Soulslike is so loose a term that it seems to be applicable to anything. Like how every game that has a perfunctory upgrade tree is deemed an RPG. The term just doesn’t mean anything anymore, and the likelihood of a soulslike being anything special is pretty grim.
This may seem like a way to then build up to the revelation that Little Witch Nobeta is actually great, but no. It’s fine; like a lot of other soulslikes, it’s just fine.
Little Witch Dark Academia
First off, I am well aware that this title is in no way relevant, but there was no way I wasn’t going to use it.
You play as Nobeta, and you have to go through a castle to discover your *insert plot point of your choice*. There is also a cat. The story does not matter, and that’s fine. Soulslikes do not need good stories because the overwhelming majority of people who play them couldn’t care less. Cool levels, cool bosses, cool attacks. That’s all we want.
The game immediately boots you into what is the most confusing difficulty select screen since Resident Evil 1. You have the option between either ‘standard’ or ‘advanced’ mode. Seems simple enough until you realise that the advanced difficulty option reads “This is normal difficulty”. Why would they do this?
Anyway, I picked advanced, because difficulty options in soulslikes should be eradicated. If it’s supposed to be a tailored experience, then why bother with the option. And if it’s not a tailored experience, then why make a soulslike?
Enough Talk, Have At You!
After a frightfully bland tutorial, you are thrown into your first level. Initially you have only one form of magic available to you (Arcane). Your combat options are fairly limited, but you have what you need. You can aim, shoot magic, charge your magic for a stronger attack, and use your staff to bat away enemies.
On top of these you also have your mobility options: you can jump, double jump, dodge, and prolong your hangtime after a jump by using your melee attack. The other types of magic you can use are doled out to you through grimoires. These are collectible books which either teach you a new form of magic, or upgrade a form of magic you’ve already learned.
This is how you come to learn the other magical styles: Fire, Ice, and Thunder. Fire is your close-range shotgun, Ice is your rapid fire machine gun, and Thunder is your high damage, slow-firing sniper. All of these types of magic have a special attack that you can only use by taking a moment to charge up your next attack. This is high risk as it slows you down for a few seconds, but the charge can be cancelled at any time, most notably with a roll. This charge also keeps going, so if you roll out of it, it will continue charging like nothing happened. This sort of sounds like a backhanded compliment because it is. I used this every chance I got, and I don’t know if it’s supposed to be as powerful as it is.
The game also has all of the usual soulslike trappings: bonfire statues, stat upgrading, souls from enemies, loss of souls on death. It also has a lock-on, though outside of bosses I never found it useful. You can spend the souls you get from dead enemies to upgrade one of your stats (stamina, health etc.). This feels fairly artificial though as it’s not as though there’s any build variety in this game (you’re GOING to be using magic). This just feel like a cheap way to make the game seem deeper than it is.
Every stage has the concomitant boss. They’re fine. I really don’t have much more to say about them. They’re not particularly challenging, they haven’t any particularly interesting movesets, and there’s no clever ways to go about beating them. Your impression may vary though, as I am becoming so very sick of Dark Souls-esque bosses with health bars and intro cutscenes.
One thing which tends to get lost in soulslike games is the feeling of exploration. Now, this game does have some small in-level exploration when it comes to collecting items and finding chests, but because the game is split into levels, there is no macro-exploration, or any feeling of world building.
Every level is some variation of hallway (or cave) – arena (or cave) – staircase (or rocks) – boss arena, and, aside from the final level having an actual sky-box, there is no deviation from this. Now, this is not an inherently bad structure for a game. Onechanbara and DMC do this exact thing, but the difference there is that the lack of variety or dynamism in the world is more than made up for with the combat, and that just isn’t the case here.
You have your ranged options, as well as a single melee attack to get out of tight spaces, but I didn’t really feel like there was any sort of escalation with how I approached fights. My strategy in the tutorial was to stay away, shoot anything in sight, and dodge if necessary. Regardless of any other powers I acquired, this strategy worked all the way through. This can also be a problem in those previously mentioned games, but they alleviate this tedium by incentivising combos and style. This game has no such system.
So, I’m forced to ask again, why make this game a soulslike?
Here’s some other things I figure I should note:
I played the game on Switch and, while there were no specific hitches or glitches, the load times are frankly abysmal. I usually pause for a moment between sections so I can type up some first impressions, but with this game I could just use the 30-45 second load screens. This is not a problem with the game, just a limitation of the Switch. I’ve had similar load issues with other 3rd party games.
Should you choose to get this game, please change the starting camera position. The default is almost pushing through the back of Nobeta’s head and I’ve no idea why. The zoom when aiming is also too close, but that can’t be changed.
Little Witch Nobeta is nothing special. It does nothing better than any other number of games I could name. Its gameplay becomes fairly stale the moment you realise how truly limited your options are, there’s no sense of character building beyond flat stat upgrades, and the level variety is so stale that if not for some puzzles, I would have been convinced that the levels were randomly generated.
The game has some love put into it with the unlockable costumes and the small lore tidbits, but I just can’t recommend this to anyone who’s played a souls/ soulslike game before. Sure it’s fairly cheap, but there’s no shortage of cheap (and better) soulslikes.