Little Witch Nobeta review

It was inevitable, really. After over a decade of Souls-likes that promise to test your mettle, one brave developer has stepped forward with a friendly, accessible, take on the formula. Little Witch Nobeta has many of the genre’s trappings, from perilously placed enemies that respawn upon saving to the ability to level up individual stats including strength and stamina, but none of the hardship.

The narrative is even heavily centered around souls, particularly their raison d’etre. Our magic-brandishing heroine arrives at the door of a colossal, battle-ravaged, castle with one objective in mind – to reach a throne rumoured to reveal her true heritage. She’s soon joined by Kitty, a small black cat, who essentially fills the role of somebody for Nobeta to converse with during cut-scenes. Together they journey through the castle’s ramshackle corridors, halls, and staircases, battling sinister-looking ‘living dolls’ and various dark spirits – plus the occasional rage-filled boss.

There isn’t much more to the storyline than finding the throne. Well not here, at least. Little Witch Nobeta is intended to be a multimedia project with backstory-expanding anime and graphic novels. At one point in the game, Nobeta loses her hat and must traverse ruins to retrieve it, and this is pretty much the only detour during its modest 8-hour runtime. Focused? Yes, but don’t expect anything in the way of side quests, aside from a long list of collectables to find.  

Rewinding back to the intro, Little Witch Nobeta is remarkably easygoing. I’ve only ever beaten a few Souls-likes, mostly of the indie variety, but still managed to complete ‘Advanced Mode’ here without breaking a sweat. Or a controller. Most bosses took me just 2-3 attempts, and even within the later stages I was able to make it from one save statue to the next without dying along the way. Logic dictates that the ‘Standard Mode’ is easier still.

A few things can be attributed to the lax difficulty. Firstly, Nobeta is armed with a staff that fires projectiles, lending a slight third-person shooter feel. Once the ice-based homing attack is acquired, rooms can be cleared out easily by locking onto enemies and raining down shards. The fire spell, meanwhile, acts as a heavy hitting close range attack that can fell even larger foes with 2-3 hits. Secondly, health pick-ups are common. Enemies drop mana when defeated, smashable barrels contain health, and every save statue has consumable health/mana crystals nearby.

Bosses up the ante, although not by a great deal. Special attacks must be charged by chanting, and it can be tricky to find the chance to chant while bosses lash out. Attacks are easy to dodge, and while there is a stamina bar, it doesn’t govern actions too heavily. The biggest risk during a battle is running out of mana.

When faced with several enemies at once, you may have to backtrack and rethink strategies – and, ultimately, it’s in these rare instances that the experience peaks.

The castle features doors that eventually unlock, creating paths that loop back to the save statues or boss rooms. Statues are always located close to bosses – you may have to defeat a few enemies on route, but literally just a few. Secret rooms can be found behind fake walls, and each magic ability can be upgraded by finding rare runes, but generally, there isn’t much scope for exploration. Especially during the game’s first half, environments feel quite boxed-in and corridors are hard to differentiate. Some rooms have blocked paths requiring special attacks to remove, feeling less like puzzles and more like a tutorial teaching how to use said attacks.

Mechanically, it is at least sound. Controls are intuitive and movement fluid – once discovered, the jumping ability even allows for a spot of casual platforming. It looks the part, too. An alluring ménage à trois of soft lighting, pastel colours, and particle effects. Later areas are definitely more attractive than earlier ones, with a clear distinction between the story’s first half and second half.

Since the arrival of Demon’s Souls in 2009, most gamers will know what to expect from a Souls-like: deep lore, challenging but satisfying combat, the scope for exploration, rewards for experimentation, and a few surprises along the way. At the very most, you’re only going to find the slightest hint of those things here. Specifically, a couple of bosses trickier than the rest, a handful of secret areas, and collectables that give a brief insight into the castle’s history.

But at the same time, it has merits not always associated with the genre. It’s easy to learn and master, making it accessible to all – you won’t have to consult a Wiki to learn the finer points. Progression is swift, and at around 8-10 hours it doesn’t overstay its welcome, telling its story in a concise manner.

That short runtime can be seen as a boon too. When the New Game+ mode unlocked the idea of starting anew and mopping up the trophies I had missed didn’t faze in the way that restarting a 30+ hour adventure would. That said, with the game’s price tag in mind (it’s a full-price release) you may have to play through it twice – trying to find and see everything – just to get your money’s worth.

If the idea of a casual, accessible, Souls-like appeals this will certainly be of interest – it’s a very good introduction to the genre. Let’s not forget that a walk in the park can be quite pleasant from time to time.

Pupuya Games’ Little Witch Nobeta is out 7th March on PS4 and Switch. Published by NiS America. It first launched on PC in 2022.