Covering games, you learn something new about entertainment media everyday. For instance, did you know there’s a genre of art dubbed "neo-gothic surrealism"? Think Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas.
A Witch’s Tale, developed by Hit Maker and published by NIS America, falls into this category as well. It’s a turn-based RPG with a Halloween-esque setting surrounding princesses, witches and vampires.
What makes it unique?
The art, undoubtedly. For a lo-res game created entirely using hand-drawn sprites, A Witch’s Tale looks really smooth. Jaggies are barely noticeable. Thematically, it’s very gothic but that didn’t prevent the art team from using a wide range of colours and letting their imaginations go crazy with the environments. You’ll come across spooky castles, creepy looking undead towns and early on, a city made entirely out of waffles and candy. It really does look reminiscent of a Tim Burton product and in fact, it draws quite a lot of inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. You can tell this is where the majority of the development team’s effort went; it’s a beautiful looking game.
Is there a story?
There is! Liddell is an (initially) spoilt witch-in training, who aspires to become the greatest witch of all time. In her attempts to do so, she accidentally releases the evil Eld Witch, who was sealed away by Queen Alice — a saviour who brought piece to the land 1,000 years ago. Liddell and Loue, the vampire assigned to guard the Eld Witch’s seal, head out to find a way to defeat the Eld Witch once more. That’s the gist of it.
A Witch’s Tale is a fairly traditional random battles / turn-based combat RPG with a few curious design choices. For one, everything is controlled via the touch screen. Buttons don’t do anything in this game…at all. Walking, fighting battles, searching for items are all handled using the stylus.
Walking around occasionally causes a black claw to spring out of the ground and grab you, which triggers a random battle. You can have up to three party members active in battle at once: Liddell and two of her dolls. These dolls are scattered throughout the land and once you find one, it can fight alongside you. You can also choose in what order you’d like your party members to act.
The four main actions in battle are: Attack (melee), Magic, Item and Escape, and all four are represented by icons on the touch screen. In order to use magic against enemies, you’ll have to tap the Magic icon, which will bring up the "revolver." The revolver contains different magic runes, which you can cycle through. In order to use a magic spell, you’ll need to drag and drop its rune to the appropriate enemy icon. The different elements are: Thunder, poison, ice, plant, fire and water. Attacking is done the same way — drag and drop the Attack icon over to whichever enemy you want to hit.
Eventually, you’ll learn how to use ancient magic, which it seems is where the touch screen idea originally stemmed from. Once you have access to ancient magic, you’ll be required to trace rune patterns using the touch screen, which will do more damage than usual to enemies. Naturally, it also costs a lot more MP, so you’ll need to be careful in how you use it because Lidell and her party members share a common MP bar.
Exploration and hunting for items are handled via the touch screen as well. The different areas in A Witch’s Tale have objects blocking your path at a lot of places, and you can break them by tapping them with the stylus, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Sometimes, you’ll find items by breaking objects apart, other times you’ll get nothing. The problem is, walking around and clearing a path using the stylus doesn’t feel necessary since the game isn’t an adventure like Zelda. The touch screen controls feel a little "draggy" and while you eventually get used to using the stylus for combat, it still feels a slow and unnecessary. It’s great that there’s a healthy selection of magic elements to choose from but cycling through them with the stylus is a bit of a hassle. Really, the only time the touch screen ever feels necessary is for using ancient magic.
The other odd choice is the encounter rate. I couldn’t tell if it was dependent on the area I was in, but the random encounters spiked at times and dropped at others. Sometimes I’d run into enemies every three steps, while at others, I could explore nearly the entire map without having to fight. This might have been a measure to keep the game from feeling too grindy but it didn’t quite work out the way Hit Maker intended, if that is the case.
A Witch’s Tale feels a little shallow and doesn’t pose much of a challenge at all. The longer you play, the shorter battles get. The game is really easy and there isn’t much to keep you interested in its design, unless you’re really keen to know what happens to the Eld Witch.