What’s not to love about Little Witch Academia? From the quirky witches to the trouble they get into, the anime films and TV series are adorable and fun, and I was super excited to be a part of the girl’s mischief when I heard about the game. Yet the beat ‘em up adventure title, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting.
It’s the first day of summer holidays at the school for witches, Luna Nova Magical Academy. Protagonist Akko is already in trouble. Accidentally discovering a hidden passageway, and touching the glowing clock inside ends as well as you might expect. A Groundhog Day situation ensues, where the same 24 hours repeat themselves. Luckily, those that enter the secret Horologium Chamber are aware of the loop, giving Akko and her friends a chance to get time back on track.
The premise fits with stories from the animated series. Occasional fully animated cut-scenes are especially entertaining, like watching Akko get dragged around by a skeleton, or become the unwilling guinea pig for Susy’s voodoo experiment. It’s great stuff, until the gameplay gets in its way. In fact, putting all the scenes together probably reaches around the length of a normal episode, which equates to roughly 25 minutes of story being thinly spread across the entire game. In other words, Chamber of Time is stuffed full of padding in an attempt to draw things out.
Despite being split into adventure mode, and beat ‘em up segments, gameplay constantly seems to drag.
Adventure mode involves exploring the school for the main story and side quests. Time is an important factor, thanks to a Majora’s Mask-esque time system. Most missions are only available between specific time slots, and need to be completed within the same 24 hours they’re started in. Frankly, the system is a little annoying at times. Sometimes I’d have to flick through all hours of the day in an attempt to find the next main event. Other times I’d only just miss the period allocated for finishing a mission by mere minutes, and have to start the whole thing over the next day.
Quests are about helping students and teachers by exploring the school, performing magic and gathering items from dungeons. Sounds innocent enough, until you discover that Chamber of Time is just full of fetch quests. Go get me 44 lucky clovers (that might drop once per dungeon run), please ask this teacher if I’ve done my homework right, help do the school’s laundry. Little Witch Academia is supposed to be fun and silly, not literally a chore.
Okay, so there are a couple of amusing quests scattered around. I really liked anything that required magic. New spells were slowly added as I progressed, and it was satisfying to choose the right one for the job. For example, levitating across a corridor so a teacher won’t hear my footsteps, or using culinary magic to make food taste disgusting (because that’s what you get for not sharing with me). It’s just a shame that there weren’t more of these, rather than a weird focus on traipsing around the school.
I could deal with the amount of fetch quests if it wasn’t for the size of the school map. I mean, it’s impressive how similar it is to the show, with locations and quests are clearly marked. It just takes so long to get anywhere. Going from the School Grounds to Akko’s Bedroom had me walking to the Cafeteria Vestibule, going around to the North Hallway in order to get to the main Hallway, then up 2 flights of stairs to travel around to the West Dormitory, going up another staircase, before walking to the end of the corridor. No joke, most quests ask for this sort of journey. (To be fair, there is a teleport system, but it’s hidden behind a random side quest that I didn’t find until near the end of my playthrough, and I’m still bitter about it.)
At least the beat ‘em up sections in Chamber of Time are a change of pace. For the most part, you have a string of rooms on your path to the final boss, and have to kill all enemies along the way. It’s kind of like playing a dungeon crawler in 2.5D. Varying layouts and “puzzles” keep things semi-interesting, such as a mine cart where you need to hit the right switches to reach the boss. I say ‘semi-interesting’ because there’s never any challenge, while enemy and background designs are repeated (a lot). These locations are supposed to be from different areas of time and history; apparently, the same slimes, goblins, and lizards have always existed everywhere.
Combat consists of the standard light, medium, and heavy attack options, as well as 6 customizable spells. Standard attacks are different for each character, to the extent where it does have a noticeable impact on gameplay. There are seven girls to choose from, including the close-up punching Amanda, “stay back with guns” Constanze, and “have-it-both-ways” Lotte, so you can pick your preference. Having said that, enemy’s awkward hitboxes make it hard to actually hurt anything from these attacks. I ended up relying mostly on magic because huge area of attack spells made it hard to miss anything.
Chamber of Time has a whole star system of magic to choose from. No seriously, there’s a star-sign menu where each point in a constellation is a new upgrade. Naturally, each one comes with its own flamboyant animation. It’s impressive, but not overly practical. With a party of three shooting off spells at once, the whole screen gets covered in shapes and color. Good luck seeing enemies well enough to hit them, let alone chain attacks as you wait for the smoke to subside and animations to finish.
It’s great that you can assign each girl their own set of spells, allowing more variation in attacks and buffs. Yet, fair warning, the AI is kind of dumb. They use up mana performing strong attacks on weak enemies, die from forgetting to heal, and happily stride into traps. I’m sure they hit enemies more often than I did though, so I was grateful for the assistance, at least.
Given the long adventure game segments it’s no surprise that I had to play the main campaign by myself. Exploring an out of the way tower actually revealed itself to be a multiplayer area for local and online. Combat is more fun with a friend, if only because they won’t wonder into every trap (fingers crossed). Despite boasting 999 levels though, me and my partner got bored after five, and stopped after around 15. Everything looked and played the exact same.
You know what the most frustrating thing is? How close Chamber of Time is to being good. For one thing, the game is gorgeous. Everything about the school and its characters match the show in design and style. Look at Sucy gliding along, and how Diana’s goody-two-shoes attitude shines through when she flicks her hair. Then there’s the fabulous orchestral soundtrack, which fits perfectly into the game’s lighthearted and charming tone. Not to mention the amusing character dialogue, and how well it’s been voice-acted (even if only available in Japanese).
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time tries so hard. There’s no lack of things to do or customize, and everything about it is pretty to look at. Yet, it’s a classic case of style being put over substance. Over-the-top animations are one of the biggest culprits for slowing things down. Meanwhile, gameplay is rarely fun thanks to dull quests, and repetitive dungeons. Fans of the show may find enough to keep them amused, but there’s sadly little here for the average player.
This review is based off a PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with by Bandai Namco.
While Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time’s repetitive and sometimes dull gameplay is a let-down, you’ve got to appreciate the amount of heart and detail that’s been put into it.