The touch-controls for the battle menu are very well done.
I'm a big fan of Tim Burton. Everything he does is pure, artistic gold. But more than any other film he's worked on, I am a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The creepy yet playful gothic style of that movie is absolutely terrific, so when I picked up A Witch's Tale this afternoon at NIS America, I was delighted with what I got.
The game feels very much like a Tim Burton movie. There is a very obvious gothic influence in the game's visuals, and it really makes the game stand out. The main character is a classic goth lolita, the music was almost exclusively organ, and the environments were shadowy and filled with very Hallowe'enish decorations. Jack'o'lanterns, coffins, wrought-iron fences, and even medieval torture devices were only some of the things in the main hub.
The first and largest segment of what I was able to play at NISA was mostly story. The game follows an aspiring witch named Liddel who's determined to become the greatest witch ever. She's very prissy and self-centered and actually reminded me a lot of Disgaea's Etna. She's scouring a castle for magic, and accidentally wakes up a pacifist, vegetarian vampire and an evil Eld Witch. The vampire, named Loue, tells her that she's now stuck in their world and that she needs to reseal the witch because it's her responsibility. She isn't too happy about that.
The character designs for Liddel and Loue definitely play the NISA's penchant for cuteness, and it's evident in the localization that they want to make the game as funny and charming as possible. I was also told that the game is written to poke fun at fairy tales and, in particular, Alice in Wonderland, which explains the appearance of the Chesire Cat at one point. In any case, Loue leads Liddel further into this strange shadow realm, soon meeting up with a dying gingerbread man who tells them that the Candy Kingdom of Rem Sacchras is in danger.
Candy Land is only the first realm Liddel gets to visit.
Loue leads her to a town hub, where there's an item shop, a tutorial NPC, and other things. He also mentions her magical doll, which, as I learned later, is actually one of many dolls in the game that act as Liddel's additional party members. After looking around the town a bit, I met up with Loue in a "gate room," where a portal leading to the Candy Kingdom awaited me.
The Candy Kingdom is where I got my first taste of the game's combat mechanics. The game features random encounters, with a very low encounter rate. One thing I noticed was that the battle transitioning effect was probably one of the most impressive I've ever seen in an RPG. Rather than a startling or awkward screen-shattering effect, a black abyss opened up beneath her, and a giant shadowy hand reached up through it to grab her and drag her down into it, which began the battle.
The combat system seemed fairly simple, but also looked like it would open up a fair bit. The menu was very stylish and entirely controlled with the touch screen. Rather than an actual wordy menu, all the commands are shown in icons, with tooltips displayed beneath when they're touched and held. In order to actually use a command, it had to be dragged across the screen to a slot corresponding to an enemy, preventing accidentally wasting a turn. There was also a section for spells that could be cast. Here I was able to experience another touch-driven feature. By selecting a particular spell and dragging it to an orb at the bottom right corner of the screen instead of an enemy, I unlocked a simple mini-game in which I had to actually trace the spell's symbol on the touch screen. Once successful, it launched a powerful attack that drained pretty much all of my MP. Hopefully farther into the game it wouldn't be so draining, but it's hard to say.
I only got to fight two battles, but the combat seemed to be simple with the potential for more complexity later in the game. The low encounter rate and terrific touch-screen controls were a major plus. Considering the developer Hitmaker doesn't have the best track record, I was pleasantly surprised by A Witch's Tale. Look for it on store shelves in October.