
Man, that looks pretty. I wonder if there is a Switch version planned. I would love to play something like that on the couch.