Magic in video games seems to be experiencing a small renaissance at the moment because beyond this new game based on the Little Witch Academia franchise, the recently released Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery and Witchbrook (by Chucklefish) have also been offering us a taste of the fantastical. That's fine with us though because in the past few years we haven't been to magic school and explored mystical books found therein often enough.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time was developed by A+ Games in close cooperation with the Japanese animation studio behind the series, Studio Trigger, and thus we get a completely synchronised cast of characters, with animated cutscenes that bring us a little closer to everyday life at the Luna Nova Academy, as well as a new story for fans of the franchise to enjoy.
As in the anime we dive into the role of Atsuko Kagari (aka Akko), a determined and spirited witch, however, her magic arts aren't that great in the game. When Akko once again causes trouble, Professor Finnelan gives her the task of cleaning up the entire school library, but the timing couldn't be worse since it's the end of our first school year and the summer holidays are just around the corner. What's more is that after visiting a mysterious room we disrupted the passage of time (don't you just hate it when that happens) and, as a result, we get thrown back in time at the end of each day. It's Groundhog Day meets witchcraft.
Don't fret if you don't know the anime, because no previous knowledge is necessary to enjoy the game or understand the individual connections between characters and plotlines. If you still want to know more about the history or the individual witches you can always have a look at a selection of animated sequences which offer a small overview, and we'd advise doing so because the diversity of the characters is one of the highlights of the game. This is especially important because in the action-filled parts of Chamber of Time, now a sidescroller beat 'em up, we have to put together our own three-strong team of witches.
To customise the individual witches you can unlock new spells and improve their abilities after ascending to each new level. In addition, the accessories that we buy or receive during the course of a dungeon provide additional enhancements, and once we found the perfect combination, we set off on an adventure. The change between the two sections is also nicely executed in terms of narrative as, with the help of different keys found over the course of the game (there are 56 pieces all told), various portals open to other worlds where new and dungeons wait.
Outside of the dungeons you exist in a 3D environment in and around the Academy, where the sidescroller action is replaced by tasks and more traditional JRPG gameplay. The adventure section of the game is probably the most fun for anime fans, as side tasks let us learn more about the friends of Akko and help them with everyday problems. The time-travelling works especially well because every character can be found in a certain place at a certain moment.
The tasks themselves are also linked to specific times. For example, if a witch finds one of the collectible coins at 4pm, we can return to the place before 4 pm after the next time jump and catch it ourselves. In addition, the "seven wonders" of the school must be explored with the help of magic, requiring you to use telepathy, repair, and levitation spells. It's a pity, however, that the individual spells are always intended for a certain object and we have no chance to use them outside of their intended target.
As already mentioned, all cutscenes from the game were created by the original animation studio, and thus Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time establishes a strong connection to the series. The trouble is that, especially after these sequences, it's particularly noticeable how often the 3D environments feel out of place. The style jars with that of the characters, and everything seems sterile and very bare. This is a pity because we could have learned a lot more about the world surrounding the game, especially through the individual classrooms or rooms of our classmates, be it through Easter eggs from the series or small hints that reveal more about the background of the academy to people without an in-depth knowledge of the series.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time doesn't hide the fact that it exists primarily to give its fans new insights into the world of Akko and while the magical story and entertaining dialogue stands out, the game has difficulty conveying the world of the anime into a three-dimensional, explorable world, which therefore often ends up feeling a little empty. The dungeons are entertaining and offer a lot of freedom thanks to the great adaptability of the characters. In addition to that, there's always the option of using the co-op and PvP mode for a little variety.
So how much fun you have with the game depends on your expectations, then. When it comes to fan service, A+ Games and Studio Trigger have done almost everything right and even someone like who, like us, was previously unfamiliar with the franchise will find a relaxing rhythm develops after a short amount of time. Sure there are some issues, but for the most part Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time is lots of fun and a great tie-in to the series.