Disney’s Twisted-Wonderland has already been out in Japan for two years. Yesterday, the gacha mobile anime academy game was finally released in English. I can best describe it as “What if Disney Japan gave its IP to the creator of the manga Black Butler and asked her to design an anime Hogwarts game?” The result is a deliciously gothic visual novel card battler for weebs who wish Halloween lasted 365 days per year.
If you’ve ever played a mobile academy game like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, the structure here is very similar. The game takes place at Night Raven College, a magic school where, as a new student, you attend classes, make friends, have heated rivalries with members of other houses, and occasionally have magical duels which play out as turn-based card matches (in which your classmates participate, rather than your character). Though only mages are typically admitted to the all-boys school, you play as a magic-less prefect who came to the academy by mistake. The headmaster eventually accepts you in the hopes that you can prevent the magically gifted students from accidentally burning the place down. There are main story chapters that make up the bulk of the narrative content, but most of your time will be spent in lessons and extracurricular minigames.
But let’s be honest: the art and how the characters look are a bigger draw than the gameplay itself. Thankfully, the character designs are sublime. Instead of incorporating existing Disney villains directly into the game like Kingdom Hearts, the designer used them as visual inspiration to create themed houses like Savanaclaw (based on the treacherous Scar from The Lion King) and Octavinelle (for The Little Mermaid’s Ursula). Students from Hades’ dorm have flaming blue hair, and the Queen of Hearts’ apprentices wear outfits that are inspired by poker card suits. At least half the cast of this all-boys’ school is wearing bright eyeshadow. None of them would look out of place in an Asian boy band.
I picked Diasomnia (Maleficent) because those surly teens seemed to be the most put together. However, your choice doesn’t actually affect character availability. It seems to be purely aesthetic, and everyone plays through the same main plot. Just like Hogwarts, each house is meant to exemplify certain traits–in this case, those of its figurehead. For example, Scar is seen as a persistent king who loved equality, and Ursula is seen as a benevolent wish-granter.
As I progressed through the story chapters, I started to brace myself for my chosen Diasomnia students to reveal themselves to be as troublesome as the rest of the cast. Just like the villains that their houses are based on, these kids are chaotic. The game’s lead artist and writer, Black Butler creator Yana Toboso, is known for designing wacky characters who frequently misbehave, and her influence can be clearly seen in the Disney villain-themed rules that these houses abide by. For example, the Queen of Hearts’ requires that white roses must be painted red. If you’ve ever looked at a man and thought “I can fix him,” then this is the gacha game for you.
The gacha itself is mainly focused on pulling for outfit variants (such as the gym uniform), rather than characters. I personally don’t feel any compulsion to participate in the gacha beyond spending whatever free currency I acquire just by playing. Frequent gacha players will also be glad to know that the game has a built-in reroll system. This means that you can reroll the starter gacha as many times as you would like, and pick the one roll that you liked the most. In other gacha games, most hardcore players do this manually by deleting and redownloading the game or making a new account, which also means having to replay the tutorial. If that sounds like a huge annoyance, it is. While TW isn’t the first to implement a reroll system, I was glad to have an easier time controlling who I started out with.
The combat is a relatively straightforward card battler where you pick cards with a type that’s advantageous against your opponent’s. If you’ve ever played the lawyer gacha Tears of Themis, the turn-based battles are the same here. Since there’s no major stat modifiers other than the inherent benefits of pairing certain students together, I don’t anticipate TW developing a complex combat meta. TW also has a rhythm game component where you advance the plot by completing “Twistunes.” The rhythm game aspect is more varied than the combat, but it’s still nothing revolutionary. You can also attend classes, but there’s not a true gameplay component to them. You mostly watch small character animations and listen to a few lines about studying. You spend energy to generate a random number of stars, which can be redeemed for EXP items, which in turn can be used to increase the combat abilities of your cards (which are outfit variants for the students).
You’re not going to find a community that does a lot of theorycrafting around combat, but that’s not the core appeal of Twisted-Wonderland. Though the game resembles a Hogwarts spin-off, there’s plenty of original worldbuilding to enjoy, and new main story content and events will frequently be released. The first chapter features the characters from Heartslabyul, a dorm based on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Future chapters will all feature a different villainous dorm. So if you want to meet your boys early, don’t make my mistake and choose the very last villain.