Often after I’ve played a game, I’ll have a scout around online to find out more about the developers and see if there are any interesting facts I can throw in to spice up a review (not that they need it of course). The Witch and the Hundred Knight features a witch (surprise surprise) called Metallia. There is a reason she is only one letter away from being a famous metal band; in the Japanese version she is said metal band and had to be “rebranded” for obvious reasons. It’s quite sad for Nippon Ichi Software that this is the one thing that has stuck with me through writing my review.
It’s a JRPG with a difference – think real-time hack and slash rather than turn-based combat. This is both a blessing and a burden for The Witch and the Hundred Knight, and it’s safe to say the story is what carries this game.
Metallia is a swamp witch with a real chip on her shoulder. Seriously, this girl has issues. For a good portion of the game she flounces around hurling obscenities and insults at anyone who remotely irritates her. She is akin to the typical moody emo teenager who hates everyone and writes poetry while catching their tears in a jar. Only Metallia prefers to torture and kill people, and instead of rebelling against her parents, she is trying to cover the world in swamp mud.
She decides the best way to achieve this is to summon an all-powerful minion to do her bidding, none other than the legendary Hundred Knight, who turns out to be less awe-inspiring than she first hopes. The Hundred Knight is a rather pathetic looking creature, only a pair of dead eyes away from being cute, and can only make little noises instead of talking. The player controls the Hundred Knight and must enter different areas of the world, defeating the enemies and bosses there, and destroying the Pillars which release Metallia’s swamp mud.
The game opens with an uninspiring tutorial section, which almost had me switching the console off. Metallia’s disembodied voice orders you bitchily about while you try to get used to clunky controls and an environment designed by someone who likes blue, and only blue. On the plus side, the rest of the game looks and plays much better after this so stick with it.
When the game does start properly you’ll be treated to cartoon-like 2D cut scenes with excellent voice acting and a bizarre storyline that will leave you wanting to know what the hell is going on if nothing else. It’s interesting playing for the bad guy (or gal) and knowing that the orders you’re being asked to carry out are likely to result in a lot of innocent deaths and the destruction of the world.
This moral ambiguity along with Metallia’s seeming desire to become the most unlikeable and unpopular character ever may put some people off and I have read some reviews where critics are disapproving. For my part, I liked Metallia. She is well acted and has real depth as a character. The story really centres on her and her motivations and it’s worth stomaching her insults to find out where she’s headed.
It’s fair to say this game moves slowly and cut scenes can last a good 20 minutes. It’s takes around 30-40 hours to play through and there are three different endings. The narrative is different to other JRPG’s; it is much darker and, for the most part, the characters are interesting and unconventional.
The actual playable game parts are quite lengthy, a cross between a Diablo-style looting action RPG on a series of predefined non-random maps, and Nippon Ichi’s own rogue-likes, ZHP and The Guided Fate Paradox. There is much hacking and slashing, collecting treasure and managing resources for the most efficient play.
Despite the frustrating tutorial (which really just tells you how to run and then run more quickly), the game doesn’t hold your hand in any way. This is unfortunate because there is a lot to take in and the option to look up a tutorial in the menu would have been welcome. The loading screen does provide 50 different tips but these really only scratch the surface and the randomness of these tips means they won’t always be relevant. Playing for yourself and figuring things out is the only way to go here so if that’s not your thing, well, tough, as I’m sure Metallia would say (though not so nicely).
You can equip up to five weapons at once, each of which inflict Blunt, Slash or Magic damage. If equipped in an order according to the magic die symbol on them, bonuses will be gained when used as part of a combo. Different weapons handle differently and even within the same type there are variations, e.g. some spears jab out in front of the Hundred Knight while others are designed to be whirled around his head to hit enemies in a wide area. Certain enemies are weak/strong against particular attack types within the same area so you need a variety of weapons to advance on each map.
A major gripe with the game’s setup is the inability to save commonly used equipment sets. This would have made a huge difference and probably would have cut down on play time as well.
The Hundred Knight earns new facets as you progress through the game, each of which has its own set of specific weapon proficiencies. The Wonder Knight facet is easily the most powerful and once this has been unlocked, the other facets are reduced to stat buffers; you can equip two as passive sub facets at any one time.
You earn experience while you’re hacking and slashing away at your enemies but none of that XP is applied to your equipped facets until you complete or leave the area after discovering one of the checkpoints. Instead you earn Grade Points through kills and combos. These contribute to a single Grade level and every time you earn a Grade level, you earn a single point which can be spent at a checkpoint for a temporary buff to attack, defence or HP, amongst others, during that expedition.
At this point you’ve probably guessed that the HUD is quite crowded. But surely there’s room for more? Oh yes indeed. The Hundred Knight runs on GigaCals, which reflect how much magical energy it has and acts similarly to the hunger bar in ZHP, another thing to worry about. These bars drain slowly and constantly over time, and the amount and speed at which they drain are increased by everything you do, just like in real life when you run out of energy and get hungry. Running out of GigaCals means you are significantly weakened and can’t heal yourself. Worse, if you are knocked out you will be sent home with half XP. The bars can be replenished either by eating enemies (which fills Hundred Knight’s stomach with garbage items, reducing space for treasure) and by spending points from Grade levels.
You can see why a lack of tutorial explaining these interlocking complex systems is frustrating. However the developers should be applauded for working this into the gameplay relatively seamlessly. What could be a mindless hack and slash and loot outing turns into something which calls for greater strategy and forward thinking, as well as the ability to play quickly.
Boss fights conclude each run through one of the sprawling areas you must traverse. This is where ensuring you have spent your Grade levels wisely will pay off. Bosses are challenging and require careful observation of attack patterns and an understanding of the game’s core mechanics. The guard bar beneath the boss’s HP meter shows when the best time to attack is and when the boss is about to unleash a powerful attack. I hadn’t felt this challenged or intrigued by boss battles since a certain green-clad boy embarked on a journey to rescue a certain princess. Dodging attacks with perfect timing activates a slow motion effect that gives you time to unleash an attack with little fear of retaliation.
There isn’t much in the way of instant gratification because trophies are tied to progression rather than finding secrets but the game becomes more enjoyable as you progress. However you might question why you would want to play again when there isn’t any more to discover.
The style and gameplay is reminiscent of the 2D top down SNES era. A huge contrast exists between the beautiful, stylised 2D art and the muddy, blurry 3D art which unfortunately makes up most of the areas you will be playing in. The screen can be confusing at times with the action getting lost in the environment too easily but once you get into the game this will be a minor point of contention and the game doesn’t look awful – just not great. It wouldn’t have been out of place on the PS2.
One of the things which struck me most while playing was the music. It’s bizarre to say the least and doesn’t seem to match the dark tone of the plot. But it actually compliments it very well, in the same way Quentin Tarantino manages to slip Chuck Berry into a sadistic drug addled scene.
It’s a mixed bag and sometimes it seems like the game designers just had too many ideas they wanted to squeeze in. Instead of someone saying “No, leave it until the next one” someone said “Yeah! Let’s do it! YOLO, mate, YOLO!” One of the things which adds nothing to the game is the Raid mechanic. When you approach some poor sods house you get the choice of entering as a guest or raiding the house, as per Metallia’s will. The difference seems to be pressing a different button at the start. You may as well toss a coin to see which to do as neither raiding nor being a guest appears to gain you anything.
Aside from these piffling grievances the Witch and the Hundred Knight is a game with solid gameplay, complex interlocking systems, an interesting plot and a great main character in the form of Metallia. It took me a while to warm to it but once I did I found playing to be a rewarding experience. Sometimes it’s nice to get your teeth into a game and play for a decent amount of time. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PlayStation 3 Release Date: 21/03/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of The With & The Hundred Knight by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.