I’ve tried a few times to get into Little Witch Academia, but to no avail. It seems very much like my kind of thing—there’s a school of magic, the usual delightful anime tropes, and a main character whom I find thoroughly relatable in her clumsy, lazy swagger—and yet every time I’ve tried to watch it, I’ve lost interest before even getting to the third episode.
Comparatively, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time had me invested in the world and characters of Little Witch Academia right from the outset. Rather than retelling the story of the anime, Chamber of Time follows an original tale set during Luna Nova’s summer holiday. As such, all the characters and relationships are already established, so the game skips past the anime’s foundation-laying—which is where I keep losing interest—and just gets on with telling the story it needs to tell.
Despite that, Chamber of Time cleverly avoids alienating newcomers to the series. Each time you met a new character, there’s an optional flashback that recaps how she and the main character, Akko, first met. More crucially, all the dialogue is written in a way that clearly illustrates who each person is and how they all fit together.
That, I think, is what makes Chamber of Time work where the original Little Witch Academia struggled: both the cartoon and the game are carried on their strength of their characters and relationships, but the latter is much more efficient at getting those established.
As always, Atsuko “Akko” Kagari is the star. She’s impulsize, she’s cheeky, she’s reckless, she’s a goofball—and utterly charming in all of those qualities. She’s also quietly determined; without by magical background, she’s determined to become a witch after a childhood encounter with famed magician Shiny Chariot. She’s terrible at magic and generally hates studying but hers is a dream that she won’t give up on.
By contrast, Diana—who is something of a rival to Akko—is a prodigy. Cool and aloof, she’s an expert in spellcasting, she’s top of every class, and she comes from a wealthy family and a long line of great witches. But she’s not the Malfoy to Akko’s Harry Potter; they butt heads often, but they share an odd sort of friendly rivalry rather than being out-and-out enemies. (If my Twitter feed is any indication, a lot of people ship Akko and Diana as a couple. I can see it.)
Akko’s surrounded by a wide range of other oddball friends and classmates, like the poison-obsessed Sucy, the rebellious Amanda, and the engineering genius Constanze. They all help to flesh out a charming world of witchcraft and schoolyard antics and that’s where Little Witch Academia is at its best.
The plot itself is fairly pedestrian, though interesting enough to keep things ticking along. After her latest academic mishap, Akko’s been sentenced to tidying Luna Nova’s massive library. While doing so, she discovers a strange old door, and, unable to contain her curiosity, she opens it—unleashing a curse that makes the day repeat endlessly, Groundhog Day style.
Hidden behind the door is something called the Horologium Chamber, through which Akko and the other witches-in-training can access an array of spacetime-defying dungeons. In order to break the time loop, the group need to find seven magic keys hidden throughout Luna Nova that in turn open new dungeons, each one bringing them closer to solving the mystery of the hidden room. Like I said, it’s fairly standard, but the charming characters and their humorous interactions carry the story through from start to finish.
The same can’t be said about actually playing Chamber in Time, however. Much of the game involves running around Luna Nova, running back and forth between people and places to set quests in motion. At first, exploring the school is its own reward, but the incessant backtracking quickly grows tiresome.
Dungeons play out in a side-scrolling beat ’em up style, albeit with a light exploration touch with different rooms and such to explore. Sadly, the the brawler style of combat just doesn’t work well at all, simply because of how hard it is to actually hit enemies; unless you’re perfectly lined up with a foe depth-wise, your spells will just go sailing past. Things get a little bit easier as you level up and get access to attacks with bigger areas of effect, but you still have to deal with cooldowns and MP limits when you’re using those.
Chamber of Time also suffers from an effects overload. When you, your allies, and the enemies you’re fighting against are all slinging flashy, explosive spells back and forth, it’s hard to keep track of where enemies are and what’s actually happening. A lot of the time, there are environmental hazards and the like to add to the chaos even further. Luckily, the AI for your allies is good enough that you can mostly just let them do their thing, but that kind of defeats the purpose of even having combat in the game to begin with.
The RPG side of things brings a bit of welcome depth, at least. There are a handful of different playable characters, and aside from having their own strengths and weaknesses, each one has unique “leader’s traits” that take effect if you make her the party leader: Akko increases experience earned by support characters, Lotte can find hidden chests, Diana reveals monster details, and so on. When someone levels up, you can choose how their stat points are distributed (minmaxers rejoice!), and there’s a wealth of loot to find and spells to learn.
Chamber of Time also looks fantastic. The cel-shaded art style perfectly captures the look of the anime, and it even goes as far as having frame-limited animations to give the game that 2D feel. The characters are every bit as emotive as their cartoon counterparts, and Luna Nova itself is beautifully brought to life. That said, the UI can be confusing, and the text in menus and dialogue boxes is tiny to the point of being unreadable unless you’re sitting really close to the TV.
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed my time with Chamber of Time. It can be tedious to play, but the delightful characters, magical world, humorous dialogue, and gorgeous anime-style presentation carry it through. It’s actually made me want to give Little Witch Academia another go, with is a good achievement for any anime tie-in.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is developed by A+ Games and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.