A few weeks ago, Namco Bandai Entertainment released Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, a side-scrolling, beat ’em up game starring the cast of the movie and anime series of the same title. I remember adding the two short movies – Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade. – to my Netflix list and watching them in 2016. What caught my eye when these movies showed up on my suggested list of anime to watch was that it reminded me of a mixture of Harry Potter with the anime style of a Studio Ghibli film, a quality that carries over in the latest videogame incarnation.
I was amazed when I saw the first movie. It introduced the main protagonist of the series, Atsuko Kagari (nicknamed “Akko”), enrolling in the Luna Nova Academy to study witchcraft in order to follow her idol’s footsteps named Shiny Chariot. While learning the ins and outs of the academy, as well as having a difficult time performing the basic magical arts, she befriends her two sidekicks: Lotte and Sucy. Lotte is adept at communicating with the spirits, while Sucy is a connoisseur of deadly plants and is quite knowledgeable about alchemy.
Akko also meets Diana Cavendish, a very skilled all-around popular student, who becomes her rival throughout the course of the series. In the second movie, Akko is given the task to lead the annual parade along with a group of new students: Amanda, Constanze, and Jasminka. Amanda is the rebel wild child and sometimes uses her sleight of hand to cause trouble to the academy. Constanze is the laconic technological genius, transforming her wand into a gun or rifle as she sees fit. Jasminka is always ever hungry, never is a scene with her without eating something or snacking on a bag of chips.
The two short movies were interesting enough to warrant a regular anime series the following year. Netflix picked it up and released it last year, and the main arc followed Akko’s plight in unlocking the secrets of the legendary wand, the Shiny Rod. The series also allowed the further development of all the main characters, where one of Akko’s teachers is finally revealed to be the one and only Shiny Chariot. Akko and her friends save the land by using the Shiny Rod and restoring the overall magic balance.
So enough spoilers (and I apologize if you have not seen the movies or the anime yet), and let’s talk about the game. In Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, summer break in Luna Nova Academy has started, and Akko is tasked with cleaning up the great library as a punishment. She gets a little bit of help from Lotte and Sucy, and while doing so, Akko finds a strange book that opens up a hidden portion of the library. Investigating the new area, the trio finds that they are stuck in time, where the same day repeats over and over again. While other inhabitants of the academy are unaware of the time loop, Akko inadvertently ropes in Diana, Amanda, Constanze, and Jasminka to the hidden area aptly named the Horologium Chamber. Thus, the whole gang is now in on the mystery and are figuring out how to get out of the loop.
There are two main gaming aspects in Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time: a beat ’em up dungeon crawler exploring the rooms of the Horologium Chamber and a questing portion of doing something here and there around the halls of the Luna Nova Academy. The main story is a combination of the two portions: crawl a dungeon, beat the boss at the end, go back to the academy and progress the story, then go back into another dungeon to obtain an item that will progress the story. Rinse and repeat.
The beat-’em-up portion of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time has its good and bad aspects. The good part is that you create your own party out of the seven characters, and you’re not locked to just controlling Akko. You can create your dream party and stick with them throughout the whole game or mix them up from time to time to get a well-balanced party. There are two types of attacks you can use: physical and magic spells. Each character has a weak, strong, and a ranged physical attack, while magic spells are unlocked while progressing through the main quest or doing some of the sidequests (which I will go more in depth later). Unlocking and leveling up magic spells also require some magic points, which are obtained after leveling up your characters. Your characters gain experience at the completion (and failure) of each dungeon, and leveling them up gives them statistic points you can assign to strengthen them.
The really bad and disappointing aspect of the beat-’em-up portion of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is that your party members are basically all cookie cutters of the same kind. For a series with characters of different quirks and nature, you see it in the statistics: Akko lacks in magic powers but is good in everything else, Lotte is the opposite, and Diana is just good all around. However, it really does not matter when you’re dungeon crawling; while the style of each characters physical attacks has some slight differences, they are still the same in the end. In fact, Constanze is probably the only one that’s really different from the rest; she uses her guns through and through and is essentially the pure ranger of the group.
Magic spells are the same. Most learned spells can be assigned to any of the characters save from some spells that are locked to a particular character. What gets frustrating with using magic in dungeons is that it can get to be unpredictable and hard to aim at enemies. Plus, even if the spell hit an enemy, sometimes you’re not sure if it did any damage at all.
Moving on to the questing portion, there are also some good and bad things to note. One good thing about Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is that it stays true to movie and anime series. You get to really explore Luna Nova Academy, and pretty much all of the places you have seen in the academy is in the game. Which, by the way, makes the academy such a huge area to explore complete with a couple of dormitory laundry rooms, several classrooms, and even the field where they did the broomstick relay race. After a few minutes of starting the game and progressing the storyline, the whole academy opens up for you, and trust me, it can get overwhelming quickly.
So the academy is stuck in a time loop, and the game tackles this with the approach of a time management aspect. It takes about five to six minutes for a 24-hour time rotation, and then time rewinds back to the beginning. Akko must go to certain areas of the academy at a certain time in order to progress the main storyline or complete a subquest. What complicates this is that as mentioned before, the academy is huge, and sometimes you just do not have enough time to get to a certain area at the required time range. It’s not a huge deal, since you just restart the day all over again, which gives you ample of time to reach the area.
However, if you have no sense of direction and mainly rely on maps like I am, you might have to repeat the day a few times before you find the area at the right time. Navigating the academy and using the map can get confusing since there’s no compass or a guide to let you know whether you’re going east or west, and some areas aren’t marked, so you’re trying to figure out whether you’re walking into the east dormitories or the west dormitories…or some random classroom. Fortunately, a little bit of story progression unlocks a magic spell that can be used on what the game considers as save points to teleport to the different ones littered around the academy.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time truly pays a great homage to the overall series. The whole cast of quirky characters are there, plus a bunch of new ones to learn about. The mysterious chamber that creates the time loop fits the aesthetic of the series, plus the dungeon crawling combat isn’t all that bad. If you’re a fan of the series, you will enjoy this game a lot.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.