Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time Impression
For those wanting more adventures of Akko and her friends, Chamber of Time delivers and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the game has in store.
There have been a surprising number of successful licensed RPG properties: The Witcher, South Park, and Knights of the Old Republic to name a few. Nevertheless, considering the low-effort shovelware that seems to be the common result of licensed projects, it seems appropriate to approach these games with a sense of trepidation. Although it isn’t the biggest title in the west, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is based off a Japanese animated series released in English by Netflix in 2017. After playing the first ten hours, it’s apparent that this game is no simple cash grab, and fans of the series will appreciate the amount of effort that has gone into recreating the magical academy of Luna Nova and capturing the tone and aesthetic of the series. Whether this will appeal to RPGamers in general is more difficult to determine, though there is promise in this digital-only release for PlayStation 4 and PC.
Little Witch Academia stars Atsko “Akko” Kagari, who has wanted to be a witch ever since she saw a magical performance by Shiny Chariot as a young girl. To follow her dream, she enrolls in the Luna Nova Academy, an institution dedicated to training young witches and the school that Akko’s idol Chariot once attended. Growing up in a non-magical household, Akko starts school with basically no magical knowledge, earning derision and disdain from many of her classmates. But Akko won’t let anything stop her from learning magic, meeting Shiny Chariot, and showing the world just how amazing magic can be.
Chamber of Time takes place over summer vacation and it’s set up in a way to sidestep the overarching narrative of the series. As a result of her lack of magical skill, Akko destroys some magical supplies and is sentenced to detention organizing the library. While putting away some books, she unlocks a secret door hidden behind a bookcase. Unfortunately for Akko, this door protects the Horologium Chamber and by blundering through, she has broken a magic clock and now time itself is broken; dooming Akko as well as her friends Sucy, Lotte, and a few other familiar faces from the series to relive the same day over and over until they can figure out a way to fix things. The repetition of days plays an important role in the Chamber of Time, but the gameplay itself is split into two parts: half of the game involves exploring Luna Nova, while the other half is a 2.5D brawler.
The exploration half of the game involves reliving the first day of summer break over and over again, exploring Luna Nova and using the knowledge gained from previous days to complete sidequests as well as advance the main story. There is an on-screen clock that keeps players abreast of the current time, which is important because every two hours characters will change their position in the academy. Sidequests will sometimes involve following characters around the academy while others may involve preempting another person’s discovery of an item at a certain time of the day. It’s an interesting mechanic that is used to good effect early on and rewards players for paying attention to even small events.
The other half of the game involves delving into the Horologium Chamber and brawling through dungeons. These are accessed through a door in the chamber that opens to different dungeons depending on the key used to open it. Combat involves a party of three characters, with the player controlling the leader and the other two controlled by the AI and offering support. The characters fight across the screen from one side to the other using a mix of light, medium, and heavy attacks. The attacks themselves are balanced, with light attacks being quick but having limited range and damage while heavy attacks shoot magical balls across the screen doing massive damage but have a slow animation to contend with. In addition, there are a number of attack and healing spells that can be equipped and upgraded. Thankfully, all of the characters share the same pool of available spells to choose from, so players aren’t forced to upgrade every character’s spells individually. Character attributes, however, are individually upgradable, with five different categories that experience points can be poured into. It is unfortunate, however, that not only is the party of three locked for the entire dungeon run, but players are also prevented from switching the controlled character mid-battle.
There are seven characters to choose from, each starting with different strengths and weaknesses. Some characters have high HP and strength and are suited to close combat with enemies while others are suited to slinging spells from the rear. This means that it’s important to be aware of who the player-controlled character is, as strong magic wielding characters will die quickly in close combat and must keep away from enemies and attack at range.
The combat is engaging without being extraordinary. It’s functional brawler-style combat that doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it is executed well. The environments are somewhat bland and repetitive, but the enemies, as well as the attack animations, look impressive. Boss encounters are especially engaging, with vibrant, colorful giants that fill the screen. The game also employs environmental obstacles such as falling sets of spikes or giant boulders that must be avoided. While the AI seems to do a competent job of carrying out basic attacks, it’s not as effective at dealing with the environmental obstacles, meaning that AI partners will be routinely incapacitated by boulders that should have been easily avoided.
However, the real strength that is evident early on in Chamber of Time is how well it captures the style and setting of the show. The game is fully voice acted in Japanese with English subtitles (unfortunately, there is no English audio option) and even conversations overheard in the hallway get voice acting. A large portion of the game is spent exploring Luna Nova, advancing the story and solving sidequests. It’s an impressive realization of the show’s setting as the game does an excellent job of recreating Luna Nova in three-dimensional form. Much of the music seems to be lifted from the show, with sweeping upbeat scores that are used to good effect. The character models are fantastic, such as capturing both Akko’s wild, over-the-top gestures as well as the subtlety of Diana’s hair flip as she makes an important point. It works both as a bit of fanservice as well as providing characterization and, combined with excellent voice acting, it brings scenes to life rather than them just being text dumps.
As a fan of the series, I’ve been impressed with how well Chamber of Time captures the essence of Little Witch Academia while also going in some interesting directions. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far, but I have reservations about the game going forward. While it’s initially fun to explore the academy, I’ve reached the point where I want to avail myself of a fast-travel mechanic and while the game incorporates one, it’s tied to a resource that’s unclear exactly how limited it is. I’m also not sure how well repeating the same day over and over will hold up over the length of the game; so far it’s been interesting using that to solve puzzles, but I could see that potentially wearing thin. Also, I haven’t gotten an opportunity to try out the online endless dungeon mode. Nonetheless, for those wanting more adventures of Akko and her friends, Chamber of Time delivers and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the game has in store.