Hearing about a new game based off a popular anime when you’re a fan of the franchise can be pretty complicated. Sure, being able to consume the franchise in another format is a tantalizing prospect, but how faithful will it be to the source material? There are a multitude of ways that developers can go wrong and falling short in even just one category can turn a once-exciting experience into a forgettable one.
As such, I usually place these kinds of games into two main categories:
- One that merely seeks to profit off a franchise, offering little more than passing similarities with the source material.
- One that expands the franchise, seeking to draw players into the source material’s world.
This was my prime concern when I first heard about Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, a game based off the popular “Little Witch Academia” franchise created by famed animator and director Yoh Yoshinari. Based in a fictional setting, the series is loaded with mystery, excitement, unique characters and, of course, magic. If this game didn’t have these four aspects in spades, then it would be an absolute bust.
So how did it do? Splendidly.
If I were to place Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time into one of the two categories listed above, then it would most definitely go into the latter. This isn’t just a game that seeks to profit off the franchise, it is the franchise. The characters, aesthetic, theme and references…everything is on point.
This is particularly noteworthy coming from me since I just started watching the anime series in preparation for this review. I saw both films awhile ago, but I’m mostly unfamiliar with the day-to-day happenings within the series (outside of significant plot points). However, I didn’t feel lost when playing Chamber of Time. On the contrary, I felt right at home and couldn’t help but feel like I was watching an episode from the anime series or even another movie — something which immediately becomes apparent once the game begins.
Protagonist Atsuko “Akko” Kagari is about to start her first summer vacation at Luna Nova Magical Academy — the school where she’s learning magic in order to be more like her idol, Shiny Chariot. However, while everyone is ready for a summer of fun, Akko is condemned to sorting out books in the library as punishment for her previous antics. During the course of this task, Akko, along with friends Lotte Jansson and Sucy Manbavaran, come across a hidden room and mysterious chamber which sends them to an unknown location when they tinker with it. They get out in one piece, but after a series of events they soon come to learn that the first day of summer vacation is repeating itself; so now, they, along with a cast of other characters from the series, must fix the passage of time or be forced to repeat the same day for eternity.
Of course, this is easier said than done and Akko will need to find seven special keys hidden throughout Luna Nova in order to break the time loop. However, she’ll be doing more than just looking for keys during her endless summer vacation: she’ll be hanging out with friends, solving mysteries, taking on requests and, per usual, get chided by certain teachers. When I said this game often feels like a genuine part of the franchise, I wasn’t kidding: as I played through Chamber of Time and did various side activities, I envisioned a good number of them being a part of an episode that never aired.
As you can tell, this means that Akko will be wandering around Luna Nova a lot; and if you’re already acquainted with the series, then it will be exactly as you imagined it: large, ornate, mysterious and somewhat complex. From Akko’s dorm room to the Luna Nova Tower, everywhere within the academy is available to explore during the course of the game. Unfortunately, exploration comes with a slight learning curve.
It’s not unusual for games to require players to become acquainted with an area’s layout. What is unusual, however, is just how lackluster the features used to aid in that task — the map and minimap — are here. The map itself doesn’t indicate where you are in a given room and the minimap rotates (to my knowledge, this can’t be switched off), meaning that you’ll often be forced to cross-reference both maps in order to get to where you want to go (especially on the third floor of the main building).
Interestingly, this weakness comes into full view when an otherwise stellar feature comes into play: magic.
Akko is bad at magic. So bad, in fact, that she’ll need to use potions (purchased from one of the stores on the third floor) in order to be able to cast anything at all. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and it actually helps Chamber of Time remain faithful to the source material. The issue, however, is that while its mostly used for quests, magic is also occasionally used in exploration, meaning there will be times when you can’t do what you want because you don’t have the right potion on hand. For example, you need magic to activate (not use) save points (which also aren’t marked on the main map) and fast travel (hint: look for Lotte after beating the third story boss).
Fortunately, these problems are only really present in the early stages of the game. Beyond that, wandering around Luna Nova is pure delight thanks to the time mechanic which allows progression and quests to often feel like puzzles, rather than the stock varieties found in most other RPGs.
There are four things to keep in mind in regard to the time mechanic:
- The day resets at midnight (check the clock at the top left corner of the screen)
- Quests can only be undertaken, progressed and/or completed within a certain time frame
- Most NPCs are only available within a certain time frame
- Most quests’ progression resets when the day resets
In its simplest form, such as during actual story segments, this means you’ll only have to worry about reaching a certain location, talking to a certain NPC at the right time or using the appropriate spell (sleep, levitation, etc.). If you fail, you don’t have to worry about losing progress or anything, just simply wait until the next day and try again (you can use Akko’s bed in her room to skip one, three or six hours if you have nothing else to do).
In its most complex form, however, all four features of the time mechanic are utilized and that’s truly when you’ll recognize the possibilities it allows, such as Akko being able to take the knowledge learned during one day and apply it at an earlier time during the “next.” For instance, one quest involves two NPCs arguing due to one of them being late for an appointment. Akko can’t do anything about the fight when the quest starts, but she can learn what caused the incident later that night by talking to them. The following day, Akko can find the NPC who wound up being late and help her out, allowing her to meet up with her friend and prevent the fight from ever occurring.
You can earn all sorts of rewards for completing these tasks, such as miscellaneous items (the quests for these are often repeatable as indicated by the slightly greyed out notice on the screen, map and quest menu) and even more spells to use during exploration and combat. And, of course, there’s the best reward of all: the keys needed for the Horologium Chamber.
From an active volcano where molten debris falls onto the field ever so often, to a prison teeming with demons, there are a good number of locations that Akko can visit using the keys she’s found throughout Luna Nova. Aesthetically, they’re quite nice, offering visuals that are well beyond what one would expect from an anime-inspired game without a physical version or english voices. It’s a good thing too, because even with keys that modify the length of the dungeon or types of enemies you encounter, you only ever go to the same seven places. Unfortunately, even with the ability to tailor each dungeon to your liking, your experience in each will be mixed, because while the story and narrative in Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is superb, the actual combat occasionally falters.
When looking at the combat, it’s difficult not to compare it to Dragon’s Crown Pro. Not only do both games occupy the same genre, but both rise above similar titles from the late 80’s to early 90’s by throwing in RPG elements into the mix and they even come out on the same date: May 14, 2018. However, whereas practically everything related to combat in that game is top notch, they all seem lackluster here by comparison.
To start, let’s look at the characters. Both offer a diverse array of characters that differ greatly in appearance, but while the ones in Dragon Crown’s Pro remain unique in regards to playstyle throughout the entire game, the ones in Chamber of Time start to lose that uniqueness within a few hours. For example, Akko’s poor magic skills translate to a comically small mana pool at the start, but there is nothing stopping you from increasing her Intelligence stat using points you earn by leveling up in dungeons, bringing said pool closer to Diana’s with enough investment. Of course, each character does have unique properties, like Amanda has a naturally high movement speed, Constanze can consistently attack from long range using her firearms and Jasminka’s attacks have high stagger and knockback potential, but the problem is that in a game where spells are the primary way to deal damage, the effectiveness of your normal attacks aren’t often important. The only way to make each character feel genuinely different from one another (outside of unique spells), is to make them different yourself.
Similarly, the difficulty of boss fights vary far too greatly. To be clear, this is also the case in Dragon’s Crown Pro, but the reason that’s the case there is because certain bosses are designed to be tougher for specific characters. That it isn’t the case here. There are some instances where some characters can actually do quite well against certain bosses, but the bottom line is that they’re generally just poorly designed. Some deal far more damage than others for no reason, while others feel like damage sponges. Story bosses are the greatest offenders here because not only do their health and damage vary widely, the coherency of their mechanics do too. For example, one boss is generally made vulnerable whenever he dashes and collides with ice blocks you create throughout the encounter. The issue, however, is that not only can it destroy those blocks with every attack it makes but there is no way to gauge when it’ll do the one attack you actually want it to. It’s no exaggeration when I say I spent 20 minutes on this boss, not because it was difficult, but because I was rarely able to make him vulnerable. Conversely, another story boss I fought just several hours later went down in three minutes because the worst it could do was step on my party.
Lastly, regular encounters are just too easy. Outside of a few instances, this is also the case in Dragon’s Crown Pro, but unlike Chamber of Time there aren’t three characters capable of nuking everything on the screen at any given time. Fights don’t necessarily get boring, they’re just simple. You just cast a bunch of spells, fight until they’re off cooldown, then cast them again. You can dodge, guard, air dash and even do some interesting technical maneuvers with certain characters, but unless you’re doing the 999-floor dungeon or hard mode, there’s no need for any of them.
Also, while on the subject of alternate game modes, you can play with other people in both local and online co-op. It’s an entirely separate mode from the story, however, so you can’t have someone come in and rush you through the story (not sure why you would though).
And before you go off thinking that Dragon’s Crown Pro beats out Chamber of Time in every combat-related department, think again: this game has customization options for days. Your characters might be technically capable of the same feats, but with over 60 spells to choose from and only six slots to put them in, you can easily ensure that each character brings something different to the table. Furthermore, with all the different mods that appear on the equipment Akko finds in dungeons and the ability to add even more via enchanting, you can make each character excel in the areas you want them to. Want to make Lotte excel with water spells? That’s what I did. Support spells? Sure. Earth spells? Fine, but that’s Sucy’s thing.
Before closing out, I really do have to give a shoutout to Trigger for animating the scenes in this game. A+ Games could have reused animation from the main series, somehow had another company do them for cheap or omitted them entirely, but having the same artists and animators from the series contribute here is what truly cements this game as a genuine “Little Witch Academia” experience and not just a cheap cash grab.
With how popular anime has become in recent years, it’s all too common for developers to push out some cheap game relying on the source material’s popularity for quick money. This was the fear I had with Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time and I was wrong. There are some flaws, but the most important aspect — the franchise’s ethos — is fully intact and on full display, permeating every inch of this game.
That said, this is still a game utilizing the “Little Witch Academia” IP, so while fans will be left spellbound, those unreceptive to the format will likely pass this up. To them, all I can say is that this is still a good beat ‘em up. If you’ve been looking forward to a new age beat ‘em up and refuse to pick up Dragon’s Crown Pro, then why not try out this pretty little number? You might just become a fan yourself.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time
- Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
- Published By: Bandai Namco
- Developed By: A+ Games
- Genre: Beat 'em up
- US Release Date: May 15th, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "I was worried Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time would be a cheap cash grab, but I was wrong. There are some flaws, but the most important aspect — the franchise’s ethos — is fully intact and on full display, making this a game that’s sure to leave fans spellbound"