This Japanese role-playing game is made of equal parts dull combat and insipid story, A Witch's Tale isn't worth the time it takes to play.
- Pleasing art style.
- Dull combat
- Equally dull story
- Loathsome main character
- Physically uncomfortable control scheme.
Packed with allusions to Alice in Wonderland and defined by a gothic art style, A Witch's Tale is a role-playing game with tons of promise. Unfortunately, that promise goes almost totally unfulfilled. A Witch's Tale's style cannot overcome the realities of its tepid combat and dull story. Even if the combat and the storyline weren't such bores, the main character is one of the most repellant and unlikable protagonists you'll ever encounter. There are too many excellent RPGs on the DS to be subjected to this one.
You play as a young witch named Liddell who attends a magical academy. She begins the game by deliberately unlocking an ancient evil for no reason other than a desire to see harm done. She's warned by another student not to, and she's warned by a guardian vampire not to, but she just goes ahead while proclaiming a general desire to see some damage. That's not actually the problem with Liddell, though. There's a place for awful wretches as protagonists. Particularly in RPGs and strategy games, playing a bad guy or girl is as easy as making the invading enemy paladins instead of orcs.
The problem with Liddell is that she suddenly flip-flops after she releases this 1,000-year old evil, the Eld Witch, allowing herself to be guilt-tripped into venturing out and taking care of this problem she's created. She spends the entire game undoing the damage done to a half-dozen magical kingdoms, despite the fact that Liddell opened the game with a positive thirst for bloodshed. And while Liddell is out doing good work, she still shoots her mouth off about her desire to trash things. This storytelling attempts to show us a young, powerful witch growing up, but what's delivered is a young brat whose motivations are impossible to sympathize with, let alone understand. The eventual reveal of Liddell's tragic youth doesn't do anything but make her a brat with a sob story.
The magical kingdoms could have pulled the story out of this nosedive if it were actually worth caring about them. You explore each of these six magical kingdoms (and a few special levels) in a linear order, freeing them from the Eld Witch's magic and becoming more powerful as you go. All the world maps display the map itself on the top screen and the play area on the bottom, with each one is designed around one element. Desert, winter, and ocean worlds are in there, as per RPG/adventure game design requirements, but there are a few more interesting choices. The game opens with Candyland, which is where gingerbread men live and chocolate lakes are major terrain elements. Your home base is a plane of shadows, the literal shadows of the Eld Witch's victims a millennium ago. The whole setting is rife with Through the Looking Glass character cameos and style. But despite a few neat concepts, each world is really just a tedious dungeon.
To free a world from the Eld Witch's curse, you have to get into its castle and free its ruler, which entails gathering a few items from across that world and forge a key. The ensuing travel sends you across repetitive terrain tiles to fight a paltry few enemy types. Even "world" is a misnomer, but there's no good word for "collection of uninspired and linear map sections." A sparse assortment of characters occupy each world, but they're little more than signposts to point you to the key items. Once you've heard which direction you have to go, there's no more incentive to talk. The characters certainly don't have anything interesting to say.
Once you're in the world's castle, you fight a boss monster. It's usually a powerful servant of the world's ruler but under the control of the Eld Witch. Once you defeat the boss, the ruler is freed from its unique variant of Eld Witch-inflicted-paralysis. As thanks, the ruler gives you the means to reach the next world. It's not much more interesting than being told "your princess is in another castle!" A climactic boss fight could have been worth looking forward to, but the poor game mechanics keep these encounters from being any fun.