Little Witch Academia is a beautiful success story in the world of anime. What started as a duo of quirky standalone half-hour animations eventually became a whopping 24 episode series that took the world by storm. Spinoffs and adaptations are the fruit of success, and Little Witch Academia’s massive success quickly landed it the honor of being turned into a proper console video game. It’s always difficult to capture the unique charm and aesthetic of an anime or manga that make them so successful in the first place, and while Chamber of Time manages to perfectly achieve that same sense of anime flair and personality, the game ends up missing the mark in many other areas.
For someone who’s never seen or heard of Little Witch Academia, it wouldn’t be unfair to describe the series as “Harry Potter: The Anime”. In a world fueled by magic and mysticism, Akko has always dreamed of becoming a great magician after seeing her idol Shiny Chariot perform an incredible magic show. She manages to make her way to the premiere boarding school of witching, Luna Nova, to train herself in the magical arts. While she starts out with zero magical aptitude, Akko eventually finds herself at the center of a huge magical prophecy that turns her into one of the most important witches of all.
The story of Little Witch Academia goes a lot of places, and the characters in it change and develop a lot. For veteran fans, the specifically early timeframe in the series within which Chamber of Time takes place might be a bit confusing at first. It takes a little while to realize where exactly in the timeline the events of this game take place in, but the game features handy recap cutscenes of the adventures so far to help anyone playing figure out exactly what each character is up to.
Little Witch Academia had an amazing cast of supporting characters, hilarious writing, and wonderful voice acting. All of those elements return in Chamber of Time, and are just as strong as they were in the source material. Chamber Of Time sees you stuck in a Groundhog Day timeloop caused by a mystic clock, and while you’re trying to solve the mystery of the clock, you’ll be interacting with your familiar crew of witch pals and going on errands and quests that give you plenty of new interactions with them.
Those moments of hilarity and adventure are depicted in 3D environments and models that perfectly capture the aesthetic of the original anime, and seeing the goofy mannerisms of Akko and her crew play out in full 3D is a delight. It’s all complimented by music lifted straight from the original anime soundtrack, helping make an already strong adaptation even stronger. All of these parts come together to create a wonderful, picture-perfect window into the world of Little Witch Academia.
It’s a shame, then, that the actual gameplay tying all of this together is so bad.
Gameplay segments in Chamber of Time are split into two distinct areas. First, there are side-scrolling beat ’em up dungeon battles. In these segments, you put together a crew of 3 witches that are tasked with beating baddies and destroying bosses in order level up and progress the story. When you’re not dungeon diving, though, you’ll be exploring the halls of Luna Nova as Akko to talk to classmates, track down quest items, and uncover keys that will open up new dungeons with tougher challenges.
There’s an insane amount of depth to the dungeon-crawling part of Chamber of Time. You have seven different characters to choose from, and each one has a unique moveset, unique stats, detailed skilltrees, and equipment upgrades. Each character also has their own unique battle effects, so while Akko is bad at magic, she gives everyone in the party bonus EXP. The care and detail you can put into customizing your characters is breath-taking, but it all falls apart once you get into a dungeon and actually start fighting.
Characters and enemies alike are perfectly rendered and animated in a vivid anime style, but that anime aesthetic ends up being a fault in battles when character models and projectiles blend together and cause an intense depth perception problem. Countless times when I was fighting enemy mobs or infuriating bosses, I would completely miss attacks I thought I had lined up perfectly. Your AI team mates rarely make-up for your shortcomings, as they absentmindedly blow through all their mana, refuse to heal when damaged, and straight up walk into walls and get stuck. I rarely felt in control during these battles, and I also rarely had fun.
The school exploration segments were the ones I enjoyed more, but it was still definitely a case of picking your poison. In these parts, you’ll be wandering around every floor and room of Luna Nova to track down quest items and engage in conversations to complete quests. As you explore, time progresses, and many of the quests available have time sensitive conditions, so you’ll need to be in the right place at the right time to complete them, and try again on your next loop if you miss them.
The problem with exploring Luna Nova is just how damn confusing it is to explore Luna Nova. The school has 8 different sections across multiple floors, and both the pause menu map and HUD compass do a poor job of telling you where exactly you are within any given area. You’ll need to figure out the lay of the land quickly, because Chamber of Time will constantly have you running back and forth between opposite ends of the school seemingly just for the sake of it. Multiple quests see you being sent to multiple people just to find out you need to actually go to the library, and then instructing you to go track down a key once you get to the library’s locked door. Two step errands are turned into ten step marathons, and it never feels justified or enjoyable.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is heartbreaking. I’m a huge fan of the original anime, and this game does a tremendous job of capturing the heart and personality of that world. Characters look and sound incredible, and getting to explore their school and experience new adventures with them is a blessing. Unfortunately, obtaining that blessing requires a two-mile crawl on your knees through the jagged glass and thorny ivy that is the busted, broken, and simply not fun gameplay of Chamber of Time. Battles are aggravating and exploration is mind-numbing. For as brilliant as the narrative and artistic achievements of Chamber of Time are, it’s weighed down by unpolished game design choices that simply make it no fun to actually play at all.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for PC