Nippon Ichi is definitely known for their idiosyncratic RPG flavor, so it will come as no surprise when I tell you that A Witch’s Tale is like a cross between goth design and Alice in Wonderland. The latest DS effort from NIS delivers an RPG that goes light on difficulty and heavy on peculiar characters and set design. The mixture of Halloween inspired visuals and doll collecting is nothing out of the ordinary for fans of the company, but the staggeringly easy difficulty may be. However, the combat remains entertaining and the eccentric characters and battles make this an experience that fans of the genre will not want to miss.
You play as Liddell, a young witch that carries an attitude large enough to squash smaller countries. Her ultimate goal is become the greatest witch the world has ever seen. In her quest to uncover the knowledge she unearths the fabled Eld Witch, with whom she will inevitably have to do battle with to prove her worth. Along the way she will collect dolls to add to her band of attackers as well as her tomato-tossing vampire friend Loue as she strives to become the ultimate witch. The story and plotline borrows heavily from Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland, and even contains some of the familiar characters. This is likely to appeal to the adolescent RPG crowd as is evident with the game’s difficulty. There are also references to other fables such as Hansel and Gretel and even the basis for my last DS RPG endeavor, The Wizard of Oz.
The object of the game is to visit each of the six worlds, rescue a princess, and of course save the day. The premise is simple and the characters are charming, but each world offers very little in the way of variety. You will be tasked with finding items that are all part of a key, unlock the castle, and defeat the boss. This is where the repetition sets in. You will be forced to grind through dungeons and hunt and peck while attempting to uncover all three pieces. This might not be such a chore if the battles were a little more challenging, but as it stands the game’s length is based solely on performing the same task over and over.
The battle system takes place in first person and is ridiculously simplified when compared to other games in the genre. There is one giant pool of magic that all characters use, and rarely does it expend itself to depletion. The only real strategy in boss encounters is finding a way to end the fight quicker. Rarely will you see a game over screen unless you try to die, and most enemies can be defeated with standard attacks making some of the more impressive ones obsolete. The one thing I really did enjoy collecting were the dolls and runes. Runes basically act as special attacks for Liddell. When activated you get to trace the shape of the rune with the stylus, and upon success, deal massive amounts of damage.
The six worlds you adventure through are all themed and feel strikingly different. Collecting dolls becomes as addictive as collecting swords in Muramasa. Problem is they suffer the same problem as the aforementioned game. You will quickly discover a couple dolls that are extremely effective, and the rest will be simply added to your collection. You will probably use them once or twice, but after that they become more like trophies. Most of your dolls will gain experience just like a regular RPG party and even learn new skills, but once you settle on the select few to take advantage of, it makes it that much harder to try and add diversity to your lineup.
From the gameplay front the game is controlled entirely with the stylus. Surprisingly this works out well in the long run as menus and navigation are handled extremely well. Personally I am becoming more and more of a fan of this style as it ends up making the game less confusing. A Witch’s Tale is designed around this premise which makes navigation that much more intuitive. There were times where my hand slowly deviated in the direction of the buttons and d-pad, but after a couple hours I was dedicated and set on solely using the stylus. Combat is exceptionally well done by dragging and dropping spells onto areas, and of course the already mentioned rune drawing becomes a game in and of itself.
Visually the game reminds me of a cross between Zelda and Nightmare Before Christmas. The Halloweed inspired locales and character models really set this game apart from other titles, but the simplistic 2D, top-down perspective delivers a colorful, and appealing look. This isn’t without problems though as some of the levels and enemies tend to repeat much too often. The sound is a mixed bag with decent enough music, but a lack of sound effects and dialogue hurt the package. I know this is a DS game, but so many others have managed to accomplish it that I feel disappointed when some games don’t even attempt to add in minor voice overs.
A Witch’s Tale is a surprisingly charming RPG that is definitely aimed at a more casual audience. The simplistic battles and quirky humor are not meant to stimulate the hardcore crowd, but it remains entertaining. If you are a fan of Nippon Ichi and their quirky brand of games then this will likely not disappoint as long as you go into it knowing its limitations.