It’s nice to see Idea Factory trying out some new ideas after some of its longer-running franchises have taken a dip in quality over the last few years. When series like Neptunia and Fairy Fencer have sadly fallen from grace, leaving Idea Factory and its respective coalition of developers now standing in the naughty corner, it gives them time to consider their options until they’re ready to put the past behind them and try something new.
Now teaming up with indie developers Simon Creative and Pupuya Games, Little Witch Nobeta is an experimental game, taking some mechanics of fantasy JRPGs and fusing the gameplay with more modern genres, resulting in a quirky third-person shooter JRPG featuring the challenging bosses and dungeons of Dark Souls, and with an adorable new protagonist.
There is one detail that Idea Factory won’t tell you, and that is Little Witch Nobeta has actually been available for the last two years on Steam and is now a fraction of the price of the PS4 version. The PS4 version, of course, has the benefit of those two years of polish from regular updates, making it the definitive version, but does it justify the ‘new-release’ price tag?
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Nobeta, as the title suggests, is a little witch, and a good one too. Wandering alone one day with no memory of her past, Nobeta recalls her mission; to find the throne room of the nearby castle. Inside, Nobeta rescues a talking black cat from the ghostly apparitions within who then offers to guide her to the throne, though our feline friend knows more about Nobeta’s past than she lets on.
The lost souls haunting the castle seek artificial bodies to possess; marionette-like dolls which also prove a threat to our little witch. As Nobeta battles ever closer to the elusive throne room, both she and her kitty friend wonder if Nobeta’s free will and consciousness are genuine or if she too is some form of sentient doll.
There’s a fascinating feeling of mystery about it all as the roles of Nobeta, the castle and the creatures dwelling within are slowly revealed at the end of the journey, with speculation, instinct and personal motivations filling in the interim space in the story. Despite this, it’s not a tale that’s dragged out by needless filler, with the shorter story suiting the shorter game, at under ten hours.
There’s a lot of world-building lore here too, hidden away for those who take the time to find it. Countless artifacts of various shapes and sizes can be collected and viewed in a separate menu, revealing snippets of Nobeta and the castle’s past, and even the state of their surrounding world.
It’s a game that makes you think and question your actions. Each boss has their own personality, dreams and ambitions, and so defeating them certainly finds a way to tug at your heartstrings as you wonder if your journey is worth the necessary sacrifices. This, and the growing relationship between Nobeta and her cat, carried me through the game when an unexpected twist in the second half gave me a whole lot more to think about, until the finale ties up loose ends nicely and left me hungry for more.
Being something a Souls-like, the game’s difficulty is a major factor when considering the playtime. Choosing the game’s Standard difficulty makes for an easier time since Nobeta can slowly regenerate health, whereas Advanced difficulty leaves you totally dependent on save statues and healing items to recover health, whilst the bosses pack a more powerful punch.
Regardless of which difficulty you choose, you’ll still find Little Witch Nobeta noticeably more forgiving than your average Souls game since the soul essence you absorb during your quest can be spent on healing items and essential stat boosts. Little tip; a few extra levels in Intelligence can make your spells particularly devastating.
Not including supportive spells, there are four offensive spells which you’ll unlock during the first half of the game which is where the ‘shooter’ comparison comes into play. Using the left trigger grants more focused aiming whilst the right trigger casts your chosen spell.
Arcane magic is your starter spell, which is comparable to a high-powered pistol, delivering decent damage with an average rate of fire, whilst Ice magic delivers a high-speed barrage of low-damage projectiles resembling machine gun fire. If you would rather go for higher damage projectiles then the fire spell blasts shorter range bursts of scattered damage reminiscent of a shotgun, or lightning magic delivers single, highly concentrated shots over longer ranges similar to a sniper rifle.
There are pros and cons to each spell, and all are useful in different environments and against certain enemies. Experimenting with each type will prove advantageous against the stunning boss fights. These more powerful sentient dolls require strategic movement and dodging to survive.
Taking your time to explore your environment reveals options to follow the linear paths to your destination, or take more unusual, hard to spot routes through breakable walls, open windows, distant platforms or dark tunnels which can reward you with treasure chests containing spell-books to upgrade your magic.
What can make traversal problematic are a handful of short but unexpected puzzles which require some outside-the-box thinking. I confess I did have to glance at a guide a couple of times after the game’s subtle hints provided no help in finding solutions.
The key to level progression is utilising the enhanced forms of each of your spells which are cast by performing an enchantment beforehand. This then grants additional effects to your spell, such as the ice spell being able to lock on to multiple targets at once whilst granting you a brief period of fireproofing, or the lightning spell striking an area multiple times whilst also giving you a handy speed boost and dash mechanic.
So how does it look? Pretty damn good, truth be told. Nobeta and the other girls are bright and colourful which contrasts the dark environments, giving them an almost otherworldly glow, which is eerily welcome and aided by the haunting atmosphere delivered by the ever-present choir providing the soundtrack. The solid yet Japanese-only voice-acting is also a welcome addition.
The environments are far from limited to just stone-grey castle walls too. You’ll find bioluminescent underground caverns, lava pits, outdoor environments and fantasy realms, all expertly lit with lanterns, flames, glowing mushrooms and very pretty light rays. It makes exploration all the more tempting.
It’s not often I enjoy a game enough to make a second playthrough, but spending more time with Nobeta, grabbing a few more collectibles and trophies was nothing but a pleasure. New game plus is essential for maxing out your stats. While it is technically possible to find every upgrade in a single playthrough, many are incredibly well hidden and so a second or even third playthrough is handy for maxing out each stat with cumulative upgrades.
There are, of course, elements which not everyone will agree are perfect. We’ve already touched on the short runtime and the lower overall difficulty compared to the Souls games. There’s also an elaborate curve in that difficulty, with the game’s bosses offering a moderate challenge in the beginning before really peaking just before the halfway point.
With your full arsenal of spells and growing firepower, the second half of the game is a comparative breeze. I actually enjoyed the feeling of being an unstoppable, badass sorceress after working my way up. Though she might be a god-tier witch who’s strong enough to give Wanda Maximoff a run for her money, it’s also impossible to forget just how kind-hearted and adorable Nobeta is.
Nobeta will happily rock an assortment of cute ensembles and take little naps at save statues which only adds to her likeability, though why several people have dismissed the game as risky lolicon ecchi is lost on me. You won’t find anything of the sort here. Seriously, if you find anime Harry Potter too raunchy then please have a chat with a mental health professional.
The general gameplay is an absolute joy and the world so incredibly inviting. It’s a breath of fresh air to play a magic-focussed fantasy that still manages to feel like a third-person shooter. It’s unusual to see destructive skills utilised to solve puzzles yet they’re also rather fun to play around with.
And so, we reach the end of our journey, and while there will be those who wish certain elements of this Shooter/JRPG/Souls fusion were more present than others, there’s no denying that each component has been polished to ensure both ease of use and stylish execution.
Little Witch Nobeta may not be able to compete with its triple-A rivals in some respects, but it’s still hard to find much fault with such an enjoyable adventure. It looks like Idea Factory finally has a winner on its hands. This is quite the remarkable discovery after its incredibly limited physical release. Bravo. Sequel please.
- Adorable protagonist
- Fun shooter-like gameplay
- Great atmosphere
- A bit short
- Souls fans won’t like the drop in difficulty