Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: A Witch's Tale

So I just finished one of NIS America's recent imports for the DS:  a game called A Witch's Tale.  A quick glance through the 'net gives the game an average to above-average rating, which I would have to agree with, for the most part.

Story/Plot: 8/10
The plot is fairly entertaining; it takes a lot of its inspiration from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.  At least it does in the sense that most of the characters get names straight out of the book (though your main character is named Liddell, which is the last name of Alice Pleasance Liddell, who Carroll dedicated his books to).

Basically you start as a witch-in-training who wants to discover the really really powerful magic, like Queen Alice used 1000 years ago... Your search leads you to the vampire Loue's castle where you open a ancient tome to find that, instead of getting any magic, you've released the Eld Witch -- an evil witch who had wrecked havoc on the world of 1000 years ago.  So now you have to visit the six kingdoms and set things right.

The storyline goes from there to be pretty predictable (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) though there is some well written dialogue between Loue (who decides to accompany you on the journey) and Liddell.  And while it's not explicit per se, there is quite a bit of backstory and legend developed for each world and its princess... though, again, you have to go a bit out of your way to get said stories from the locals.

It's also worth mentioning that this game takes a cue from Dragon Quest I, in that you only have one real player-character (and you collect dolls to make up the 2 other members of your party).  Some reviews have chosen to demerit the game for lack of player-characters, but after a game like Cross Edge, Final Fantasy X, or even Chrono Cross, to have only one character to manage is actually somewhat refreshing.

Graphics: 8/10
This is a DS game so you can't really judge too harshly on the quality, per se... I find it's more appropriate to examine it by style, and this game DOES have style.  The character designs are your standard anime-type fare (go see games like Ar-Tonelico, Zwei, Disgaea, Atelier, etc) but they are drawn well, all the same.  While we did get to see the DS put out some cheesy cartoons in, say, the Layton games... all A Witch's Tale has are large standstill images to use for its action images.  These are also well drawn, but a little less imagery and a little more motion might've been a nice touch.  Where this game really shines, though, is in its world designs.  I found the graphics did what graphics are supposed to do: help tell the story.  And they do so beautifully.  The backgrounds in this game are on par with some of the best SNES games, artwise.  Lots of little touches and details that really give each world its own distinct atmosphere.

Control: 2/10
Long story short, the only thing you can use for this game is the touch-pen.  All those buttons on the DS do absolutely nothing.  And while I would give this game credit if the touch pen was used in some innovative fashion (like in some of the minigames in Mario and Luigi: Inside Bowser Story, or even in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin) in this game all it does is drive menus and move your character.  This is equivalent to Square's FFIII usage, only in that game it was an option instead of using strictly the buttons... In A Witch's Tale you aren't allowed the option of using the buttons.  This is annoying for a number of reasons.  First, despite a great number of advances since early touch screen technology, it still isn't all that accurate (you often touch the screen in one place and there's an action a bit above the cursor or a bit below, despite your best efforts at calibration -_-).  I should add that this inaccuracy is especially annoying when trying to draw runes (though it wasn't THAT bad).  Second, for how many battles there are, I really like how in most RPGs you can pretty much hold the confirm button to just "attack" the enemies (or in some of the better ones, you can save your typical action list on a particular recurring set of enemies and keep reusing that)... only in this game there isn't any such option.  So, control kinda fell flat all around.

Gameplay 8/10
So here's the main bread and butter of any DS game.  Gameplay takes two forms in this game:  solving puzzles on the various world maps, and fighting monsters in a typical turn-based RPG format.  The world exploration and puzzles in this game...while not up to say, Golden Sun level, often tell the story of the particular world you're in... what's gone wrong since the Eld Witch came back.  Most of them are pretty much fetch quests (enter dungeon A to find item x which you must use to gain entrance to dungeon B, where you find item z...and so on) but there are a number of dungeons where you have to navigate some interesting traps and such.  Nothing too out of the ordinary for most RPG players, but fun nevertheless.

The battle system is nothing innovative, but it is different than most RPGs in that it heavily favors the use of magic, and the element system is never laid out explicitly, so you therefore have to keep a mental record of the different types of enemies you come across.  And while there is obviously some color swapping even as soon as the third world, this isn't necessarily a bad thing because in a sense, this is the game giving you the ability to keep a short list of different enemies and their weaknesses.  Once you find a given enemy's weakness you can typically one- or two-shot them when you come across them.  Of course, once you come across enemies that can toss up a reflective barrier, you better hope you've got a companion present with a weaker spell so you don't kill yourself.  Thus the battle system is heavily magic-based (as you'd expect when your main character is a witch) and you'll find yourself rarely, if ever, using pure physical damage.  To balance this, the game does tend to throw more random encounters at you than your average RPG, though there seems to be an internal counter where the game will throw fewer battles at you if you are higher level; essentially it measures how much exp you really need for the next area.

Anyway, that's my review.  I'd say the overall score is probably 7.5/10,or 75% if you prefer.  It's not a great game, but it is a nice reprieve in a certain sense from games where heavier involvement is necessary.

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