"While Little Witch Academia's shortcomings outweigh its strengths, it's a charming game that fans of the series are sure to love."
Usually, magical girl anime — or anime involving girls with magic — don't get a ton of attention these days. Or so I thought. I figured the heyday of "girls with magic powers" ended in the late 2000s, but it seems to have regained traction in the last few years, albeit darker and edgier. Little Witch Academia is an exception in this new era of magical girl anime. I've only watched a few episodes myself, but a lot of fans refer to it as a lighter version of Harry Potter, if Harry Potter was living a more natural school life as opposed to constantly fighting against an evil entity. Still, the series is popular enough to spur a game release. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is the first video game based on the series, so how did LWA's video game treatment turn out?
As punishment for destroying school materials, Atsuko (Akko) is told that she must organize the school library over the summer break. After falling asleep in the middle of cleaning the library, a ghost drops off an old book. When she wakes up and puts the book away, Akko and her friends, Sucy and Lotte, discover a hidden doorway that leads to a mysterious room, the Hologium Chamber. The chamber contains a door that leads to other worlds and a clock that Akko activates. After a couple of days, Akko, Sucy, and Lotte discover that time is repeating itself. Once a few of their other friends get involved, they work to try and solve the mystery of this chamber of time.
Chamber of Time seems to take place near the middle of the anime, which would make sense given the scenario of this game. In addition to figuring out why the day keeps resetting, you're also pulled into figuring out the Seven Wonders of Luna Nova: supernatural events that are happening around the school that started happening the day before Akko discovered the Horologium Chamber. Solving these mysteries is what leads the group into finding the magic keys that are necessary for exploring new worlds. The story in this game isn't anything special in the grand scheme of things, but it's fun and the characters get you invested in the story. There's just something I find enjoyable watching this group of characters trying to figure out why time is resetting.
Little Witch Academia has a colourful cast of characters that you can adventure with. In addition to Akko, Sucy, and Lotte, you are joined by Diana, Amanda, Constanze, and Jasminka. The interactions these characters have are fun to watch, and it made me wish I could spend more meaningful time with them outside of battle (besides taking on sidequests). I'm sure fans of the series will enjoy spending time with these characters again, while even newcomers like me can enjoy time spent with LWA's wonderful cast.
Chamber of Time is a dungeon crawler, beat-'em-up RPG. It has your standard beat-'em-up control style with a light, medium, and heavy attack, as well as running and dodging. There are also spells you can cast with various applications. You can bring along three characters: one is the leader, and the other two are "supports." You play as the leader. Each party member has their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and party leaders provide a special bonus to the party. Characters have distinct leader bonuses with varying effects, so try and choose the right leader for the situation you might be headed in.
This game might remind you of classic beat-'em-ups, and that's just the beginning. There are all sorts of small puzzles in Chamber of Time, from the dungeons themselves to the boss fights. The game throws some NES-style puzzles at you, with no explanation as to how you get through each one. One that really stumped me was unlocking one of the boss rooms. The room is blocked by tree roots, and the way through is to use water magic on a tree in the background in a previous area. Not only that, but you have to keep using the water magic until flowers bloom on it and a rainbow appears over the tree. That is one that had me completely stumped. However, inclusion of these puzzles is not always for the best. There's a battle against an ice dragon where you can build ice blocks to theoretically climb up and hit the boss when it comes in to attack you. The boss is in the background all the time, with no way to attack it unless it comes onto your plane. The enemy's patterns also aren't very consistent, which makes for a very frustrating boss fight.
The school serves as the hub world, complete with shops to buy, sell, and enhance equipment, purchase magic potions, and pick up subquests. Unfortunately, while it is great that you get a feel for the realistic scope of the school, some parts of it are way too large and require a lot of running around. Given that the game runs on a clock, traversing the school from one place to another can be stressful, as NPCs tend to cycle around every 2 hours. A quest might only be up for those 2 hours, forcing you to reset the day if you want to try and do the quest again. Speaking of quests, another issue I had is that the game shows you where subquests are located, but it doesn't tell you if the subquest in that area is one that you've already started. There can also be multiple subquests given in one area, so even looking at your quest log doesn't help you figure it out. Since you can't fast-travel around the school without spending spellstones on teleport magic, this leads to hours of time spent running around. This was extremely tedious, and I honestly wanted to stop taking subquests after a certain point. Even completing them doesn't feel very rewarding since time resets, meaning NPCs will repeat the subquests even after you finish them.
Little Witch Academia was animated by Studio Trigger, so it has a very unique art style. Character expressions are comically exaggerated, and there's some wonky but charming animation. Trigger returned to animate the cutscenes in this game, and those cutscenes make for a cool break from the action. The character designs in this game are also faithful to the anime's art style, making for an authentic experience. Watching characters perform their special attacks is fun, and it is satisfying seeing them charge up their attack and unleash it on their foes.
The game uses most of the anime's soundtrack and it's kinda cool to hear some classical themes in a video game. The violin that plays in the school area gives the game that kind of classic Western feel, which does a good job displaying a lot of the series's Western influences. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of music variety, as the same theme plays in almost every school area and dungeon themes are almost indistinguishable from each other. The sound department shines with the voice acting. Chamber of Time only has a Japanese dub, but I don't think anyone will have anything to truly complain about when it comes to the performance of the Japanese VAs. Most of the game is voiced as well, which helps out with the experience. I want to praise the performance of Megumi Han, who played Akko, as her comedic timing was great for a lot of the game's funny moments.
While Little Witch Academia's shortcomings outweigh its strengths, it's a charming game that fans of the series are sure to love. This game is a hard recommendation for anyone not currently a fan of Little Witch Academia, though it might work if you want some classic beat-'em-up action along with old-school puzzle solving. Just be prepared for running around to get to where you want to go.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.