I must admit that I wasn't familiar with the anime series that Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is based on when I picked it up for a review. Anime girls and a witch academy just sounded like a winning formula to me! Luckily, the game does a great job at familiarizing the uninitiated with series protagonist Akko, her friends and the world they inhabit. It took no time to identify with Akko, who’s about to start her summer break in the hallowed hallways of the famed witch academy Luna Nova.
It’s the eve of summer break and every witchlet is eager to put down their spell tomes and hurry to summery pastures. Not Akko, though. As a disciplinary action for slacking off in class (again), she has to arrange the academy library - book by book. Akko, who’s as good-hearted as she’s impulsive and lazy, crumbles soon before her task and falls asleep. It’s up to her friends, smart and spiritual Lotte and ghoulish Sucy (and her unhealthy penchant for mushrooms), to spark Akko up. Together, they stumble across a secret room and, helped by Akko’s persistent curiosity, accidentally trigger a hidden mechanism. After a couple of days with eerily identical events, Akko realizes it’s the first day of summer vacation – again and again! The friends have to come up with a solution to end the Groundhogs Day effect. As enticing as the idea of ever-lasting summer break might sound, it must come to an end!
For the first few relived days, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time guides the players by hand, familiarizing them with the academy grounds and escorting through the first dungeon, teaching the basic game mechanics along the way. Coupled with modest visuals and clumsy interaction, it’s a slow and linear start that doesn’t promise much. It’s only when the friends share their secret with four other girls (Diana, Amanda, Constanze and Jasminka) the leash is let loose and the game opens up. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time turns out to be a full-blown side-scrolling JRPG with all the bells and whistles that come with the genre. Yes, also the slow pace and clumsiness fall into that category.
The game is centered around the Horologium chamber Akko and company uncovered. It houses a jammed clock, which causes the day to repeat, and door to several dungeons that are unlocked with a series of keys. These seven great story keys are unearthed one after another through associated quests involving the Seven Wonders of Luna Nova which have stirred unrest around the school as of late. There are also 49 small exploration keys, found scattered around the academy grounds or given by other students. Dungeons are sets of adjacent rooms in different settings, indoors or outdoors, each leading to a boss encounter. The girls unleash their magical aptitude and clear out the dangers of dungeons by a multitude of spells.
The bulk of the game is spent in adventure mode where Akko jogs around Luna Nova, talking to people, eavesdropping on rumors and solving both the main and sub events. There are 77 sub events in total, ranging from simple fetch quests to more complex and branching affairs, so there’s a lot of running back and forth. And the clock keeps on ticking all the while. People’s whereabouts and events change by the hour and repeat every day. This opens up some nice multi-timed event building. The first attempts at solving events usually go awry as you don’t know their conditions or consequences. Only by repeating them the next day at the same time - or at different time altogether – with gained knowledge do they advance. It doesn’t matter if you miss the time stamps accidentally either, as there’s always a new day to try them again. If whenever necessary, time can be forced forward by sleeping in Akko’s room.
When it’s time to hit the story or lesser dungeons, a party of three is formed. The girls have different stats to begin with, some are better spell casters while other are more effective with basic magic wand attacks. The player controls the leader while AI takes reigns of two support characters. It’s natural to appoint Akko as a leader as she’s the main protagonist but she can be changed to other girls, and some events actually require it. As a leader, each girl has different boons to affect the party, like Akko earning double experience for the support characters while Diana boosts everyone’s stats. Leveling up gives attribute points to be allocated in stats, and all spent points can also be reset. Only the girls in the active party gain experience, so to keep up a balanced roster requires grinding in lesser dungeons with different party set-ups. Defeated monsters drop equipment and different currencies. Luna is used to enchant items in the laboratory and Spellstones are spent on buying magic potions.
The lesser dungeons can consist of only a few rooms, including the boss chamber, but the story dungeons have more variation and branching paths. Having a pre-filled map in the upper-right of the screen is a big help in them. Overall, the dungeons aren’t overly exciting, with pretty stiff action where it’s of utmost importance to position the player character in the exact same line as the enemy, otherwise spells whiff all too easily. Some boss fights, though, have fun context-sensitive actions to perform which helps to liven things up a bit. Few dungeons are based on pretty strange design, like the trolley-ride through Regulus mines with a scrambled map. The ride can loop for ages if you don’t happen to switch the trolley to the right track three times in a row (to save you from a breakdown, dear reader, the correct order is: turn, go straight, turn). Dungeons can be exited if they turn out to be a bit too tough for characters’ current level but all the gained experience and items are still kept.
In addition to a heap of events to solve and dungeons to conquer, Chamber of Time is not small when it comes to spells either. There are eventually 81 upgradable spells in the horoscope constellation to learn, unlocked by completing main events. The huge spell pool is shared between characters, but each girl can be equipped with only six spells at a time. With all the leveling up and managing an ever-growing spell pool, there’s a lot to fiddle with, not to mention the item management for every character. You’d hope for some kind of alternative auto leveling system at least. Still, you have to keep up with everything, as the difficulty levels of dungeons do increase. Even though the game is targeted at both the younger and older fans alike, it’s not necessarily a child’s play.
Akko is so happy when she realizes she can spam spells like a pro witch in dungeons. Indeed, spell casting is a whole different matter for her in the daily life. She’s pretty ham-fisted at it and needs magic potions to help her out. Otherwise, her spells are doomed to backfire. So, for example, to use a telepathy magic to animate lifeless objects with (like save crystal balls scattered around the academy as there’s no such thing as auto-save!), she needs to drink up a matching potion first. Potions cost Spellstones, so occasional grinds in dungeons are recommended to stack the currency up. Most of the main events need casting certain spells at times, and they’re learned along the way. This knowledge is, of course, usable in the sub events as well.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is pleasantly old-fashioned. The game doesn’t tutor too much beyond the beginning of the game, and especially taking the advantage of different time stamps to solve events is up to the player to fully comprehend. You might end up taking down notes to keep track of different times, people and events without knowing it - just like in the old times. There’s no hurry either, because there’s no looming doom on the horizon. You can advance pretty much to your own pace and take quests in baby steps as there’s no strict order of things to do. You can freely decide what to do in each in-game day; some you can spend on grinding items or levels, some learning the sub event information, or some just lulling.
At times, though, there seems to be no clear purpose in the main events. You just keep following the red event signs in the map as they turn up. Oh yes, the map. That, and the side-scrolling academy and its immediate surroundings, don’t always agree, so you’re bound to get lost before every room, facility and corridor have become familiar. There are also other things hurting the flow, like black screens during transitions to dialogue scenes or between occurrences within events. The game’s anime aesthetics would have required a more seamless execution. All the animated story cutscenes, however, were exclusively made for the game and are stored in a gallery to be watched again - a feature I really would like to see in all story-heavy games! Also, every line of dialogue is fully voiced by the Japanese cast of the original anime series, so the game is through and through a genuine Little Witch Academia experience.
Chamber of Time is slow-paced, looks a bit drab and it can be repetitive and awkward to play. In a way, it’s much like Akko herself. She’s far from perfect but spunky and open-hearted, making her irresistibly disarming. There’s a strong positive vibe going on that rubs on you, and it helps in overcoming the game’s shortcomings. Fans of the anime series should look no further and invest in Chamber of Time to get their little witch fix. As for the rest, why not try enrolling in Luna Nova? It might be just that fresh breeze you crave for among all the faceless mega-corporate products!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.