The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a little bit different than the usual titles that come from developer NIS. Sure there is campy humor, deep gameplay systems, and an unparalleled level of oddity but the foray into the hack and slash action RPG genre brings new challenges for NIS.
Hundred Knight is a silent protagonist and despite the rumors of being a complete bad ass, he is a tiny demonic blob of darkness looking very much like Marvin the Martian. Hundred Knight is summoned by the Swamp Witch Metallia (known as Metallica in the Japanese version) to assist her in extending her swamp across the world. Metallia only has her powers in the swamp so it is up to Hundred Knight to deactivate pillars that will allow the swamp to expand.
That is it. That is the whole plot and it is extremely thin primarily serving as an excuse for the player to move to the next area. A thin plot is generally ok when a game has great gameplay but the 10 minute plus cutscenes of dialog dumps are beyond unnecessary leaving an unhealthy level of waiting vs actually playing the game in a genre known for fast paced action. The wasted time on plot is compounded by the fact the characters are the very definition of one dimensional.
The Hundred Knight is the typical silent protagonist with no exposition. His silence is counteracted by Metallia who is both vehement and foul mouthed enough to make a sailor blush. Her character comes off as childish, angry, and very very shrill leaving her lacking the charismatic nature of a similar female character in the Disgaea series, Etna. The rest of the cast falls into a who’s who of stereotypical gaming personalities. The only redeeming quality is the nutty humor that approaches vulgar. The game seems to have been written purely for shock value and the player’s enjoyment comes down to if the crudeness affronts their sensibilities or encourages them to progress to see just what happens next. There were even a couple of occasions where I asked myself, “Did they really just do that?”
Levels are handled in the typical hack and slash fashion of entering, committing mass monster murder, and looting their stinkin’ corpses. Much like the Diablo series, hidden among the masses of normal enemies are strong and elite versions to provide small difficulty spikes. The level design itself can be downright horrible though with both confusing layouts and objects like huge trees blocking the view of the main action in the center of the screen. The UI might be an even bigger offender by displaying a bit too much information on the screen often obscuring both the player and the enemies. The culmination of all this obfuscation of gameplay is what ends up being a fight with the game’s camera and the onset of extreme frustration.
The main hack and slash is built around a system of equipping 5 different weapons to act as each hit in a 5 hit combo. Different weapons handle a bit differently such as hammers smashing into the ground with a slow but crushing attack, the subtle slash of a sword, or even the sweeping swipe of a polearm. It takes some experimenting to get an effective combination against different enemy groups but there are a couple of combinations that are so good they act as a cure all to any situation that might ail the player leaving the game on easy mode as a button masher.
On the defensive side of combat is the ability to dodge. A well timed dodge turns out to be very rewarding due to a slow motion effect that allows players to waylay into enemies with some old fashioned hacking before they even have time to react. The player also has an arsenal of unique abilities tied to facets which are comparable to jobs or classes in other rpgs. Facets also change up the stats of Hundred Knight a bit not significantly enough to matter. Overall the abilities end up underwhelming when the effectiveness is compared to straight up combat. Some players might enjoy the ability to do things like summon minions but why use skills that are so much less effective than swinging a weapon and dodging?
Time spent in levels are hindered by a feature called GigaCount or what I like to think of as a very fancy name for a time limit. GigaCount simply starts out at a 100 and every action that Hundred Knight takes expends energy and counts the GigaCount down to 0. This feature would be completely frustrating if it wasn’t easily circumvented by leaving and reentering an area therefore resetting the counter. GigaCount was obviously put in to cause players to be more thoughtful of their strategy when in encounters but never fleshes out to be more than a way to tick off players with more load screens.
Another feature that looks good on paper but turned out half hearted in practice is Raiding. Raiding has Hundred Knight forcibly kicking people out of their houses to steal their items. The house is essentially a giant treasure chest because Hundred Knight pretty much always succeeds. The mechanic that doesn’t work very well behind the scenes is the karma system which seemed to only have one drawback.. bad karma increased shop prices. There are a couple of other small systems almost not worth mentioning like a reactions. These other systems fall in line with Raiding and Gigacount with the need to cook in the design oven a little longer.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight makes no qualms about not holding the players hand. While there might be introductions to features, there are no tutorials or hints to objectives leaving it easy to miss key objective items that are needed to progress. Any kind of feature or keybind help is relegated to the load screens leaving it hard to figure out a simple what does this button do situation. The high learning curve eventually leads to intuitive gameplay but will likely scare away more casual players.
The soundtrack has a strong Halloween vibe that meshes well with the witch theme and even ends up being extremely catchy despite being somewhat mediocre overall. The voice acting turned out decent enough even with vulgar dialogue. The color palette mixes the same few earthy tones with what appears to be a strange filter over all the graphics leaving a washed out look almost to the point of scan lines from good ol’ standard definition television. Whatever is causing the washed out look makes The Witch and the Hundred Knight to be an ugly game filled with blandness.