Earlier this year, I reviewed The Seven Deadly Sins: Knights of Britania. That’s kind of a weird way to start this review off, I know, but just stick with me. Anyway, without getting into it too much, the game was very middle-of-the-road. I (somewhat) enjoyed it because I was already a fan of the Seven Deadly Sins series but, outside of the fact that it was a game based on an anime that I liked, it honestly didn’t have a whole lot going for it. What’s my point in all of this? Well, I ended up running into a similar issue with Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time.
To its credit, Chamber of Time does do some better things than the aforementioned Knights of Britania. Particularly where the Little Witch Academia IP itself is concerned. Between its focus on character details and the way in which the game itself is actually animated, Chamber of Time really attempts to make players feel like they’re in an actual episode of the LWA anime; something which it actually pulls off well. However, it takes more than merely being “playable anime” to make a game good. And, unfortunately, Chamber of Time doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer.
Double, Double, Time and Trouble
Chamber of Time‘s story begins the day before what is undeniably the most exciting time for any student ever, summer vacation, with Akko eagerly trying to decide what she wants to do with her “hard-earned” time off. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned for Akko. Before she can so much as begin to daydream, LWA‘s titular Shiny Chariot-obsessed protagonist finds herself called into the student counseling office and saddled with the task of re-organizing the entire library due her to having broken a plethora of school supplies with magic — a punishment which ultimately leads Akko to accidentally discovering a secret chamber in the Luna Nova library known as the “Horologium”, and trapping herself (and her friends!) in a time loop in which the first day of summer repeats endlessly.
In truth, Chamber of Time‘s story isn’t anything special. It’s bland, short, lacking in depth, and is very forgettable overall. Fortunately, there is a narrative saving grace in the characters themselves. While I didn’t care much for the story, I did find myself greatly appreciating how the characters reacted to the story. I’m aware that Little Witch Academia is a pre-existing series and therefore already contains characters with pre-defined personalities, however it’s still up to the developer at the end of the day to make sure that those personalities carry over into the game. And man, did they ever do a great job on that. By taking the already pre-existing lore within the LWA series and expanding upon it without ever actually overriding anything, Chamber of Time manages to give players a more in-depth look at both the characters within LWA and the series as a whole. It’s not something that you’re going to appreciate unless you already like LWA, however, for those that do, getting a closer look at its characters is really, really cool.
It’s also worth mentioning how this game’s story is further enhanced by its attention to graphical detail where it counts the most. By utilizing a rather interesting animation style in which models use noticeably fewer movement frames than per the norm (kind of like in Guilty Gear, if you need a reference), Chamber of Time is actually, albeit somewhat ironically, able to make characters look even more alive. Or, at the very least, reminiscent of how they would physically act within the actual LWA anime. On top of that, Chamber of Time even features some original animation done by none other than Studio TRIGGER — thus totally sealing the deal on its charming anime-like appeal. Unfortunately this charm only appeals to the game’s characters, as backgrounds and textures are about as bare-bones as you can get, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Little Fetch Quest Academia
This game honestly threw me for a loop when I first started playing it. From what I understood, this was supposed to be a beat-em-up. But what I was presented with initially resembled some sort of adventure game. Was I mis-remembering something? Had I made all of that other stuff up? Well, no. I hadn’t. Chamber of Time is, indeed, a beat-em-up. However, that’s not all that it is. As it turns out, this game is actually both a beat-em-up and an adventure game — a genre hybrid which I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever come across before. So yes, you will be beating up monsters in this game. But you’ll also be doing a lot of walking around. So much so, in fact, that it actually takes precedence over what what I would consider to be the actual ” core gameplay”.
You might be wondering how that’s possible. If the story is short, and most of what you’re doing in the “adventure” portion is literally just walking around a school, talking to people, and casting the occasional spell, there can’t possibly be that much to do. Right? Well, if we’re speaking strictly about the main story, then yes. I suppose that there isn’t actually that much that needs to be done within the hallowed halls of Luna Nova if you’re just trying to rush through the game. Most people aren’t going to be speedrunning their way through this game, however. They, like me, will want to complete every side-quest available. And hoo boy are you in for a lot of work if you fall into that completionist category.
Alongside its main campaign, Chamber of Time packs in a whopping 77 sidequests (also known as “sub-events” in the game) for players to complete. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that most of your time playing this game revolves around being stuck in the midst of Sidequest Central. I won’t beat around the bush; most, if not all of these sub-events are fetch quests, or at the very least fetch quest-esque, generally requiring that the player collect items, talk to people, or cast the appropriate spell. It’s a lot of work, and it can get grueling at times, but it’s not actually quite as bad as it sounds. Despite the overwhelming number of times in which players will merely be acting as a glorified errand boy, Chamber of Time‘s time mechanic actually compliments the process very well.
Operating in a manner very similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, nearly every sub-event is time-sensitive. As time passes, your fellow students will move around, and items will be both lost and found, meaning that players need to not only perform their actions in the correct order, but also do so at the correct time. This also means that, due to the very limited amount of time that the player has to do things within each day, it’s very easy to mess up. Fortunately messing up, frustrating though it may be, doesn’t actually matter, as even if you fail at something spectacularly everyone will have forgotten about it the next day. …Well, maybe not the “next” day, but you get what I mean. Still, unlimited free tries and unique time mechanics aside, I can’t help but feel as though Chamber of Time might have gotten a little too sub-event happy when all is said and done.
Witches Get Stitches
In tandem with its adventure-centric gameplay, Chamber of Time also features a nice helping of beat-em up action which, although an admittedly cool concept, ends up falling flat. In the beginning of the game, I was actually fairly optimistic about how combat would turn out. The game features 7 playable characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses, an extensive and customizable magic system, and an easy-to-learn control scheme. It had all the makings of an honest-to-goodness high-quality brawler — something which ended up making me all the more disappointed when I realized how unpolished things actually were.
For starters, the controls themselves leave a lot to be desired. In contrast to overall smoothness of the “adventure controls”, characters move with an uncomfortable rigidity and choppiness during combat. Characters also seem to move on a grid, rather than moving freely, often times either coming to a dead stop or sliding into the next invisible panel when you let go of the controls. Aside from magic — because it’s kind of hard to mess up casting the spell with the press of a button — combat suffers as well. Combos are too easy to spam, your defensive maneuvers such as defending and dodging are next to useless, and most battles are winnable simply by standing far away from the enemy and lobbing an infinite number of projectiles at them. I know that I might sound harsh here, but it’s only because I care. I really was being honest when I said that Chamber of Time‘s beat-em-up formula sounded great, and I really do think that this could have turned into something phenomenal. I understand that not everything needs to be perfect for a game to be fun, but combat is too fundamentally flawed in this game to be enjoyable for long periods of time.
There’s also the matter of level design. Chamber of Time features 56 unique levels — consisting of 7 main levels, 49, entirely optional, sub-levels. Each of the 7 main levels have a decent amount of creativity put into them. They’re all nicely sized dungeons, many of which contain unique traps, puzzle mechanics, and hidden treasures. But the nearly 50 sub-levels? They’re all just straight paths, most of which consist of less than 5 unique rooms each. I understand that making each of these sub-levels entirely unique is a difficult task. And, of course, I’m not asking for something like that. But a modicum of creativity would have been appreciated. Even if was adding a few branching paths or throwing in the occasional gimmick, a little bit of spice would have gone a long way with this game’s levels.
One for the Fans (but Probably not Anyone Else)
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is a fun and somewhat immersive romp for pre-existing fans of the series, however you won’t find much more beyond that. Although I certainly enjoyed my time with Akko and the rest of the gang at Luna Nova Academy, I could never quite escape the realization that that this game was lacking in a number of different ways. As I had already mentioned in my Seven Deadly Sins review, I think that anime-inspired video games should do their best to draw in new fans — that they should be so interesting that players want to watch the anime or read the manga to understand all of the references that they’re missing out on. However, that didn’t seem to be the case here. So yes, if you like LWA already, knock yourself out. But if you’re not a fan and looking to become one, then you should probably stick to the source material.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment ; Developer: APLUS Co. Ltd ; Players: 1 – 3 ; Released: May 15, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PC/Steam)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 review copy of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.