Available for: Nintendo DS
A couple notes before I start this:
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2. This will be my last full game review for the year, but not my last post. For my next post, I’d like to do a bit of a Q&A session with you all, so send in your questions either through my Contact page here or through social media. I won’t answer anything too personal, and the answers will be up a couple weeks from now!
A few weeks late, but we can still have Halloween in November, right? A big thank you to bisexualowain for this recommendation!
This post will contain minor spoilers for A Witch’s Tale.
I went through a bit of an Alice in Wonderland phase during my teen years, fascinated that the original story could produce so many different types of adaptations. Before I was recommended this game, I was not aware that it existed, but Hit Maker’s A Witch’s Tale (2009) immediately fit into my love of Alice in Wonderland adaptations. While the Alice in Wonderland references might initially seem like simple window dressing, I found A Witch’s Tale to be one of the more honest reimaginings, directly referencing some of the major themes that other adaptations sometimes forget.
A Witch’s Tale tells the story of Liddell, a witch-in-training, who has decided that she wants to forsake her studies for the power granted by forbidden magic. This forbidden magic was once wielded by the Eld Witch before she was sealed away by Queen Alice a thousand years ago. Determined to become one of the most powerful witches ever, Liddell goes to an abandoned castle to take the ancient, forbidden rune magic and as a result, accidentally releases the Eld Witch. Loue, a vampire who was supposed to be guarding the magic by directions of Queen Alice, then insists that Liddell fix her mistake. Liddell agrees and the two go through the different kingdoms that have been cursed by the Eld Witch to collect sigils that will awaken Queen Alice, who can then seal the Eld Witch away again.
This game immediately has many references to Alice in Wonderland, everything from the protagonist being named Liddell, to the deck of cards you must collect, to Alice, and to the familiar characters you meet along the way. With that in mind, the kingdoms are also references to other fairytales/stories: Hansel and Gretel, The Little Mermaid, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, The Wizard of Oz, etc. So why is A Witch’s Tale different from any other story that just likes to use these stories/fairytales as aesthetic references? Very simply: A Witch’s Tale actually uses Alice in Wonderland’s main themes as its own main themes. I won’t go into all the themes here, seeing as some of them are spoilers for A Witch’s Tale, but I do want to focus on their use of the “growing up” theme.
The first playthrough of A Witch’s Tale starts and ends much like Alice in Wonderland: both Liddell and Alice reject their studies for legends/daydreams and by the end of the story, they have experienced significant personal growth and have “grown up” in a sense. The second playthrough of A Witch’s Tale (a requirement for the “True Ending”) also finishes similarly to Alice in Wonderland and potentially has greater reinforcement of these themes, so I will also be making references to that with minimal spoilers. By its very nature, the game has different events that occur for Liddell to experience her character growth, but the overall point of it is the same. When Liddell first decides to take the ancient runes, she ignores the consequences of such actions and initially does not want to take responsibility for what has occurred. Given her personality, part of this could be a façade, because after Loue insists she fixes what has occurred, she agrees to it, citing that it will help her become the best witch in the world. As Liddell uses these runes to defeat enemies and helps the princesses from other kingdoms, she starts seeing the weight of her power and how it could be used for either good or bad. Her resolve changes, focusing more on saving the princesses and helping her idol, Queen Alice, in order to set things right. By the end, Liddell finds strength within herself rather than the runes, which becomes the greatest acknowledgment of her growth.
Something that I found to be an interesting choice is Liddell’s personality: initially she comes off as stubborn, arrogant, and selfish, things that are not very common in video game female protagonists. However, Liddell also shows that she has a softer side and none of it felt too trope-y (to be honest, I really liked her personality). Aside from the fact that it is not common to see these traits in female protagonists, what makes this especially interesting is how it relates to Alice’s later personality in Alice in Wonderland. As Alice progresses through her own story, she becomes increasingly frustrated and indignant at her surroundings, indicating that she is “growing up” and seeing the true colors of the world through more adult eyes. A Witch’s Tale takes a different spin, citing that cynicism and indignant behaviors are not necessarily indicators of growing up, but that you can value friendship and trust in others and in oneself to grow as a person. It’s interesting to see how there can be similarities between the two characters, and while holding the same theme, it resulted in very different ways their characters grew.
Another decision I found to be interesting was which princesses were used in Liddell’s tale. As mentioned before, you had characters from or references to Hansel and Gretel, The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, etc. and I noticed each had vague connections to the overarching themes. I can’t speak for the thematic significance of all of the stories, but the inclusion of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz particularly stood out to me. Dorothy in A Witch’s Tale is the last princess Liddell must meet before she goes to Queen Alice. Upon meeting Dorothy, Liddell finds that Dorothy is curt and untrusting, potentially similar to how Liddell was at the beginning of her tale. Liddell’s backstory is revealed throughout the game, giving the player a greater understanding for why she acts how she does. After a few sharp reactions, the girls realize that they might not be so different, at least in coming to terms with the traumas in their past. Looking at their source material, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz also share many of the same themes, themes that are again brought up in A Witch’s Tale. Drawing this parallel, particularly right before the end of the game became significant in tying everything together.
A Witch’s Tale brings in many fairytales and stories and honors their reimagining by drawing direct parallels to the original stories’ central themes. However, A Witch’s Tale is still its own story with its own characters and its own world. For those reasons, I really enjoyed A Witch’s Tale both as an Alice in Wonderland reimagining and as its own proper story. While it is an older Nintendo DS title, the game is still possible to buy, so I definitely recommend this game if you get a chance to play it. (Make sure to play through it twice for the True Ending!)