Game Reviewby Todd Ciolek,
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time
PlayStation 4, PC
Luna Nova Magical Academy is stuck in a time loop at the start of summer vacation, and it might not entirely be Akko's fault. Even so, she and fellow sorcerous students are the only ones who can break the spell by plowing through danger-filled labyrinths.
It's neither original nor unkind to say that Little Witch Academia stood out on appearances. The series is a charming tale of a misfit at a magical academy, a fantasy staple since well before Harry Potter, but it might not have leapt from a one-shot to a full series had creator Yoh Yoshinari and Studio Trigger not invested it with such capable animation, gorgeous details, and, of course, beautifully blossoming explosions. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time knows this and nails the look of its anime inspiration—and only the look.
As with most things Little Witch Academia, Chamber of Time finds Atsuko “Akko” Kagari bumbling straight into trouble. She's an enthusiastic, clumsy, and irresponsible underdog who can't quite master spells, a fantasy staple since well before Familiar of Zero, and she's scorned by many fellow students at Luna Nova Magical Academy. But it's not all bad: summer vacation has arrived, or at least it would have if Akko hadn't discovered an ominous clock and gateway under the school library. Now each day repeats, leaving Akko and her comrades to repair the temporal rift.
Chamber of Time's first hour finds Akko racing around the school, listening to her classmates, and delivering short, optional introductions of the major characters for those players who haven't seen either the Little Witch Academia pilots or TV series (and are yet somehow interested in the attached game). It's a good opportunity to take in the game's devotion to character animation. Rendered in soft cel-shaded style and generously voiced (in Japanese only), the witchy instructors and students all evoke the anime's style. It's a pleasure to watch. At first.
The adventure's core appears when Akko and her friends uncover magical keys and descend into sprawling labyrinths littered with monsters and treasure. Here the game becomes a brawler, though one set apart from the walk-and-punch routine of Double Dragon or Final Fight by its reliance on spell-chucking. Three-witch teams explore mazes one room at a time, commanding numerous spells, and Akko ropes in every series regular: bookish Lotte Jansen, scheming toxicologist Sucy Manbavaran, snobbish (but almost instantly helpful) Diana Cavendish, gung-ho Amanda O'Neill, gluttonous Jasminka Antonenko, and reticent inventor Constanze Amalie von Braunschbank-Albrechtsberger. Everyone yields arrangements of upgradeable offensive and defensive spells, but in unique fashion, whether it's Sucy slithering past monsters to envenomate them or Constanze whipping out hi-tech rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers like a pint-size Bullet Witch.
Chamber of Time's creators deserve credit for not turning Little Witch Academia into a straightforward action game or the RPG it already resembles, but their effort is undercooked. Battles show undeniable flourish, as the monsters are animated as well as the heroines and every attack seems to launch a storm of sparkling lights, swirling explosions, and neon afterglow. Yet it's hard to line up attacks, while the dazzling effects obscure the combat and the control often seems just a little too slow to work right. The dungeons present traps and hazards, but it's far too easy for your party companions, controlled by simple AI, to wander into a spike press or a giant rolling ball. Braving the dungeons requires an awkward mixture of careful long-distance sniping and sheer attack-spamming, and it never gels into more than fleeting satisfaction.
Yet at least there's complexity in the game's combat, with multiple characters to outfit and level-up, treasures to uncover, new combinations with which to experiment, and some sparsely populated multiplayer. That's more than can be said for the game's story mode.
In anime form, Little Witch Academia bursts with appealing characters, inventive creatures, and sly jokes. Somehow, the designers for Chamber of Time looked at the series and decided that while these were all good points, what fans really wanted were long, long scenes of Akko wandering the hallways of Luna Nova.
In between dungeon dashing, Akko wanders Luna Nova in search of solutions to this curse of eternal summer. The designers built a large simulacrum of the anime's magical school, and by heaven, the player must see every inch of it Akko's given a constant stream of small quests that send her all over the school, which isn't half as impressive as the game's other anime evocations. Most of the hallways look the same, requiring constant use of the map screen, and the game invokes odd requirements. An early subplot has Akko seeking out Constanze for clock repair, and it's possible to find her grouped with Amanda and Jasminka. But no, you must locate Constanze on her own before the plot even progresses by increments.
The storyline is faithful to Little Witch Academia's lighthearted aura of sorcerous schoolgirl cliques, a fantasy staple since before Magic User's Club!, but it's devoid of inspiration. The time loop is tedious to watch, and too many conversations serve no purpose beyond proving that yes, Bandai got the same voice cast as the anime series. It's a tediously paced game that ignores modern concessions to a player's schedule, not even offering a save point until half an hour into things and then charging players items to unlock similar spots. An actual episode of Little Witch Academia would wrap up Chamber of Time's narrative in twenty minutes. Here it takes longer than some Final Fantasies.
Little Witch Academia's characters occasionally shine through the padding Akko's still a sympathetic underachiever, Diana's a fun rival, and the game delights in just how far it can carry Constanze's unspeaking role and her fusion of technology and magic, a fantasy staple since well before Krull. Even so, the bright points are far between, and the game's animation isn't varied enough to carry the load. Akko's weary slouch and arm-flailing bewilderment are cute at first, but not after you've seen them a dozen times in exasperating fetch-quest conversations.
Given all the places Little Witch Academia might go as a video game, it's disappointing that Chamber of Time can't manage even a presentable half. Its battles are occasionally fun but lightweight and irritating next to similar brawlers like Dragon's Crown or even Code of Princess, while fans of the show will find that the day-to-day Luna Nova happenings ask far too much in exchange for some spikes of faithful anime panache. Little Witch Academia deserves its success no matter how it was won, but Chamber of Time doesn't.
Overall : C
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : C-
Presentation : B-
+ Battles have a unique look and some compelling ideas
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