Platforms: PS4, PC
Genre: Action, Beat-Em-Up, Licensed Tie-In
In case you couldn’t tell by my previous Netflix and anime writeups, I really, REALLY adore Little Witch Academia. From its humble Kickstarter beginnings to its culmination into a 26-episode anime that gives closure to many of its viewers and its Studio Trigger aficionados, the series is a lovely fantastical experience.
So when I heard that there was going to be a beat-em-up based on the franchise, I was elated. And when I played the game after 10 or so hours, I had to face the reality that games like these still have to follow the unprecedented rule that most license gaming tie-ins range between mediocre to flat-out shallow.
Take a guess at which category Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time falls under.
The Witchiest Tale
What’s the story about? It’s going to be summer vacation at Luna Nova Academy. Our trio of witches, the inept-but-enthusiastic Akko, the bookish Lotte, and the mushroom-loving lanky weirdo Suci are hyped for it. Thanks to Akko’s nosiness, however, she accidentally activates a magical time device and has to relive the day before the vacation starts. Essentially it’s Groundhog Day meets anime Harry Potter with an all-girl cast, and it’s up to Akko and her pals to solve the case.
The game itself is part adventure game and part side-scrolling beat-em-up. Both aspects look gorgeous and are animated fluidly in a 2D manner not unlike the anime series it’s based on. The music too is great since most of it is from the show. And the cast & characters are a hoot to watch as they interact and work their way around this unique time-looping situation. Again, this is the show’s strength.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news end. Both gameplay modes of this witchy game are executed horribly.
The adventure & exploration bits are slow and plodding. For one, the map is unnecessarily convoluted. Luna Nova Academy is huge in-game and going from one point of the map to the other is a pain in the ass since you have to manually move your witch from point A to B.
There are way too many instances where you have to get something done first before activating certain checkpoints to complete your objective fast. Example: Akko usually has to talk to a number of people to get a quest done, only for them to direct her to other folks. Basically, you will encounter instances where you have to go to two to three separate characters to go to a far-off place from your original location.
Then it turns out you need to go to ANOTHER person or location because said location is either locked or needs an item to bypass. These quests aren’t thought out thoroughly and aren’t organic in their approaches. You also have to farm for random drops and even farm money to buy expensive items to complete certain main quests.
Bottom line: everything you do takes far longer than necessary. Why not (a) make the navigation menu-based and (b) put in some fast travel options that do not take up precious resources that you need to farm? Yes, even the fast travel system (and save points) will lead to you grinding for resources just to use and unlock respectively.
As it stands, what we get is an exercise in tedium as you go up and down, and left and right being the school’s gopher girl.
The Witchiest Whacking
If the meat of the game, the beat-em-up-and-RPG hybrid, was done well, then perhaps I can overlook the above. Unfortunately, it’s half-assed. You have seven characters to choose from: Akko, Lotte, Sucy, Amanda, Constanze, Jasminka, and Diana Cavendish. You can send three of them into the many sections of the Chamber of Time underneath Luna Nova.
They’re all unique in their own way: Constanze uses machines and a machine gun to fight, while Akko uses brute force because her magic level is pathetic. I’ll bite: the character selection is varied and fun, and there’s a cute RPG and item-equipping system that can customize each witch to the best of their abilities.
The game they’re on? Not so much.
Enemies are generally easy to dispatch because they only have a few attack patterns and don’t go beyond walking a straight line or towards the players. They only get tough if they hit really hard and if they have huge amounts of hit points. The hit collision detection is also unrefined; sometimes I get hit even if I’m far away from enemies by a fair distance without ever knowing why. But that’s fine because I can just plough through the rest of the game with ranged witches like Constanze and (if she’s levelled up proper) Diana.
Did I forget to mention that you can only level up the witches who are with you in the levels of the chamber? The others have to wait outside and not earn XP; 90s style gaming, everybody!
There’s also depth perception issues, which is a frickin’ no-no in these kinds of games You have to line your characters up properly next to your enemies to even attack them. We’re talking super-precise line-your-character-on-the-exact-same-plane-as-the-wafer-thin-enemy; there’s no leeway or nothing. It’s either you hit them at that exact hitbox or you don’t. As a result, you are encouraged to use ranged characters like Constanze and let your AI teammates go headfirst into danger, while lining up your attacks precisely while also not getting hit unfairly hard.
Your teammate AI is pretty aggressive and careless, but sometimes they won’t bother helping you especially in endurance-testing fights against the game’s dragons. They have NO idea what to do, when to heal, or even when to dodge or avoid an obviously-dangerous obstacle. Compare this to a game like Dragon Crown, a superior game made in 2013 and is of the same genre, and you can see the sheer incompetence in this title’s programming and gameplay.
The Worst Witch
The damning thing about Little Witch Academia: The Chamber of Time is that the story and characters are a delight to sit through and watch. It’s a shame that you have to suffer through the entire ordeal that is the rest of the game. Bandai Namco also has the gall to charge unwitting fans SG$69.90 for this witch of a title who deserves to have a bridge built out of her.
You’re better off watching Akko’s antics on Netflix than suffering through this pile of license travesty. Fans of the series deserve much, MUCH better.
-Faithful to the show in art, sound, and story.
-Character variety is a plus.