The Legend of Dark Witch is – at its core – a doujin Megaman clone. Originally localized by Circle Entertainment on the Nintendo 3DS at the end of 2014, it was then ported to Steam in 2015. Three years after its initial release, the game has hit the Vita thanks to Qubic games.
The Legend of Dark Witch series is consists of this first game (on 3DS, Steam, and Vita), the second game (on 3DS), the dungeon-crawling spin-off Brave Dungeon (on 3DS), and Dark Witch Music Episode: Rudymical (on the Switch and mobile platforms) – but aside from its many iterations, the best parts of these games are the characters. Despite not being particularly deep in their characterization, they are all distinct in their personalities and have unique designs that give them their identities. The best comparison would be something like the characters in the Touhou or even Neptunia franchise, though obviously less popular and with more of an “indie” feel to the series.
The story of The Legend of Dark Witch is a simple one. Crystals called Syega allow the people of the world to use magic, and this magic has been used in everything from basic healing abilities to forming the foundation of science and technology. One day, all the Syega are stolen by a mysterious woman, so the god Zizou Olympia decides to reclaim them for the world.
Aside from the intro cutscene that relays this information, the story is told entirely through short conversations between Zizou and the bosses she fights at the end of each level. It’s nothing special, but it serves its purpose in motivating the gameplay.
The gameplay in this first title is a pretty typical run ‘n’ gun platformer. Because the game itself is so short (there’s a totally doable achievement to beat the entire game in 45 minutes), the stages aren’t long enough to really explore any unique or challenging mechanics. A notable inclusion in each stage however, are two hidden Syega Crystals – and while finding these can be a bit tricky, your perseverance here will reward Zizou with permanently upgraded abilities.
As for the eight different stages you’ll encounter, they all start in a sort of blank, empty space. Platforming in these areas is sharp, and with Zizou’s float ability you’ll find that it is possible to extend the time of her fall so she can glide a bit more for precise landing. After a short distance (usually occupied by sets of easy enemies), a white border line that divides the screen can be crossed – and by passing this line, the stage flashes into full-color, detailed pixel art.
While there are forty types of enemies in the game, each individual stage tends to employ three to five types unique to that particular stage as well as the generic enemies that appear before the white border line. At the end of a stage however, Zizou warps to a room where she faces the boss that the levels are designed around. Each boss has a few attack patterns with their intensity and the boss’ health depending on which difficulty the game is on.
Easy, Normal, and Lunatic difficulties are available and these greatly affect how the game plays. Easy mode is closer to most game’s Normal, while Dark Witch‘s Normal mode can often be pretty difficult. Fortunately, if you ever find your chosen difficulty to be too much to handle, it’s possible to lower it – though it should be noted that it cannot be raised back up.
Luckily, with each enemy that Zizou defeats she earns Tres. These serve to upgrade her attack power during a stage (as long as she isn’t hit), and can also be spent on permanent upgrades to things like health, attack, and stock in the stage select.
Although the game will take most people less than an hour to complete, there is a good amount of content left to experience after seeing the credits. An entirely new character is unlocked to use in a new playthrough of the game, though she isn’t very good. Instead of shooting projectiles, her attacks tend to only hit an enemy that is directly in front of her – something which is a big problem against enemies or bosses with tricky projectiles.
There is also a list of optional challenges that can be completed to earn PSN Trophies and in-game achievements. These challenges range from defeating each of the bosses with just the default shot and without taking damage, to playing through the entire game without dying or being hit more than five times. Each completed challenge unlocks a piece of concept art or character backstory (making it worthwhile to attain them all), as well as rewarding Syega – which can be spent on further permanent upgrades for gameplay, or additional features like a bestiary or music player.
Graphically the game is a bit of a downgrade from the 3DS version. While the pixel art is still great and the character art is at a decent resolution, none of the game’s graphics have been ported well to the Vita’s screen. Because of this, the game misses out on the crispness that the smaller 3DS screen displayed – something that even extends to the text, which can be pixelated and blurry.
The soundtrack in the game is mostly forgettable, and because the stages are so short you will only hear most tracks once or twice for a few minutes at a time. Each of the girls has a different voice, but they only tend to cry out when they attack or get hurt. This can be annoying, especially for the player character as every second or third time she shoots she cries out. Thankfully this can be turned off, but why it would be wanted in the first place is beyond me.
Despite the short length of the game and the price of entry on our platform, The Legend of Dark Witch is still a fun little indie action game. Hopefully the sequel makes its way to the Vita since it polishes the content for a better experience, but for now The Legend of Dark Witch seems like an ideal game to grab on sale and play through in a night. Just don’t pay the full $10 asking price.