With publisher NIS America, Japanese developer Hit Maker brings their new Nintendo DS RPG to the west, A Witch's Tale. Liddell is the star of Hit Maker's tale, a young studying witch radically set on becoming not only the best witch, but the best witch ever. Landing in the Halloween season with a theme of witches and vampires, does this twist on the classic RPG genre do much for originality, or is it just a rotting post-Halloween jack-o-lantern?
A Witch's Tale has some very traditional gameplay including dungeon crawling with random battles, and turn based combat with all the standard HP and MP status bars gamers have come to expect in an RPG. A twist is that all the combat uses the touch screen interface. In fact, none of the buttons on the DS work while playing the game with the exception of the power switch. This is more problematic than it is useful as the combat is an odd drag and drop system. This drag and drop system seems to draw out the length of battle only because it takes longer to complete than just picking out attacks from a list by tapping an option, then the enemy.
The interface in general is rather troublesome, as it's only accessible via the touch screen. Walking around with the main character by guiding her with the pen is not bad, but there are certain points in the game where the character has to break objects in the way and the screen suddenly becomes unresponsive. For the most part everything is rather decent to control, it's just that the way everything is presented seems to drag gameplay out longer than it should, especially for a handheld title. It's just way too easy to close the screen and completely forget what do do next when opening the system back up to continue playing, since everything is so dragged out.
On the plus side A Witch's Tale does have some decent graphics. There is a nice array of colour and the levels are all relatively nice looking, offering plenty of variety. All the levels are based off of different sorts of fairy tales, almost reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The characters are all fairly well animated sprites and are well drawn. The downside however is that there isn't really much animation beyond the basic sprites within the maps. Battles are all images with small animations of fire or ice followed by a number for damage.
Although the levels are decent, the random battle system in the game feels a little broken. For example, in the beginning there could be an encounter with some monsters that are almost too high of a level and cause the team to die almost immediately. Then all of a sudden there will be card discovery battles that give insanely large amounts of experience for doing essentially nothing. This causes the whole game to feel a little disjointed, and grinding becomes a strange ordeal since it doesn't seem to make to much difference where the player goes to level.
Probably the largest downside of A Witch's Tale is its story. Even trying to suspend disbelief in this story is tricky when it falls into such a ridiculous cookie-cutter plot for a Japanese RPG. The story follows the tale of a young witch named Liddel, who accidentally opens a book that sets an ancient evil witch free who attempts to destroy the world. With the help of an androgynous vampire named Loue, they set out to stop the "Eld Witch". It all feels so generic, and watching things happen that probably shouldn't just for the sake of the story's progression is just annoying. For example, Loue had been guarding the book of the Eld Witch for apparently around 1,000 years, and when Liddel walks in to read it, he just stands there suggesting that she shouldn't read it instead of actually stopping her.
The music doesn't really help either. A lot of it is very repetitive Halloween type music that's all very grim and dark sounding. It's all so slow moving that it really doesn't help the progression of the game at all. Not to say the music is really bad, it's just short samples that repeat far too frequently. The sound of the game is also very Super Nintendo era, which is nice in the sense of a nostalgic twist on the game and does help in a lot of ways. It's just too bad there weren't more lively sounding tunes in a lot of parts, or even longer samples for that matter.
In the end, A Witch's Tale does have a fairly solid foundation of a decent throwback to a traditional Japanese RPG. It's just that there's so many problems with the way the interface works and the pacing of the game that it just bogs the whole game down. The difficulty is also rather sporadic and it could make it hard for a younger audience to jump into. When it comes down to it, if there is a heavy interest in a long and very traditional RPG for the DS there may be a little something to look into here. However, for most people there isn't all that much fun to be had.