Well it may be Nobeta, but it is still in Early Access.
Developer: Pupuya Games
Publisher: Pupuya Games,
Release date: 24 Jun, 2020
While this game is in Early Access, it doesn’t exactly feel like an Early Access title. What is there gives a rather complete feeling and I didn’t actually encounter any real game breaking issues. These are the kinds of Early Access titles I like to encounter rather than those that are disjointed buggy messes although the buggy messes do give an extra bit of puzzle and challenge. However, it truly is luck of the draw when it comes to which Early Access titles to play and which to wait for release on. Little Witch Nobeta can be played and enjoyed right now if you are into the Souls-like games. Sure, it might not be a Dark Souls game, but it is at the very least a Dim Souls game!
Early Access Preview
Little Witch Nobeta is a Dungeon Crawler featuring an innocent looking witch who likely didn’t know what she was getting herself into. The story can be a bit hard to follow at times. This is likely due to translation issues or perhaps it just lacks the refinement that the full release of the game may have. Without spoilers the basic idea is that the Little Witch Nobeta walks up to a castle and thinks to herself she needs to find a cat. Once inside she tries to find a throne and is surprised to find a cat in battle. It turns out the cat can talk and somehow might even be part of her family. I could say more, but like I said, I do my best to avoid spoilers. As you progress through the castle the going gets more difficult. Early on you can easily use your limited magical abilities and staff to clear away anything in your path but that doesn’t last long. Soon the enemies become stronger and greater in number leading you to have to adapt to the changing situation. You will find new magical aids while traversing the many layers of the castle, some of which are useful, others are more situational. There are some puzzles to solve, bosses to fight and overall, the game dabbles in enough different elements that it makes for an interesting playthrough.
Gameplay and Combat
The combat in this game is simple enough, however, the default controls are a bit of a challenge to work with initially. Your standard staff swing melee attack is your weakest attack, your current magic spell can either be charged or fired off without charging. Charged is usually bit more powerful and can have special features such as locking on to multiple targets and automatically hitting them. The trade-off is that a charged shot needs time to build up and once built up will slowly fizzle away unless you unleash it. If you get hit while it is charging, it may get cancelled, and if you need to dodge or otherwise do something more than basic movement, it will be paused until the action is completed. It’s usually worth the risk especially when overwhelmed or versus a boss, but sometimes you just can’t pull it off and survive. Your melee attack, while good enough to finish a weakened enemy off, isn’t really something you can rely on. The enemies have two basic moves that are extra effective versus you, the first being attacking you en-masse, but the second is staggering you. Being staggered can definitely be a death sentence for the poor little witch because her recovery time is often longer than the enemy’s attack rate leading to multiple staggers chained together. Add another enemy in to the mix and it can be particularly devastating. There is another way though that staggering can a pain and that is if you are in an area with lava or even just broken floors. This is because you can be thrown off the edge and fall to your doom or at least inconvenience you into having to work your way back to where you fell from. You might think it is easy just to run back, but the enemies do respawn so you will end up having to battle your way back to where you were as if you had never made the trip in the first place. Death in this game isn’t quite so bad as you don’t tend to lose anything for it unless you used a lot of cursed items since the last time you visited a save statue. You mostly retain the things you found since the last time you died and can even use the experience you gained to level up your various stats in order to make the return trip a bit easier. The save statue serves as a mini-base of operations that has a basic store as well as grants you access to your leveling screen. The same resources used for upgrading your character are used to buy from the store so you have to plan your purchases accordingly.
You can only have one major type of magic active at any given time, so you can’t easily swap between spells on the fly. Sure, you can access the menu, swap and keep going but it breaks the fluid nature of the combat to do so. Plus, some of the schools of magic are far more useful and others are more niche and used much more situationally. If each school of magic had its own hotkey I could see me using a variety but due to having to have only the one active at a time, I found myself usually just leaving it on whatever I had until I found a need to change it.
The castle is an interesting place, although your motivation to be visiting it isn’t entirely clear. Inside however, you will encounter a variety of enemies that have a variety of abilities to use against you. You also have bosses. The bosses are much more epic in scale, both in terms of their size as well as their abilities. While not completely overwhelming like a certain other similar series can be it is not entirely forgiving either. If you don’t play it safe you will quickly find yourself defeated, but if you play it too safe you will be unable to do much harm to the boss. Each boss plays a bit differently so each one you encounter will be stimulating and require a new strategy.
The various areas within the castle have a similar theme, which makes sense since they are all supposed to be the same castle, but there are enough atmospheric effects going on to make the castle look like a series of different themed levels. I will admit that I was not a fan of the lava filled rooms, mostly because I somehow found myself often involuntarily taking a swim and winding up back at the last angel statue I visited. It is also very easy to get turned around and start heading in the wrong direction after respawning. With the enemies always respawning as well, it can lead to you fighting your way through the halls just to find yourself coming out in a different area than you were expecting. This results in having to back track again often having to fight once more along the way. Fortunately, these extra resources can be cashed in at the statue, as mentioned earlier, so it isn’t entirely a waste of time to take the wrong path every now and then.
The graphics of this game are a bit deceptive. The Little Witch protagonist looks like she should be in some kind of Visual Novel style RPG where the enemies are mostly for show, instead she is in a game where the enemies are there for anything but for show. Even the cute cat familiar is a bit deceptive as it has some kind of dark secrets of its own. The levels themselves are a little generic but the atmospheric effects really help you look past that. The platforming paths are usually obvious and the puzzles can usually be solved by paying attention to the hints scattered around the areas. Sometimes you might think yourself as being creative and notice that another area is accessible if you jump just right, however invisible barriers are often blocking your way from doing that which can lead to some pretty humourous bugs. My favourite of which was when the Little Witch tried jumping from the railing of the ledge beside the locked door with the intention of then jumping on to the next ledge and over the upper railing. This led to her bouncing off the invisible forcefield (which became visible at the point of contact) and left her floating upside down in the air for a while until I pressed the buttons on the controller sufficiently to trigger her to move.
While this isn’t exactly graphics related exactly, now is actually a good time to talk about Stamina. Your stamina allows you to run and jump mostly, and running out of stamina can lead to the Little Witch falling flat on her face and sliding along the floor a little bit as the momentum she just had carries her forward a little more. This is actually quite hilarious to watch and I admit I may have deliberately run out of stamina a few times just for the laugh.
The enemies, outside of bosses are a little bland to look at. For the most part many of them are variations on the shadow theme where each one is a dark blob that holds various shapes. There are also the creepy dolls that are in various states of completeness with the fully functional ones being quite deadly and deceptively innocent looking. I could go on about the minions, but the bosses are where the game starts to really shine too. Sure, there are not that many bosses, but each one is unique looking and have very special effect laden attacks.
Overall, the graphics for this game look good while not being too flashy. The animations all work well and the character designs really help make the game look good. Sure, the blob enemies could be a little more interesting to look at but who knows, maybe they are a placeholder or maybe I just grew a bit tired of them due to the sheer amount of them I had to contend with (both by design and by my own poor playing). While the tile set used can get a little stale, it really wouldn’t make sense for it to vary too drastically. It’s all taking place in the same basic area for the most part, so looking similar is needed for consistency.
Other than sound effects and atmospheric music, this game is pretty silent except for the odd meow. The entire delivery of the story is given by text boxes with no language track whatsoever backing it up. It works fine for this kind of game, but I have to admit I do prefer hearing the characters talk in any language nowadays, but I guess that is mostly me getting spoiled by other games. The sound effects are pretty standard from the swinging sounds to the magic, however, I think that works fine here. It isn’t really a game that is focusing on the protagonist’s magical abilities so having them being a marvel to behold or hear isn’t really necessary here. The ambient music worked well to help keep the mood going as you explored the dimly lit corridors or carefully moved through the lava filled rooms.
Controls and User Interface
The controls and User Interface are a bit on the deceptively complex side. I often found myself pressing the wrong button while trying to pull off a move in the heat of battle. Things didn’t seem that logically laid out to me. That could just be because I am too used to other games using common buttons that this one using a different standard threw me a bit. Even to this day, I still often press the wrong button, but that is more on me at this point than the game itself. The user interface in general works well and it is easy to navigate. Other than my inability to wrap my head around the controls, once I did manage to find what I was looking for it was very easy to do what I needed to do. Charging magic has an obvious and easy to see gauge and your staff even reflects its current charge level. The type of magic you are currently using is also very easy to tell at a glance. Overall, the game has done a good job so far making it easy for the player to see everything they need to without having to dig too deep.
The one thing it is lacking in this department is explanations on how things work. Yes, the game does have glowing spots on the floor that if you interact with them, they will tell you how something works, but these explanations don’t really help much. The best example I can give is the charged ice magic. You have two ways to aim in this game, one is through the manual refinement aiming and the other is through lock-on. Lock-on is something I struggled with and actually one of the bits that failed me more often than it helped me, but I will forgive for being Early Access. Getting back to the ice magic example, the way the clue explains it sounds like you need to lock on to your target and then release the magic, but that isn’t the case. You need to use the manual refinement aim and point at your targets to do a different type of lock-on, then you can unleash the spell and have it hit. Using the normal lock-on method didn’t work. This made one of the puzzles that should have been easy actually quite hard. I ended up coming up with a solution that wasn’t intended but worked for me until I figured out the proper way to do it. This theme flows through the other hints the game gives as well, often times being too vague or unclear to be overly helpful. You may have to stop to think about it and experiment a little to discover exactly what it was trying to tell you. I do like a challenge though, so I don’t mind it that much, but it would definitely save a lot of time and grief if it was just a little clearer for the inexperienced player.
So, should you pick up Little Witch Nobeta? It’s in Early Access now, but there is enough content there and enough stability that you can get plenty of enjoyment out of it if you are a fan of the genre is in. It’s not exactly a forgiving game so if you are expecting the typical Visual Novel style JRPG level of challenge, then you are in for a rude awakening, but it also isn’t as challenging as some of the currently more popular games of the genre either. There is enough content available that the game feels almost complete and basically just needs some polish to make it more presentable. With its relatively low price point it is a fairly safe game to pick up right now to enjoy because it has enough content that even if it suffers the fate of some other Early Access games where they languish there forever, it still feels complete and worth the price.