Little Witch Romanesque is a 2004 Raising Simulation game by Littlewitch (confusing?). You play the Wizard teacher Domino who’s in charge of turning his two wards/students Aria and Kaya into productive members of society by training them in spellcasting. Assisting Domino are his contacts and acquaintance from his old adventuring days, whom you can build a relationship with and provide him with services such as renovating his Wizard’s Tower.
The now defunct Littlewitch has never quite been a power player in the industry. They were mostly known for their unique watercolour based artstyle and their presentation: Whereas most Visual Novels have their text displayed simply in a rectangular textbook at the bottom, Littlewitch games took great pains in presenting them comic-book style, dialogue balloons and all. Due to the effort-profits ratio, it’s probably not a surprise that they went out of business.
Girlish Grimoire Littlewitch Romanesque was quite the surprise release from the company (abbreviated as LWR from now on for sanity’s sake). Companies like Alicesoft and Eushully are famous for making gameplay-focused Eroge, but up to this point, littlewitch had only created Visual Novels. Would this be an utter disaster the way most “first” games are?
The surprise is that LWR is actually really fun.
The Raising Sim is a genre that has never quite caught on in the Western market, with 1997’s Princess Maker 2 probably being the defining game for most people who care.
There’s a lot of reasons you can argue for why this is the case. For example, it’s generally a genre that’s very “slow-burning”, requiring you to repetitively raise stats by choosing tasks from a menu. Spending a day or 2 drinking coffee to raise your Charisma has little short-term effect. Only at the end of the journey can you really appreciate how much your assigned character has grown.
LWR lifts a huge albatross off the genre’s neck then by making the actual process of raising your stats fun.
Instead of choosing activities from a menu, LWR implements a dice-rolling mini game instead. The two girls each have their own set of 3 dice which are tossed each round and the dice results determine which resources you get. Assigning different tutors or setting the lesson in different rooms changes the dice and its layout. You can “nudge” the dice by clicking on them (handled with actual physics depending on where you click) if you don’t like the results. However, nudge too much and you’ll start to lose resources instead, thus limiting players who over micromanage.
But that’s not the end of it. Special combination of dice (e.g Book/Crown/Cross) will provide spell effects, which range from subtle set-ups, such as providing a rock pillar to bounce your dice off, or big flashy effects such as fireworks or a Meteor Swarm which will squeeze out MUCH more resources from your dice then they would normally give.
Once you gathered resources, you can spend them to learn spells from a huge “tech-tree” of choices. Those spells will of course, make the process of gathering more resources and learning more spells easier. That’s the core loop of the game.
It’s kind of amazing how despite being an abstract dice game, it manages to capture the process of teaching so well. At the start of the game, you’ll have to manage your fresh students pretty much 24/7 but as they start to pick up spells, your job then becomes to nudge them in the right direction once in a while to great effect.
Outside of the dice game, there’s a framework of having to dispatch your students to fulfill quests.
They’re simple enough: If you have the required spells, you can undertake the quest and complete it. Success means other unlocked quests, a minor resource bonus, new available study rooms/tutors or raising your relationship with the quest giver.
Quests are timed and the challenge lies in fulfilling their prerequisites before they are lost forever. The time limits are very lenient at the start of the game but as you progress towards the end, you’ll find that you simply do not have the time to complete them all and will have to pick and choose depending on what you want to achieve.
The game can end in multiple ways. The most standard is as follows: After your 3 years of service is up, your students will receive specific endings based on the “Diploma” items they have collected in the process of the game.
Alternatively, you can choose to end the game early by building up a relationship with individual characters. When you built up enough, a special quest will unlock that will allow you to view that character’s ending. I rather prefer this method compared to Atelier as you don’t have to wait out the entire game term just to view multiple endings, but it does wreak havoc on the game’s plot quite a bit. Some light drama and conflict is introduced in these character endings which would otherwise not appear in the process of normal gameplay, which is odd.
The plot of the game is a mixed bag. It’s mostly a slice-of-life where nothing dramatic really happens. The characters live in a post-adventure world: whatever evil the world has is long defeated and the characters are now building normal civilian lives for themselves.
With little to no conflict, a lot of the scenes in the game can come off as pretty pointless or boring. Anyone who is familiar with the “magical school” genre (e.g Harry Potter) can probably predict a lot of the scenes as well. When one of your girls learn a fire spell, you pretty much know they’re probably going to start some unintentional fires or char their food with it.
However, LWR does attempt some interesting things which the genre normally doesn’t.
Whereas most Raising Sims have the player as a vague “Father figure” with no personality (such as the aforementioned Princess Maker 2), LWR makes the relatively uncommon decision of having the player character Domino be a fully fleshed character. In fact, one could argue that Domino’s character and his relationships actually overshadow his students, which is rather odd as most Raising Games tend to place a heavy focus on the subject instead.
Also unlike most games of the genre, there is no “True Ending” or similar concepts which require a player to push himself to the limits or fulfill obscure conditions to achieve.
On one hand, this means that the player can have his own personalized endings as to how the game ends.
But on the other hand, it also does mean that the game lacks the sort of closure that such an overarching narrative would bring, which I personally dislike. However, once again I’ll state that this is a very personal preference and YMMV.
For being their one and only actual “game”, LWR somehow manages to be a surprisingly fun game. The game has had multiple releases and I recommend the most recent release known as the “Editio Perfecta” which adds the additional content from the PS2 port and voices. Fans of Princess Maker 2 and other games of its genre should definitely pick it up as it is one of the best around.