It is a nearly universal truth that among school children nothing is better than summer vacation. This is of course assuming that you’re not being forced to reorganize an arcane academy’s library due to some misdeeds you may have committed earlier in the semester. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time starts by inflicting this punishment on Akko during the first day of summer break, and given that her attention span is comparable to a goldfish’s memory, this chore is basically a fate worse than death. Lucky for her, Akko was able to sweet talk her roommates Sucy and Lotte into helping her, and even luckier she found a distraction that is way more interesting than trying to find the right shelf for a given book.
As players looking in, we would all be disappointed if there wasn’t a secret room in the witchcraft academy’s library that led to some interdimensional portal behind a sealed door, but Akko and her friends were shocked by its discovery. This must be because they are still witches in training and not fully-certified witches yet. Hostile monsters and strange locations await Akko and her friends when they use the magic portal to venture out into the mysteries that are locked away in this hidden room.
When Akko returns to the Academy, she discovers from talking to other students and teachers it’s still the first day of summer break. Somehow she has ended up in a Groundhog Day time loop, and soon her odd behavior and inability to hide her déjà vu causes other girls in the school to follow her into the library and like most high school secrets this ends up reaching a much larger audience than she originally intended, and also some speculation about how they can pretty much get away with anything they want since the day is in an infinite loop. This also leads to there being more party members to play with and more personalities to spice up the cutscenes, though none of them have better facial expressions than the poison mushroom loving Sucy.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is divided into two main parts. The first part is when Akko is in her school. This is where she can look for events and talk to students and teachers to unlock side quests. A good chunk of time is spent here before Akko first discovers the secret of the library. During this portion of the game the clock is actively ticking and the school environment changes throughout the day. Certain areas are only accessible during certain time periods and main events that advance the story may sometimes only be found during a certain time of day.
This works well for establishing a sense of order to the game world and it helps make the story feel more natural but what’s good for the narrative might not be as nice for gameplay. An example of this is in one of the earlier quests, Akko needs to talk to a teacher to get a certain spell. This spell can’t be acquired until sundown, so when Akko gets the spell she can’t go to the area she needs to get to until the next morning so she has to navigate through the school back to her bed and start the new day before completing the objective.
Navigating through the academy is one of the weaker points of the game. The academy is large but most of the environments look similar. There’s no directional indicator on the rotating minimap in the HUD and the main map in the pause menu only shows what area the player is in, not the exact location. Using the maps to get where you want to go can be done, but the combination of 2.5 layout where every floor feels like a loop with the rotating minimap and no compass makes the process not as streamlined as it could be, especially since there is some element of time sensitivity to certain objections.
Exploring the academy to advance the story can feel heavily padded. There are quite a few quests where the player has to go to an area, talk to someone and then go to another area, which can feel like Akko is being sent on a wild goose chase to artificially extend the quest time. This is compounded when certain key events or individuals are only in a spot during a certain time window. One particular instance where this made no sense was when Lotte wanted a specific item for a sidequest. The item was found, but then time shifted into the next couple hour block so Lotte moved to a different area and when she was approached the item she so desperately wanted never came up in conversation. Our paths crossed a couple more times at different times and locations, but the quest couldn’t progress until she was seen in the secret room at the proper time which just felt like a symptom of poor design.
Down in the secret room is where the gateway to the action is. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is an action RPG that plays like a beat ‘em up, or a more appropriate genre would be cast n’ blast. The player can take a party of three into the fray and each party member can be equipped with up to six spells. Controls are basic: there’s a jump, weak attack and strong attack and holding down the shoulder buttons will turn on the spell hot keys. The minimap in the HUD in this part of the game is about as straightforward and intuitive as it can be, and the typical goal to advance to the next room is to defeat all the enemies in an area and navigate to the boss encounter. The boss designs and battles are an area the developers ensured would stand out. These opponents are formidable in appearance and while some of them just require more attacks to take down, some require a specific strategy, like only being able to receive damage after a counter attack has been performed.
This portion of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is quite a bit of fun. It plays like an old school arcade fighter and the spell controls make it easy to make spellcraft a major part of battle. Despite Akko having a low starting intelligence score compared to everyone else, the AI of her companions leaves something to be desired. The expectation exists in most games where it is up to the player to do all the heavy lifting and AI companions are there for support, but not since Dragon’s Crown has there been a crew of NPCs that were so oblivious to the nature and existence of traps. The balance between these two sections of gameplay is rather uneven, as the action portions tend to be relatively short compared to the amount of time it takes to complete the objectives in the academy to unlock them.
Witches are nothing without their spells and there is no shortage of spells for these young ladies to learn. Spells are based on constellations and there are seven pages of different spells that will eventually be unlocked as the player progresses in experience level. Each of the party members can have six different spells equipped, so once the player has reached a certain point there can be quite a variety of magic attacks happening on screen. Characters will gain skill points as well, so depending on the needs the player wants a certain character to fulfill they can be built to be the most efficient team.
Graphics and sound is an area where Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time excels. The anime-style graphics look fantastic and the animations that occur during the cutscenes do a lot to help bring the world of Little Witch Academia to life. The different characters and their personalities seem to be fulfilling more of a tropecasting role than creating truly individual and nuanced characters, but they end up fitting in with the rest of the game, and their idiosyncrasies can be entertaining and humorous. The music while exploring the academy seems like it would fit right at home in the castles of the early Dragon Quest games, which is a compliment to any JRPG.
While not without some criticism, Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is an enjoyable experience. The time spent running to random points of the academy in order to advance the story could have benefited by being more streamlined to feel less monotonous and the map system could use some tweaking, but the game is entertaining past those shortcomings. The dialogue sequences themselves are pleasant, the story is interesting and the action sequences are at the perfect level of action where there is a lot going on but it never gets too busy where the player is trying to figure out what exactly is happening Licensing an anime into a game is always risky, as any fan of Dragon Ball and Sword Art Online can attest to, but thankfully for Little Witch Academia fans, their first game is one that’s worth playing. If the developers keep the basic formula intact and streamline some of the issues that held this title back from true greatness, there’s a lot of potential for more games from this franchise.