Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time review
Anime and manga have had no shortage of tie-in video game releases over the last 20 or so years, many of dubious quality. In recent years, though, the release of anime tie-in games outside of major shonen franchises like Naruto and One Piece has slowed, and their contents slightly homogenized. Moreso has anime inspired developers like Square Enix, Atlus, and hundreds of visual novel developers, their games often adapting the aesthetics and writing styles of fantasy and cyberpunk anime.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time attempts to adapt the delightful shonen franchise about the misadventures of a budding witch girl and her friends by bridging the gap between game genres which anime indirectly helped build—the visual novel and Japanese-style RPG’s—and hack n’ slash beat-em-up’s like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. Unfortunately, it fails to capture both the magic of the anime and the genre styles its riffing on.
The premise of Chamber of Time is sort of a mix between the Persona games and the Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day. After being tasked with sorting hundreds of thousands of school library books as punishment for a past misdeed, series protagonist Atsuko "Akko" Kagari together with her friends Lotte and Sucy discover a secret door hidden behind one of the book shelves. Past it lies a dungeon and a mysterious broken clock, and so Akko and pals turn to fighting off monsters with their magical spells. When the next day comes, they find that everything is the same as the day before. After involving a number of other series veterans like Diana and Amanda, the young witches must endeavor to find a way to break the curse, lest they be trapped in the time loop forever.
I wasn’t familiar with the source material before starting in on the game, but found myself surprisingly delighted by the hilarious case-of-the-week scenarios Akko and co. find themselves thrust into on a regular basis. I was less pleased with Chamber of Time’s structure, which somehow manages to make the zany variety of the source material rote and dull.
Players control Akko while out and about on school grounds, while in dungeons you’ll play as one of several series regulars. I was surprised to see how much time is spent walking through the school talking to characters to fulfill story events and side-quests. You’ll notice pretty quickly that Chamber of Time really isn’t a looker; the school environments bring to mind the static environments of Myst and any number of small walking games one can find on itch.io, but without any of the rough edges which give those works character and personality. The poor visuals and generic architectural space of Luna Nova Magical Academy make it a complete slog to traverse through, with a confusing map and frequent load times when transitioning from room-to-room. This problem is compounded by how easy it is to accidentally trigger a room load when just walking about.
The academy is barren and empty, save for the many denizens which hang around waiting to chat up Akko. Any character which isn’t a series mainstay is completely generic-looking, eschewing the recognizable character designs of the source material for designs which all look like a high school science experiment gone wrong. The cel-shaded look of the characters which parrots off of other recent game adaptations of anime like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm does help to bring Little Witch Academia regulars to life, but stiff and lifeless animations drag them back down to mediocrity.
Each in-game day in Chamber of Time takes place in real-time, always counting down toward the end of the day when the clock will inevitably be reset. The positions of characters throughout the school will change every two in-game hours, each of which lasts about five minutes or so. This can make trying to find any given character at a certain time hellacious, as the player will often be tasked with finding something with absolutely zero direction as to where that character might be. There’s no log to give players a sense of where a character will be standing during a certain two hours like the Bomber’s Notebook in Majora’s Mask, so you’ll either have to have a really good memory or just write down information as you go.
Sometimes the vague quest instructions given to the player don’t correspond to what the player actually has to do to progress. At one point Akko’s friend Sucy gave me two questlines, one of which was to find a character named Carmen (who doesn’t appear in the source material, giving me very little indication of what she looks nor where I might be able to find her); the other was to, and I quote, “Look for useful information.” I actually found Carmen in the school courtyard during morning hours, but the next set of events in the chain failed to trigger because apparently it didn’t count if you found her then; I later found her in the cafeteria which was what the game actually wanted me to do.
As for the second aforementioned quest, I had to listen in on a certain conversation between three characters, then manually go up to them and ask them about what they were talking about. But this isn’t clearly indicated, so I ended up wasting a ton of time investigating every single room of the school with a fine-tooth comb for this “useful information” before realizing my error. Chamber of Time’s vague instructions combined with its terrible map system and bizarre fast-travel system, which requires you to spend a certain in-game currency to mark one of several orbs found throughout school as a travel point, make doing literally any task on school grounds a dreadful experience.
The game’s RPG mechanics feed into the dungeon-spelunking the player must frequently do to make progress in the game’s story. Your characters and their spells can be leveled up and decked-out with equipment to further compound each of their five individual stats. The game doesn’t much penalize you for your equipment choices, so this process ends up being pretty standard min-maxing fare. You’ll enter a dungeon with three characters of your choosing, the leader of which is who you’ll play as. It’s generally smart to just pick three characters you’ll want to go into dungeons with at the start of the game and stick with them, since aside from a couple missions where you’re forced to choose a specific leader, there’s never really an incentive to stray from your favorites.
The dungeons each consist of a series of generic rooms filled with two or three of a small handful of enemy designs which put the ‘random’ in “lol, random.” It calls to mind the tower of Tartarus from Persona 3. But where the rooms of Persona were randomly-generated up until its most recent entry, Chamber of Time’s are—shockingly—all “hand-made,” which is to say they just made four or five room types for each dungeon aesthetic, stitched them together, and called it a day. Each dungeon tasks you with finding a boss at the end and fighting it off. Along the way, you’ll find a spike trap or rushing boulder here and there, but in general individual rooms lack identity.
The combat systems here don’t do any heavy-lifting to make up for the poor dungeon designs and drab school overworld segments. Battles take place on a 2.5D plane, so you and your enemies can move to the foreground, background, and everything in-between. The huge amounts of visual information on display during these fights can make it difficult to get a solid read on where you’re standing relative to your enemies. You have a light, medium, and heavy attack, each of which are bespoke from each other so you can’t combo between them. You’re given a number of spells which can be assigned on a per-character basis, which are stalled for repeated usage on a timed cooldown. Given the 2.5D plane of battle, your spells, generally projectiles, can be difficult to line up correctly, essentially nullifying their usefulness in combat. All of this combined with the low difficulty—I played on normal—makes each battle a cacophonous button-mashing mess which the player can sleepwalk through. This isn’t the balletic gliding of even the weakest Platinum games; the repeated line barks by characters upon triggering literally any attack erases any and all potential for Chamber of Time’s combat feeling at all graceful or divine. And because the game is so easy, its RPG mechanics of middling depth are rendered null and redundant.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time’s only saving grace is in its moment-to-moment dialogue, which does bring to mind the light-hearted camaraderie and bitter rivalries of the anime. The original Japanese voice cast all reprise their roles here, and each line of dialogue, surprisingly, is fully voice-acted. Yet even the core premise of the source material here is tarnished, with protagonist Akko, infamously terrible at magic compared to her peers, frequently performing spells on school grounds and during dungeons. There are a handful of animated cutscenes from Studio Trigger here, the production studio responsible for the television series remake of the original OVA, but a few “for the fans” flourishes don’t elevate Chamber of Time from its standing as another in a long line of cash-grab video game tie-in disasters. Developer A+ Games here don’t live up to their namesake, failing at every step of the way just like Akko herself, but without her colorful charm and heart.