Back in 2020, a game called Little Witch Nobeta was put into Steam’s Early Access. It immediately gained popularity thanks to its blend of a cute anime aesthetic and Dark Souls-inspired gameplay. Now, it’s finally seen its release and is a fully completed game, so how does it fare?
In Search of the Throne
Nobeta, the titular witch, is off to a strange ruin in search of answers about who she is. Leading her along is a prickly, impatient black cat that also seems to be keeping secrets from her. According to the black cat, the only thing that they should be worried about is reaching “the throne”, everything else is superfluous. Along the way, Nobeta will face off against various strange entities called Crafted Souls, autonomous dolls that harbor souls which can experience conscious thought.
Despite Crafted Souls being your enemies, there is a bittersweetness to the encounters involving them. Simply due to their nature of not being human, they’re forced to fight Nobeta just so they can keep on living and not have their thoughts and dreams fade. This, in turn, gives Nobeta a sense of humanity as she starts to question the things happening around her, causing tension and friction with the black cat. The more you play through the story, the more Nobeta’s sense of personhood comes to the forefront.
It’s not a very involved story, especially considering the generally low number of cutscenes the game has, but I did like it for what it was. The narrative left a nice trail of breadcrumbs on the adventure’s critical path that made it just that much more fulfilling to play. It’s esoteric, as Souls-likes usually are, and the only way you’ll really piece together the full scope of what’s happening here is through optional items and pickups. It wraps the whole game in a nice and alluring bow of mystery.
Trials of the Little Witch
The castle is fraught with danger that comes in many different forms. From perilous platforming, traps, hazards, enemies, and so on, you’ll find no shortage of things out to kill Nobeta. One thing you’ll be quick to learn as you make your way through each location is that you can never pay too much attention to your surroundings. Enemies are all too eager to flank you and make you look like a fool if you don’t cover all your bases. Some will sneak up on you at harrowingly fast speeds, others will throw projectiles on you, and some may fall from above and flatten you.
Luckily, Nobeta’s more than equipped for the job if you know what you’re doing. She has some weight behind her, making each action you take feel like a commitment. Just brainlessly trying to smack at an enemy won’t get you far. Like the games that inspired it, learning enemy patterns and reading their movements before going on the offensive is the key to success here. Thanks to excellent animation, keyframing, and being deceptive enough to trip me up the first few times, enemies are a joy to overcome.
You can parry oncoming attacks, dodge roll, or jump away from enemy attacks. Although enemies may come in numbers that feel daunting, dispatching them is always a possibility thanks to great overall difficulty balancing. Once you do defeat enemies, you’re rewarded with Crafted Souls, which can be spent at the game’s various save points. Spending Crafted Souls allows you to buy items like healing or magic restoration, or level up Nobeta’s stats. If you think you can grind up her stats to a point where you’re unstoppable, think again. While leveling up does make a difference in the long run, what ultimately still matters most is your skill at the game.
Additionally, dying will only cause you to drop some of your Crafted Souls rather than all of them, making death less penalizing. Couple this with the game’s generally more straightforward level design, and you’re left with a great entrypoint into the genre.
What’s A Witch Without Magic?
By casting a variety of spells received over the course of the game, Nobeta is quite capable of toppling anything that may get in her way. By default, she can fire magic of different elemental varieties and effects. This can include a shotgun-like fire spell, a sniper-like lightning spell, rapid-fire ice spells, and a simple arcane magic spell. All of this magic is good, and it feels like every option warrants using depending on the situation. Depending on how you personally play, you may wind up leaning towards a favorite magic. Personally, I ended up swapping between them all on a regular basis.
That’s not all the power these elements hold, however. Through the power of chanting incantation, Nobeta can temporarily strengthen both herself and the next elemental magic she fires off. If you like using physical attacks and parries, you can use a Fire chant and bolster your damage output. If you want to get a read on the situation you’re in, need to use an item, or make a quick escape from danger—slow time with a Lightning incantation. Ice incantations will help to nullify some damage and give you super armor, allowing you to more easily tank hits from powerful enemies.
While these incantations are strong, the chants you have to perform while doing them will leave you especially vulnerable for a time. They also take a good amount of time to cast, meaning that you have to learn an enemy’s patterns well before you can reap the benefits. By attacking an enemy beforehand or dodging an attack at just the right time, you can drastically speed up casting time and fire away spells in more rapid succession.
When combined with learning boss and enemy patterns, incantations give the combat an awesome sense of rhythm. Dodging, finding openings to land attacks, and firing away spells at a quick pace makes the combat and its systems a joy to master. This is elevated further by the bosses themselves being a treat to fight against, with each having difficult and appropriately stressful attack patterns and damage output.
Sights of the Strange Castle
Little Witch Nobeta is an okay-looking game that is mostly elevated by great character and enemy design. While most environments prioritize function over form, other areas can look quite striking thanks to good visual design and lighting. It’s thanks to the aforementioned characters that the game’s visuals stuck with me well after I finished it. You’ve got weird, lifeless mannequins strewn about the scenery and giant dolls that attack you with enormous clippers. It’s uncanny in a way that’s both intentional and effective.
Where the visuals shine are in its animations. Everything has a realistic, weighty quality to it, no matter the importance of character or enemy. The mere act of smacking an enemy around feels good because of how well the animations, sound, and impact convey it all. You can also tell that the developers put special emphasis on Nobeta’s animations in particular. They loved her as much as they wanted the player to, and by the end I was pretty attached to the little mischief-maker. From start to credits, the way she moves, speaks, and reacts is as adorable as it is endearing.
My only complaint with Little Witch Nobeta is that I wish there was just more of it to enjoy. Even for a Souls-like game, it’s pretty short and I clocked in about 9 hours before the credits rolled. That said, within that time span, I was left consistently impressed by its razor-sharp level design, strong enemy and boss design, and smart application of its unique mechanics. Nobeta may be little, but she leaves a big impression.
LITTLE WITCH NOBETA IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Pupuya Games for a PC review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt