A Witches Tale is a Nintendo DS game developed by Hitmaker and publsihed by NIS. It was heavily inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Caroline and Tim Burton’s nightmare before Christmas. The graphics, visuals and gothic art style were all nicely detailed and even the background designs of the world were superbly rendered. Since NIS is the publisher, the art style is heavily drawn from the Disagea series.
Each of the worlds were based off many fictional stories and this is nothing like the Disney films. They all had their own unique traps, design style and inhabitants. They are also based off a certain element and you can also use an opposite spell that the element the world is based off to exploit enemies’ weaknesses to inflict massive damage.
The enemies were uniquely design and each boss fight had its own strategy.
I really like the dark and brooding gothic atmosphere and style of the story. The user interface was very easy to navigate and it was also quite creative using a Halloween style approach.
The story focuses on Liddel, a witch in training who is considered to be the blacksheep of her school because of her abrasive attitude. Liddel is dark, edgy and sarcastic and she has no respect for any of her peers. She respects ancient magic and what she is being taught is nothing but charms and parlor tricks. She can be too impulsive for her own good and her rebellious nature often put her at odds with authority. She is also incredibly bossy but takes no responsibility for her actions and blame other for her failings and thinks that she is the best witch.
She decides to set off on her own one day to learn the ancient magic that is forbidden. She explores a castle thought to hold ancient magic books and again here impulsive nature brings chaos to the world. Liddel awakens Loue, a vampire guarding the book that holds the Eld Witch and through her own stupidity she accidentally releases the Eld Witch, a powerful and evil sorceress who now spreads chaos amongst the worlds.
The Eld Witch was responsible for assisting a group of witches who lived underground in a world of darkness and carried out raids on the beautiful upper world. Queen Alice, the ruler of the upper world used their own rune magic against them to seal the Eld Witch and her clan in the underworld.
Eventually, this sets off to a journey to rescue the princesses of each respective kingdom to defeat the Eld Witch. Throughout the game you learn more about Liddel’s past and also how many events of the game came to be. The story lore was pretty interesting and nothing like a Disney story. Rune magic is forbidden because it is extremely dangerous.
Loue is a modest, gentle, kind hearted and peaceful vampire who eats tomatoes in lieu of blood. Tomatoes are also used as a revival item but you can only carry one at a time to heal all of your party members. He has the most intelligence out of everyone due to living for quite a long time. He accompanies Liddel in his bat form and helps her out with clues in the worlds she explores. Liddel and Loue share good chemistry and complement one another.
When you complete realms, you can find dolls of the respective princesses of each realm with a powerful spell but they cannot be leveled up. Dolls can also be used to boost your stats in the game. Completing a world gives you a sigil from the princesses and they open up a new world and are all involved in stopping the Eld Witch.
The music and audio effects of the game is spooky and really high quality and each world has its own music. However, it is not the most exciting music in all of JRPG history as songs loop and repeats often. There is no voice acting either so the music just plays through.
The controls in the game are entirely touch screen based. You just have to tap a button to hit an object one or more times or move a stylus to go to wherever you want. You can find chests that have special items in it. Puzzle solving is another element in the game. Puzzles are pretty straight forward, some are memory games and others are matching the right symbol. One of the puzzles is a sliding puzzle where you have to match all of the numbers in the right order and you need to explore to find the missing pieces. There is actually replay value in this and in the second playthrough there is additional story that clears up much of the first playthroughs plot holes.
You can visit Shadowtown where you can exchange the items you found for healing items and also items that can inflict a variety of status ailments to enemies. You can also rest at the inn for free. You can find hidden chests that require certain items to unlock and once you do, you can access a special rare item not normally seen during exploration. You can exchange with Babayaga, a witch that assists you, for special items in any of the worlds you visit. One of the Shadowtown merchants is there to trade with you at the Babayaga’s hideout.
It uses a turn based combat system. The combat is easy and forgiving for newcomers to JRPG games. You have a large amount of magic to use to put spells on enemies and a large amount of health as well. You can inflict status ailments on enemies and they can do the same to you. You just have to simply move a command like attack or summon a spell to place on each enemy.
You can escape battle in most cases and as you level up your spells, your dolls become more powerful. Burst battles gives you the chance to gain more xp than you usually would by fighting multiple enemies and this happens periodically. You also deal more critical attacks to enemies than you normally do during regular battles.
Some chests are ambush attacks by the grim reaper and if you defeat one you can get a special rare item. You can find witches brooms to fast travel back to the overworld but it’s the only form of fast travel in the game. Poker cards increase your stats permanently like attack damage or defense.
Everything else goes downhill from here. Random encounters happen every few seconds and the combat is really slow. Leveling up can take some time. Enemies can be damage sponges because of how slow it is. Another combat impediment is that you have to repair the dolls when they can no longer provide assistance.
By using the same tactics you use over and over again, you can beat the game quicker than expected if it was not for the ridiculously high amount of health enemies. The objectives are almost the same; find a certain number of items and use it to advance to the next area.
The dungeon design and the overworld were not as visually stunning as the rest of the game. There was a lot of empty space with really nothing of value to look at.
Backtracking is another big problem as you often have to go back and forth. The game does not really give you a clear direction where to go next unless you pay close attention to the dialogue which can pretty cheesy at times.
The control system was really awkward as the buttons you use for the DS is pointless. If there was a regular control scheme, it would have work just fine or at least do what The Legend Of Zelda Spirit Tracks and Trace Memory did with the DS system and use it in innovative ways to enhance gameplay. The enemies are all pallet swaps of one another with altered move sets depending on what world you visit. The entire cast of characters were not memorable.
This game is decent at best and worst at execution.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.
There is a lesson to be learned from this. Instead of making a game that caters to one audience or the other, just focus on creating a high quality game that anybody, be it eastern or western players can enjoy. It might have been rushed just so it can be released at the Halloween season in October.
This game is pretty hard to find and it’s a perfect candidate for a remaster for the Nintendo Switch to refine and polish what went wrong so it could be enjoyed more. But as a cult classic, this has its own charm and I appreciate how this game tried to do something different from other JRPGs. So if you are like me and enjoy cult classics, then go ahead and pick this up.