Little Witch Academia: Chambers of Time – Review
I grew up in the generation where video games based on TV cartoons were laughable. Often terrible platformers developed by THQ, they would sit collecting dust at our local Blockbuster Video while the duplicate copies of Mario Kart or A Link To The Past were nowhere to be found or gated behind long reserve lists. Ten years ago, I reviewed the Jonas game for Nintendo DS, and I promptly sold the Nintendo DSi that had touched that filthy game card.
Little Witch Academia: Chambers of Time has learned a lot from the mistakes of the past.
For one, it feels like it has a contextually relevant story. Klunky magician wannabe Atsuko “Akko” Kagari is on summer break, and her holidays are spent muddling her way through the Academy until she is pointed in the direction of the library. There, she is faced with days upon days of reshelving books with little or no contact with others (until her friends take pity on her and offer to help). While shelving, they stumble upon a magical MacGuffin that places them in a perpetual time-loop. This is the set-up for the two modes of gameplay – one an adventure-style exploration of Luna Nova Magical Academy, and the other a 2D side-scrolling brawler.
Secondly, it embraces its source material without resorting to cheap gimmicks. Gone are the Ren and Stimpy fetch-quests loosely based on episodes of the show, as Chamber of Time treats us to montages from the anime and in-depth character engagement with the story. Character abilities are considered and appropriate, and useful links between the two gameplay modes are made through material collection and potions. It was also a clever nod to have anime scenes in the game courtesy of Studio Trigger and to even treat a majority of the story set-up as a preamble before the title credits are displayed in full for the audience.
Everything looks and sounds amazing, which is what leaves the gameplay lagging behind.
The exploration part has a “time-element”. It makes sense and I endorse its necessity, but it jars against the enormity of traversing Luna Nova. Looking at the map, I struggled to figure out where I was on each level until I discovered that the map rotates as I am moving around the Academy. It made exploring a real pain at the beginning, and then a bit tiresome when I was forced to find characters within a time constraint. Given that we are navigating through a ‘Groundhog-Day’ scenario, there is a very low risk of missing any necessary details, but still, a bit more of a drag than it needs to be. I also had to deal with the shock when my initial progress in the game was not automatically saved and I had not apparently made it through far enough to discover the orb save points (or if I did, I completely missed them). These orbs are also to help you fast travel around the school (think Final Fantasy XII’s orange teleportation points) but are not exactly liberally peppered through the school for easy access.
In contrast, the brawler should compensate with some fast action and XP, but also feels a bit sluggish. The brawler allows you to play as Akko or any number of witches from Luna Nova, assembling a party of three to go into the dungeon. You can customise your characters to the gills by upgrading attributes, abilities, and equipment, and all of this gives a real sense of progression as you make your way through dungeons with your pals. It’s great to provide the player with a variety of play styles through a variable cast, but it comes with some unfortunate drawbacks – a lack of party XP accrual, the potential that your favourite character may not be suitable to a particular dungeon’s gimmick, and imprecise controls. The controls feel like the biggest stab in the gut; for a game that gets the aesthetic and the story so perfect it is a shame that we could be taken away from that by the need to focus on aligning Lotte just right or else whoops we just wasted that spell.
For younger fans of the anime, there is also a concern that some of the prompts in both sections are a bit vague. Some exploration quests are quite time-specific, but a “night” prompt could rightly cover a large period of time to be examining the Academy just to find that one character. Similarly, there are a couple of boss battles that are just not intuitive enough to know the boss’ weakness – fifteen minutes is too long to discover that a boss that could smash one type of block couldn’t smash the same type if it was stacked with other blocks. While this is definitely forgivable for those of us with oodles of time, let us spare a thought for the poor kid who has her game time wasted with unfortunate ambiguity.
By the standards that I was forced to endure in my youth, Chamber of Time is several leagues ahead of the rest and has some delightfully enjoyable moments and some well-thought-out RPG elements to personalise your experience. By the standards of either the exploration or brawler genres today, it just passes through to warrant a look and a dabble before you get back to more immersive titles in your gaming library. Fans of the anime will adore the fanservice, and some younger gamers may get their first taste of some gameplay that they will savour later in life, but others might sigh more in frustration than fanservice.