When I think about A Witch’s Tale, I feel like a parent who wants to scream at their child, “But you had so much potential!” Nothing is more disappointing than knowing a game had all the makings to be something fun and failed because of one large aspect of the gameplay. So, let me preface this review by saying A Witch’s Tale is not a total abomination, but the areas that are flawed are very flawed. It’s something that can’t be ignored or forgiven, especially knowing that if those areas had been fixed, I know the score on this review would be much higher.
“Bring it on Queenie!”
There’s a lot that A Witch’s Tale does wrong; however, the story and characters are far from being what I’d call the game’s downfall. The story may come off a bit generic at times, but the characters are more than enough to keep you engaged. In A Witch’s Tale, the main character you control is Liddell. Liddell is a sassy, bratty, ignorant, self-centered student at a magic academy. She thinks she has the makings to be one of the greatest witches in the world. Yes, she’s confident, but that’s part of her charm. If you’ve played Disgaea, she may remind you as a female version of Laharl.
While the bratty female protagonist is starting to become a trend in RPGs, it works quite well in A Witch’s Tale. Sure, Liddell has her extremely selfish moments, but there’s also something about her that’s actually quite charming. Maybe it’s the game’s humorous approach on her sassy attitude, but it also works because not once during the game was I annoyed with Liddell. She’s a likable character despite her obvious flaws. Naturally, on the list of Liddell’s flaws is her tendency to be quite adventurous, which often leads to trouble. In the game’s plot, her troublemaking tendencies are what move the narrative forward.
The story begins with Liddell trying to prove herself as a witch by entering a castle to obtain a highly forbidden spell, since according to Liddell forbidden magic is what’s hot. In her quest to be cool, however, she makes one grave error. Not knowing any better, Liddell instead releases the seal on a dangerous tome. The consequences are large, as Liddell has now awakened the soul of the Eld Witch. The Eld Witch made her claim to fame by bringing great catastrophes upon the world years ago. Her soul promises to get revenge on Queen Alice, who sealed her away in the first place. The Eld Witch doesn’t stop there, she also casts a curse upon the world, causing monsters to spawn and target the princesses of each kingdom. Loue, a vampire that Liddell awakens later in her panic over her mistake, urges her to take responsibility for her errors. After much convincing, Liddell finally decides to take on the difficult task of rescuing the princesses and putting an end to the Eld Witch before she gets to Queen Alice.
The plot is nothing to write home about, but it is adequate enough to carry the game. What makes the game more engaging is the character interactions, practically Loue and Liddell’s back and forth banter. In the beginning of the game, a similar humorous and friendly banter takes place between Liddell and her friend Kitty. I really thought Kitty was going to end up being more of the token sidekick in this adventure; naturally, I was a little disappointed when Loue took that role instead. Kitty also disappears for a large portion of the game. She was definitely a character Hitmaker could have capitalized on. And, in the case of A Witch’s Tale, Hitmaker needed to expand on any positive aspect that it could, considering the gameplay is quite a disaster.
One Scary Battle System
I’ll confess; I knew going into A Witch’s Tale that it hadn’t been praised highly. I was actually hoping that I’d play it and instead be sitting here defending it as a diamond in the rough, a title that was actually worth playing. I even thought when I started it – based on the charming and humorous characters – that I was really going to enjoy the game. Well, all was going fine and dandy until I landed in my first random battle. It was one of those face palm moments – a moment so strong I wanted to call up the developers and ask why they thought this type of battle system was a worthy choice for the game.
I know I may come off bitter here, but nothing is more disappointing than having a battle system entirely ruin a game for you. A Witch’s Tale uses a traditional turned based system. I have no problem with that – I actually quite like turned based battle systems, if they are done right. The problem with its use in A Witch’s Tale is that it takes all the negative aspects of using a turn based system and crams them into one very flawed battle system. A common criticism about more traditional battle systems is their slow nature. In A Witch’s tale, instead of doing anything to combat that, the game actually makes the battles go even slower by giving random enemies an absurd amount of HP. Needless to say, the battles are long winded. So long winded that after fighting only two or three, I was actually inclined to use the escape option. There are some escapes from this monotony, however, called Burst Battles. Every five battles or so, the player characters deal critical hits more often and gain double experience. It doesn’t do much to ease the grind, but it is a small fix that Hitmaker attempted. None of this changes the key thing for me: I dreaded entering every single random battle in the game, bar none.
I’ve never been fond of fleeing random battles, but a big part of A Witch’s Tale is exploration, and random battles greatly detract from that process. It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, though, because players don’t buy new items with currency, but combine them together with objects found in the world. Additionally, in each world, you’ll need to locate at least three specific items to create a key, granting you access to take on a big bad boss and attempt to rescue that world’s princess. Unfortunately, the exploration can be very tedious as it requires you to travel back and forth between areas, which at times feel labyrinthine. Sorry to say, the game additionally gives you a minimal number of hints to figure out how to obtain your special items. There are also some puzzles you need to solve to make headway. Thankfully, none of the puzzles are too difficult to figure out, but that is about as much solace as you will feel while obtaining your key.
To add insult to injury, you also have to search every little nook and cranny of the environment to continue. This is especially frustrating since there are many areas that don’t jump out at you on the map. Even more exasperating is a map that doesn’t specifically label areas or dungeons. There are so many different areas and tasks that it’s hard enough to keep one area straight from the next. I can’t even begin to count how many times an NPC specifically told me to check out a certain area, and I ended up backtracking over every possible location because I couldn’t remember specifically where that area was located. My biggest gripe is that in addition to having to so thoroughly search an area, random battles that take up more time than they are worth constantly interrupt the process. I wish A Witch’s Tale would have nixed random battles and given players a choice in the matter. It would have worked much better to be able to see the enemies on the map and decide if one moment or another was the right time to enter a battle.
Slowness isn’t the only crime committed by the battle system, it’s also extremely lackluster. The battles are fairly easy, despite the massive HP of enemies and the length they take to complete. There isn’t much of a challenge and basically using the same strategy over and over again will continually net you a victory. There’s explosion magic that you can exploit and it will absurdly damage enemies every time. In fact, I was given so many options for what spells I wanted to use from ice to fire to poison to water and so forth, but basically only needed to rely on explosion magic to see success. Also, you can find dolls around the different worlds and they will join your party and act as part of your battle team. Besides certain dolls having a different spell here and there, there isn’t much to separate one from the other. In fact, I also relied on the same dolls repeatedly, and still saw continued success in battle. A lot of aspects of the battle system seem half-hearted; if Hitmaker had given the player some options or even the ability to customize the characters in some way, it may have added a little oomph to the gameplay. As it stands, combat is extremely monotonous and feels more like a chore than anything else.
A Witch’s Tale attempts to take advantage of a stylus-based control scheme. However, I didn’t really find the stylus to be entirely necessary in the game. I would have preferred an option as to whether or not I wanted to use it during my journey. Also, the controls for moving from area to area are quite awkward. Instead of providing players the ability to walk to the next zone by keeping the stylus pressed down in the direction of the exit, A Witch’s Tale requires players to tap at the very edge of the screen and it becomes incredibly annoying after multiple attempts. I also wasn’t a fan of using the stylus to drag turn actions to an enemy, which would ignite an attack. It was just another thing that slowed down the battle system.
Graphics and Sound that Won’t Wow
The graphics won’t stand the test of time, but they are appropriate for a DS game. A Witch’s Tale utilizes a 2D world along with good-looking character sprites. As far as the art style goes, I’ve seen it compared to A Nightmare Before Christmas, but in my opinion, it will remind you more of Disgaea’s art style. Either way, there’s nothing really unique about the graphics. The environments, while varied, are rather dull – there’s a ton of empty open space to walk through without anything engaging to the eye. It’s a shame that the game did not beef up the detail in these areas, considering the different variety of worlds you encounter.
Along with just average graphics, the game’s soundtrack also suffers from mediocrity. The music is not awful, but not that memorable either. The one redeeming quality about the soundtrack is that it does its job by fitting the many different worlds you encounter. However, that eerie battle theme you hear in every random encounter is bound to get on your nerves after awhile. There’s also no voice acting, and the only break your ear will get from the music is the occasional sound effect here and there. The sound effects work, but they really don’t add any extra zest to the game.
All-in-all, A Witch’s Tale is not only just average aesthetically, but absolutely destroyed by one of the worst battle systems I’ve encountered in a long time. It’s a shame considering that I know I would have had some fun with this game had the battle system not hindered it so much. If you’re a patient player, you might be able to muster the mindset to play through it; however, there are far better games on the DS worth the effort. The potential was there for A Witch’s Tale to be a fun little humorous romp, but flawed areas are impossible to ignore.