In Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time, you control the plucky protagonist of the series, Akko Kagari. It’s the first day of summer vacation, and Akko is already in trouble. (Typical Akko.) She gets assigned to tidy up the library, which A) seems to have no librarian at all and B) might also be haunted, according to Luna Nova’s journalism club. While putting books away with the help of her friends Lotte and Sucy, Akko stumbles upon a secret room off the library. This room connects to a chamber with a giant, glowing, clearly magical grandfather clock, and a mysterious door that leads to dungeons where Akko can use battle magic freely – something that clearly excites her, considering her magic is usually a bit less user friendly!
And then things get odd. Akko, Lotte, and Sucy head to bed after battling their way through a dungeon in the mysterious room… only to repeat the same day as before. Yup, we’re in a Groundhog Day situation: the flow of time has been disrupted, forcing Akko, Lotte, Sucy, Amanda, Constanze, Jasmika, and Diana to repeat the first day of summer vacation over and over again. To restore the flow of time, the girls must explore the mysterious ruins beyond the door and try to fix the clock that everyone just assumes Akko broke. (Again, typical Akko.)
The story feels like it takes place about halfway through the anime, so it can take a moment for fans of the series to orient themselves as to what Akko knows versus what they know. Luckily for those needing a refresher, you can choose to “reminisce” about the school and each of Akko’s friends as they’re introduced, which triggers cute cutscenes of footage from the anime that introduce Akko’s relationship with each person. (It’s worth noting I skipped most of these, as I was ready to get to playing, but I revisited them in the menu later to get a feel for them. You can rewatch cutscenes you’ve unlocked at any point from the menu.)
To move the main plot along Akko must also help out her classmates around the school in a series of sidequests, or sub-events as Chamber of Time calls them. For fans of the anime, this is a unique chance to get to explore Akko’s magical school and get to learn a bit more about all of her classmates as she helps them with tasks ranging from sneaking into the cafeteria to eat fruit tarts to using magic to help cram for a make-up test. As someone utterly charmed by the world of Little Witch Academia, I loved getting to really dive into the school. It helps that the game is completely voice acted – even very minor characters have fully voiced dialogue.
Everything related to the characters and story is delightful. There are new animated cutscenes specifically for the game, and the banter between Akko and her friends is pitch-perfect for the anime.
There are two main modes of gameplay in Chamber of Time: side scrolling beat-em-up style dungeon exploration, and task-based world exploration. The main action of the game takes place in the dungeons, which are the mysterious ruins accessed by using different keys on the large door in the chamber Akko finds off the library. Different keys take you to different ruins with different enemies. You assemble a party of three characters and control whoever you assign as the leader. You can choose from Akko, Lotte, Sucy, Amanda, Jasmika, Constanze, and Diana. It’s worth noting that Akko does not need to be in your party, and you can control a different character each time you enter a dungeon.
Each girl has different strengths, stats, and bonus skills or boosts the party gets when they’re the leader. Akko, for example, has very low magical points which means she can only cast one strong spell before having to wait for her MP gauge to refill. But when she’s the leader, her teammates get a boosted experience point gain. It’s a pretty clever system that makes it so you constantly want to reevaluate your team depending on the area you’re going into. Are you facing down lots of clockwork enemies? Constanze, the taciturn gearhead, should be your go-to leader. Are you more interested in scoring as much treasure as you can? Make Lotte your leader and her spirit friends will point out hidden loot.
The first few times in a dungeon can be a bit chaotic, but there’s a surprising amount of fun and exploration to be had. The dungeons aren’t linear, but instead a branching map. After defeating all the enemies in an area you can often choose which direction to go next. The exploration aspect was a pleasant surprise, especially as you’ll likely be replaying the same areas a few times as you level up, hunt for items, and try to find more keys to new areas. The repeat plays of an area made me appreciate how your leader character could change up the experience. You might want Akko as your leader the first time through for the experience point boost, but the next few times you might pick Lotte or Sucy for the exploration boost.
Battle isn't perfect - I did get frustrated a few times when a spell completely missed an enemy because I wasn't lined up just so, and sometimes my AI teammates made some... questionable decisions. (Diana got stuck in the far wall a lot, just saying.) At higher difficulties, this can get VERY frustrating, as you feel like your leader character is carrying the team instead of leading it. But then you do get to feel incredibly cool as the lone witch battling against a giant, beautifully animated boss monster...
I mentioned keys to new areas, which brings me to the other main part of gameplay: subevents, or the side-quests given to you by your classmates and professors. Sometimes after completing one of these subevents you’ll score a new key, which unlocks a new part of the dungeon. These subevents are cute fetch-quest style things: sometimes you need a specific spell, or to talk to the right people in a certain order, or to just sneak your way into a certain area at a specific time. I had fun running around collecting as many of them as I could and seeing what I’d need to do to complete them. Since you’re repeating the same day over and over, you need to do a bit of planning to complete the subevents. Admittedly, some of these subevents can get a little taxing, especially as Luna Nova can be confusing to navigate.
Time is a key aspect of the game. You might be stuck in the same day, but that day progresses, and to finish subevents you need to be mindful of that. Characters change location depending on the time of day, and if you wait too long you won’t be able to finish subevents that are time-sensitive. It isn’t too big a deal, though: you can always wait for the day to reset if you miss your window.
And that’s the bread and butter of Chamber of Time: bash your way through enemies in the ruins beyond the mysterious door, and help your classmates with small tasks in order to find new keys to reach new ruins and hopefully, eventually, fix the flow of time. Luckily, there’s a lot to be done in a single repeating day! Again, this can get repetitive - run to x character, talk to y, go back to x, talk to z, and so on. It isn't something that bothered me too much, but it did feel like it was padding out the game's play time, and quick travel wasn't much help. (You have to buy potions to be able to use magic to quick travel and even activate save points - we're in Resident Evil territory, kiddos, save your ink ribbons.)
I didn’t really know what to expect going into Chamber of Time, but I was pleasantly surprised. Character art, animation, and dialogue felt true to the series, and the gameplay was varied and fun. If I got tired of dungeon crawling there were always sidequests to do, and vice-versa. Even though sidequests were basically long fetch-quest chains, it didn't bother me much as I was just so charmed by the world. Experimenting with who went into my party really made a huge difference in whether I struggled or blew through dungeons, which I expect will only become more important as I progress to more difficult areas. I will admit, a lot of the charm is in feeling like you’re controlling an arc of the anime, so I’m not sure how good a game this is for people without that emotional attachment. But fans of Little Witch Academia will love spending more time in the world of Luna Nova and getting to experience more of Akko's magical school experience.