Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Six reasons all the people who suggested I'd hate A Witch's Tale were wrong

Shortly after I announced on Twitter that I was starting through A Witch's Tale, my old podcasting pal Mollie Patterson sent me a GIF of Morgan Freeman nodding his head and saying, "Good luck."

She wasn't the first to warn me away from this Hit Maker-developed, Nippon Ichi Software-published Nintendo DS RPG. In fact, I'd say most folks have responded negatively whenever I've expressed an interest in it.

Still, I'm the sort of bloke who prefers to come to his own conclusion about such things. So, true to form, I stubbornly stuck my long-ignored cartridge of A Witch's Tale into my trusty 3DS a couple of weeks ago and prepared for the worst.

Eighteen-ish hours later, I'm here to tell you those naysayers were wrong. Or at least they were wrong to believe I'd hate the game.

On the contrary, I loved it. The more time I spent with A Witch's Tale, the more I enjoyed it. And now that I'm done with it, I can honestly say it's been a highlight of my year. Here are a few reasons why.

It looks lovely--At first glance, A Witch's Tale isn't anything special, aesthetically speaking. Oh, it's colorful and cute, but so are countless other DS titles. What eventually set it apart from the ho-hum pack in my mind was how it deftly combines charming spritework and deliciously lush backdrops. Usually I'm not a fan of this kind of commingling, but it produces eye-popping results with such regularity here that it's easy to embrace.

Its battles really grew on me--Early on in my playthrough of A Witch's Tale, I found its turn-based battles rather annoying. It didn't help that every single action required me to utilize the system's touch screen. I'm fine with that in some DS gaming situations, but it can make for slow-paced fights when shoehorned into an RPG like this one. That's what I thought in the beginning, anyway. My opinion on the matter changed mightily a little later on, though--so much so that I actually relished the occasional tussle as this quirky adventure approached its conclusion.

I especially like how "ancient magic" works in A Witch's Tale--The element that slows down this game's battles the most is called ancient magic. To unleash one of these bigger-than-usual spells on the enemies lined up in front of you, you have to correctly trace a "rune" on your DS' touch screen. It's a source of frustration at the start, as screwing up--and thus failing to send forth a ring of fire, a torrent of water, and the like--is easy as can be if you race through the experience. In time, though, I came to appreciate the careful nature of this aspect of A Witch's Tale--mainly because it keeps you from spamming high-powered magic and forces you to use at least a smidgen of strategy while taking on baddies.

The locations you explore in it are a breath of fresh air--OK, so A Witch's Tale does feature the requisite "snow area." Even then, though, it's more Christmas-y than wintry. The rest of the locales on offer here are not so clichéd. My main--and almost only--complaint with this part of the game is it almost entirely ignores the Halloween-ish Shadow Town. Also, you don't fight any enemies there, which I consider an even bigger missed opportunity. Shouldn't this be where me and my bad-ass doll posse battle the final boss--or at least challenge her second-in-command?

The text is surprisingly witty--No one with any taste is going to tell you A Witch's Tale features the best writing around. They should tell you it's far better than average, though--or far better than you're probably expecting it to be. Speaking of the latter, I went into the game with fairly low expectations in this regard, so that may be why it impressed me as much as it did. At any rate, the thing I like most about this title's localization is that it convincingly transforms the pigtailed protagonist from an annoying brat to, well, someone who still tests your patience but is a lot more likable overall.

It's a properly bite-sized RPG--Although I don't mind playing a lengthy RPG now and then, I far prefer playing ones that take 20 or fewer hours to finish. A Witch's Tale fits this criteria, if only just, but that's not all. It's also designed to accommodate shorter stints of play. Rather than give players an overworld to traverse, it offers them a hub--the aforementioned Shadow Town--that conveniently connects each of the game's six lands. Those lands are fairly well contained, too. Sure, it's possible to get lost in them, but mostly they ensure you move on to the next well before the current one overstays its welcome.

Does all of this mean you'll love A Witch's Tale as much as I did if you give it a try? It could. I think your chances of matching my positive experience will be best, though, if you're the type who likes games that dare to do things differently--even if it doesn't always produce, or even approach, perfection.

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