Thursday, May 17, 2018

Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time Review (PS4)

Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time looks and sounds absolutely splendid and captures the feel of the anime perfectly. Too bad that the gameplay is so dull you won’t want to actually play it. It is one of those games you’ll want to like because the presentation is so fantastic, the characters so great, and the writing is so fun, but it’s just so boring and repetitive to play that it saps all of your motivation to keep going. Continue reading our full Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time PS4 review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Developer: A+ Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T For Teen
  • Genre: RPG
  • Pros: Outstanding presentation; great characters; good writing; fun slice of life school life
  • Cons: Exploring is a pain; combat is boring; repetitive
  • MSRP: $50

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“Little Witch Academia” is an anime and manga franchise about the trials and tribulations of a young aspiring witch named Akko and her friends as they study magic at the Luna Nova Magical Academy. It has seen two movies and a 25-episode anime series animated by the beloved and renowned Studio Trigger. This game, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, takes place after most of the key events in the series at the start of Summer vacation.

While organizing the school library as punishment, Akko accidentally opens a secret path that leads to a labyrinth under the school. A side effect of opening the labyrinth is that time rewinds each day once the clock hits midnight, so Akko and her friends are forced to re-live the first day of Summer vacation over and over and over again “Groundhog Day”-style until they find enough magical macguffins to break the spell and allow time to flow normally again.

I have to admit that I haven’t actually watched “Little Witch Academia” even though I love Studio Trigger’s other works. The game does an extremely good job of easing you into the story and introducing the characters, though, so I felt like I had a solid grasp on what was going on pretty early on. I love the world they created. I love the characters. The writing is really clever and just plain fun in almost every scenario. I got drawn into the game even without knowing anything beforehand, which is a testament to how well crafted the world and characters are and what a good job developer A+ Games did adapting it.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is pretty disappointing here. Part beat-em-up RPG similar to Dragon’s Crown, part visual novel, and part adventure game as you explore Luna Nova, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is a bit of a mess with too many systems all stacked on top of each other and none of them being particularly refined.

Half of the game is exploring Luna Nova to seek out items and potion ingredients as well as interact with other students and do side quests. Luna Nova is a labyrinth in itself and the map the game gives you is kind of worthless since it doesn’t actually show your position on it, only the room / hallway you’re in. You have to basically take a best guess about where you actually are and navigate that way, which is a pain. Memorizing the layout of the school is made difficult by the fact that it’s freaking huge with multiple floors. It takes several minutes just to get anywhere in this annoying maze and running around isn’t particularly fun. Even worse, pretty much every side mission is a fetch quest that sends you to the opposite side of the school. It is mindless and boring and repetitive. Basically, half of the game is already a huge pain the butt.

What about the action RPG half of the game? Not much better. When you get a key to enter the labyrinth (the actual dungeon labyrinth under the school, I mean), you choose two other characters to accompany Akko into the depths where you fight monsters side-scrolling beat-em-up style. The gameplay here is mindless and boring, however, particularly when compared to the recently released Dragon’s Crown Pro, and your CPU-controlled partners have totally braindead A.I. that makes every encounter far more annoying than it should be since you can't count on them to contribute or do what you need them to do.

For another recent anime to game adaptation that actually gets most things right, give Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet a look. It’s a ton of fun.

Compounding the gameplay issues are a number of surprisingly oldschool design decisions that don’t hold up particularly well these days. Quick travel, to make exploring the school less annoying, requires you to spend a form of in-game currency. Save points also require a special item to unlock (but then you can freely use them afterwards). One note about the save system – you don’t get your first save point until about an hour into the game, so don’t make the same mistake I did and assume it autosaves somewhere – It doesn’t. Another annoyance is that only characters that go into the labyrinth earn XP so you constantly have to swap characters for every run so you don’t end up with under-leveled party members later when you need them. The combat itself also suffers from very, very precise hit boxes on enemies so you have to get in just the right position for attacks to register.

All of this adds up to an experience that is just a pain in the butt to actually play. Exploring the school is annoying due to a bad map and mazelike design, but you HAVE to explore the school to do side quests and find items and other stuff to upgrade your weapons and abilities. Combat is frustrating and annoying due to bad A.I., clunky gameplay, and repetitive encounters. Complaining about repetition seems kind of redundant in a story where you live the same day over and over again (like, “Duh, of course it is repetitive”), but it really pushes too far here. It just ain’t fun.

It’s a shame that the gameplay falls so flat because the presentation is fantastic in Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time. The character models are absolutely fantastic and the distinct art style is wonderful. The animation, even if there isn’t a ton of it most of the time, is also extremely charming. There are also a handful of new anime scenes created just for this game that look fantastic as well. Voice acting (only in Japanese) is spot on perfect and the orchestral soundtrack is incredibly good.

Gameplay ultimately determines the success or failure of a game, though, so even though it may be one of best adaptations of an anime ever as far as presentation goes, the gameplay in Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time just doesn’t cut it. It’s boring and repetitive and full of odd decisions that make it a pain to play to the point that even die hard fans of the franchise will struggle to slog through it. Skip it.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.