Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer. A+ Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release: 15th May 2018
From time to time, anime studios can create some truly amazing original series. After 2 OVAs and a Kickstarter campaign, Studio Trigger finally got the money to produce a full-fledged 2cour anime series. Even though I´m normally not a fan of comedy shows, I began to adore this little silly thing. Now Bandai Namco brings us a JRPG adaption with full-blown cutscenes from Trigger and a great art style. Who wouldn´t be interested?
It´s summer holiday time for Akko and her friends. However, when she does breaks yet again the rules of the academy, she gets sentenced to clean the library for her entire holiday season. Little did she know that hidden behind the shelves lies a room, able to twists time in all directions, the Chamber of Time. When they discover this place, it doesn´t take long until they´re trapped in a time loop and forced to find a way out of their misery by conquering the mysterious dungeons connected to everything.
For better or worse though, the plot is by far not Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time´s main focus. Similar to the series, it once again focuses more on the characters and their interactions. Considering how cliché the story starts off and uses the overused time loop device yet again, I can´t really blame them honestly. If you´re gonna go for this sort of twist, you at least need a captivating day worth replaying over and over again or everything will simply go down the drain. Unfortunately, picking up books isn´t all that tense. Especially since the whole thing isn´t even remotely interesting, even the twists can´t surprise.
So, let´s come to the meat, the character interaction. After overcoming their clunky introduction, consisting of literally throwing them all at once at Akko without any background. For those unfamiliar with one of the biggest features: You can play as seven iconic cast members. Yet, they never have any build up to joining the group, letting them feel somewhat lacklustre. Luckily, every other aspect about them can deliver exactly what you would expect. Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time focuses mainly on Akko (naturally), her rival Diana and luckily Constance with her crew. Latter ones in particular never got enough screen time for my taste. While the game´s not written by Trigger themselves, which may worry some fans, it comes surprisingly close at most points. Given, only during the main plot did I feel the magic flowing through the dialogue that already caught my attention in the series. The side quests or dialogues tend to fall on the stiffer side. Yet, since it takes some of the more unexplored characters and brings them to the spotlight, the payoff is way bigger than with focusing on Diana again. The fact Trigger already laid the groundwork for all the casts, helps to carry some of the more mediocre parts of the spectacle.
Nonetheless, the most obvious flaw for many should be the 2D dungeon crawler gameplay. To progress through the game, it quickly becomes necessary to regularly dive into different dungeons. Sadly those moments are easily the most forgettable, bland ones of the game. After choosing a group of three from the cast, we’re taken by fighting through 5-15 stages of enemies. Naturally, both the enemies, loot and much more is randomly generated. Combined with the fact every dungeon only has 1 background at times and almost no personality, simply looking at those passages is tiresome on its own.
Now imagine one of the most mediocre dungeon crawler combat systems you could et voilá, you got Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time. There are your normal light/heavy attacks, mixed with up to 6 spells. Now, those mechanics are neither new or interesting, however, Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time manages to infuse them with lacklustre feedback. At first, it´s nearly impossible to see if your hits land at all, due to the giant amount of effects and what-not on the screen every second. Since no normal attack feels even remotely powerful, hit-feedback is basically non-existent unless you have more powerful spells as well. Thrown together with the lacking overview and level “design”, there isn´t anything interesting about the dungeon crawler passages.
Anyone hoping for a deep customization system though will only be half betrayed. Given, the amount of spell and character skills are actually pretty good. Every witch has the same spell tree featuring around 3-4 dozens of different, upgradable special attacks. Additionally, you also have the old-school “distribute stat points” system, where you can specialize them in magic, melee, tanking or anything else. While most of them already have a fairly well-designed preset at the beginning, it´s entirely possible to transform a tank into a damage dealer through this big system, which I really adore. Sadly, nothing here is unique too, letting it feel like I could be playing most other JRPGs and have more fun with the gameplay.
On the other hand, Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time features a quite big academy or hub-wold as well. In theory, having a quite huge reconstruction of the name giving academy as a 2.5D open-world is a pretty great concept. Unsurprisingly, the game can´t do much with it, happily transforming it into one of the blandest, boring experiences ever. Clustered with side-quests, the whole thing seems like a bloated mess, not knowing how to make itself interesting without that optional stuff. When I have to run for 10-20 minutes around per quest, that´s not fun nor good design. Even though the world is actually pretty close to the anime and able to enchant at some places, beyond some minutes of fun, there really is nothing to it.
Speaking of good visual design, Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time is a surprisingly good-looking anime game. While it doesn´t have the sharpest textures or impressive lighting, it heavily capitalizes on the source material. Being full of iconic places, designs and characters, simply copying those already amazing characters isn´t hard. Combined with the sometimes truly great HUD interface, musical score and a slightly above average presentation, the game is definitely up to par with the anime at times. Top it off with animated cutscenes from Trigger themselves and any diehard fan should be interested.
Where Little Witch Academia Chamber of Time is great at recreating the atmosphere, mood and characters of the beloved anime. Yet, that´s about everything great about this overpriced JRPG. From the repetitive, lacking combat to the sorry excuse of an open-world, I couldn´t find anything unique or truly great about this video game I didn´t see in the show already. So if you can endure a below average JRPG to spend more time with the cast, this game could be the right fit for you.
[A Review Code was provided by Bandai Namco]