Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time does a great job of capturing the spirit of the anime it’s based on, but the gameplay is mostly a slog.
Developer: A+ Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Though I’ve only managed to watch a handful of episodes, Little Witch Academia is an incredibly charming anime series with a fun cast of characters. Imagine Harry Potter, but it’s an all-girls school. Instead of being the chosen one the protagonist, Atsuko “Akko” Kagari is a klutz who can’t even ride a broom or perform magic very well at all. But there’s a great message of positivity and friendship throughout. Even her top rival, Diana, is a bit stuck-up but mostly friendly.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time goes to great lengths to capture the characters and feel of the show, and that goes a long way. Unfortunately, what could’ve been one of the most pleasantly surprising licensed games in quite awhile stumbles hard because like it’s about as good in gameplay department as its protagonist is at magic.
Let’s start with the positives though. As I said, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time does a tremendous job looking and feeling like you are in the anime. The characters look fantastic, the school, Luna Nova Magical Academy, is enormous and has lots of fun details like giant minotaurs just randomly walking the halls.
Enemy designs are fun and colorful. Each girl looks and moves differently in battle. It’s just really an incredible job that for the first couple hours, I was really taken in. But once that initial amazement wears off and it’s up to the gameplay to carry you through this roughly 15-20 hour adventure, it’s mostly a downhill slope.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time has a “day repeating itself over and over again” plot. Though unlike say the movie Groundhog Day, it’s not about setting anything right or fixing mistakes; you merely have to figure out what wacky device or being is causing the time loop and stop it or them.
The gameplay in Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is comprised of two parts. One is exploring the school and finding events that are either related to the main plot or sidequests that give you various rewards. The game does run on its own clock, so different events happen at different times in different places. And that’s actually one of several issues with this portion of the game.
Since the day always repeats, it’s impossible to miss something, so you can always try again the next day. But occasionally, the game will either be too vague or just straight up not tell you when a story event is supposed to happen. It might say “wait til night” but it’s doesn’t tell you something won’t happen until at least 10 pm, for example.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even give you that much, and you are forced to just check the map every couple hours of in-game time to see if something has popped up somewhere that you can go to. You can move time forward by napping in your bed, but only in one, three or six-hour sessions, you can’t just sleep or wait until a specific time.
Ideally, you kill time by doing sidequests and leveling up your characters. The sidequests in themselves are fine, but the leveling up your characters by playing the action part of the game has its own issues which I’ll get talk about a little later on.
However, the actual biggest problem with this part of the game is the traversal. Luna Nova Academy is a huge place, and pretty much every story part of the game and many sidequests have you crisscrossing back and forth multiple times to merely talk to people. And sometimes, people are nowhere to be found, and you have to wait for them to be in the right place at the right time merely to talk to them to advance the story or certain sidequests.
In a few cases, this makes sense. What doesn’t make sense that I can’t find Akko’s friends or teachers to talk to advance the plot anywhere in the entire school just because it’s not the right time of day. They all live at the school; I should just be able to go wherever they are at the particular time of day and talk to them.
Walking across the whole school repeatedly gets extremely tiresome as well. There is a fast travel system of orbs that you also can save at around the school, but it’s limited by gems you have to grind in the action portion of the game. It is ridiculous, as often it’s just as fast to run to a spot, as many of the orbs aren’t placed very conveniently. There should probably be one in every area of the school; instead, there’s only a handful.
The problems with the story and exploration parts of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time would be an easier to give a pass if the action portion delivered on its potential. It’s essentially a 2D-side scrolling brawler RPG that’s also a loot game.
Much like the story half of the game, upon first look, it seems amazing and full of potential. You can pick a party of three girls from the main cast, all with differing stats and abilities you can level up and boost with wands and accessories you find. While they can all use the same spells (except for one special attack Akko can use), their stats vary greatly. Diana will probably always have the most MP, Jasminka is just a tank with a ton of HP, etc.
They all animate and feel different to use in battle along with unique leader bonuses for each character, so you can find the witch that fits your style. The enemies and environments all look amazing. But then you quickly realize that it all falls apart when you actually have to play these sections.
As mentioned previously, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time plays like a side-scrolling action game. The closest comparison I can really think of is Guardian Heroes. I love Guardian Heroes. I still play Guardian Heroes. But this is nowhere close to that game. The run-of-the-mill enemies and slow-moving mindless objects just do nothing for me.
Granted, I’ve had fun in other similar games mowing down tons of mindless enemies, but where Chamber of Time majorly misfires here is that unlike most other games like this, there’s no flow to your actions. You can’t do combos, juggle enemies, do team attacks with your other party members, etc.
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You are just spamming attack buttons until the enemy goes down and it feels extremely tedious not to mention marred by plenty of slowdown with its framerate. Little Witch Academia was often not generous enough with the hit detection because you’ll swear you are lined-up correctly to hit an enemy and next thing you know, you’re hitting thin air.
Your A.I. partners are, for the most part, extremely useless. If you are very lucky they may throw a healing spell your way, but they run right into traps, waste magic repeatedly, and often just are off in a corner minding their own business while you are trying to kill giant pink dragons or spider queens without dying.
All these problems compound tremendously in the boss fights of the game. All the bosses have pretty cool designs. None are fun to fight, and one ice dragon, in particular, is the most annoying boss I have fought in any game in a long time. They are never difficult; just tedious and annoying and often take far longer than they should.
If you are a super fan who can’t get enough of this show, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time might do enough right that you are willing to give it a go and even enjoy it. The basic pieces are right there, and it is fun to spend time with these great characters in a game that does a great job getting the look and feel of the show right.
But I think for anyone else, this game is a hard pass because it crashes so hard on that potential. It gets exponentially more tedious as you progress, even requiring you to go through the story dungeons all over again for the final part of the game. Little Witch Academia could have been an amazing surprise, but it just joins the large pile of disappointing games based on popular anime series.
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