Nippon Ichi Software is known for making quirky and off-beat games that are heavily reliant on oddball humor and complex gameplay. One big example of this is the Disgaea series. The Witch and the Hundred Knight continues the tradition of having an off-kilter story, similar to that in their previous titles, but its gameplay has more in common with the rogue-likes coming out today that their traditional action-RPG setup, with your death setting you back a bit. The game stars the Hundred Knight (you), a mute minion summed by the witch of the swamp, Metallia. She’s an evil and lazy witch who has never left her swamp so she summons you to do her bidding.
Developed by Nippon Ichi Software /Published by NIS America
Available on PlayStation 3.
*Review code provided by NIS America.
Gameplay is mostly made up of combat and level exploration. Like expected from a rogue-like, the items are randomly generated and strewn across the levels. Sadly, the levels are static so while the items find themselves in different areas upon each visit to the level, the layout remains the same.
The Hundred Knight’s movement is controlled by the Gigacal system, and herein lies the game’s first of many problems. Gigacals keep the Hundred Knight moving, and drain as you explore levels outside the swamp, effectively creating a timer that forces you to rush through levels, so as to avoid the Gigacals from running out. Action RPG’s with big maps like this usually thrive on exploration, letting the player loose upon the world to scour every inch of the map, but not here. If your Gigacals run out, you’re immediately hit with a strength and defense debuff, and your HP starts to drain. The only way to stop it is by going back to the swamp. Throughout the game there are items and points that the player can use to extend their Gigacals, but this system is limited. These items are not frequent, leading to gameplay that involves you rushing through a level to try and complete the objective and probably having to come back multiple times to fulfill it because the time just isn’t enough. This is the worst type of padding in a game, one where backtracking is forced upon you right from the start.
Combat also works differently than you’d expect from most action RPG’s. There’s a big emphasis on combos and you can chain up to five weapons together. Each weapon has a different attribute and it’s up to you to chain them in the right order so as to exploit an enemy’s weakness. While this combat system lends the game some much needed depth, it all comes together too late. At first it’s really simplistic and devolves into button mashing and the player has to give up a considerable amount of their time until support abilities, called Tochkas, are introduced into the game. By this point you’ll be juggling your various abilities, the weapon’s attributes and the Hundred Knight’s ability to consume enemies, moving the game past its anemic, mediocre combat and exploration. Sadly, this takes way too much time to get to.
The difficulty in the game rises at a rapid pace as you make your way through, forcing you to grind to beat some of the later challenges. Grinding isn’t anything new in RPG’s (one almost expects it), but coupled with the fact that you have to revisit levels because of the time constraint, the repetition will prove too much for most players. Also, this game commits the cardinal sin of allowing your character to take damage while performing actions you can’t skip, like flipping a lever or doing a quick-time event. Seeing as how the challenge quickly rises, you’ll be dying a lot due to this and it just adds to the frustration.
Similarly disappointing is the story, and in a shocking turn of events, it’s also offensive and over the line. The main character in this game is really the witch, Metallia, seeing as you, the Hundred Knight, are mute and just follow her bidding. Metallia is a cruel character, and that isn’t inherently bad. Not every game protagonist has to be a hero for the story to be interesting, but you have to know how to balance it.
Here, Metallia is nothing but an abhorrent bully who thinks, at one point in the game, that rape is funny. There are no redeeming qualities to her and some parts of the game are especially hard to watch, as they make light of serious problems like rape or denigrate women. Enemies are equally detestable, uttering horrible phrases about how they like to kill, and every other character is either horrible or bland, leaving you no one to cheer for. Over its 30-40 hour course, the game drains your ability to care about anyone in the story, but you will certainly hate Metallia by the end. Let me give you an example, and this is a SPOILER, so if you’re interested in playing the game, skip to the next paragraph. At one point in the story, Metallia defeats her long-time rival, who also happens to be her mother. But she doesn’t stop there. She turns her mother into a mouse and summons a bunch of male mice to chase her down and rape her as she laughs. This event sets the stage for many other horrible moments.
Most of your tasks as the Hundred Knight are repetitive and superfluous, with your only goal being expanding Metallia’s swamp across all the land. See, if she leaves the swamp she becomes weak and runs the risk of dying, so as her slave, it’s your duty to expand her swamp as far as you can. A lot of the game feels like filler, put in place to artificially pad out its length. This is especially apparent in the game’s last few dungeons, which mainly happen because of plot holes in the story.
The only redeeming aspects of The Witch and the Hundred Knight are its art and music. While the graphics in the game are serviceable, they’re mostly bland and not as imbued with color as one expects from a Nippon Ichi game. But the character portraits have received the same level of care as one has come to expect from these games. Music is perfectly suited for the many combat scenarios, perfectly set up to feel like you’re being encouraged to keep going forward. It feels both fresh and exciting. Voice acting is another matter entirely. The game features both English and Japanese tracks, a welcome option for those who despise the English localization. While the English voice acting is good and works for the most parts, some parts of the dialogue don’t mesh well with each other and come off as awkward, making the Japanese track a welcome inclusion.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight’s few strengths lie in it’s combat, which sometimes tends to outweigh the repetitive exploration and abhorrent storyline. But it’ll take so much in-game time to flesh out these systems, that most players will lose heart before ever reaching it. Normally, a game like this would be carried by its story, but if you make it past that first offensive scene, know that there are more like that in store for you, and it’s just not worth seeing this game to its end.