When you’re the company that is known for making 2D Isometric Strategy RPG titles like Disgaea, it’s a little difficult to try to branch out into something of a different style. Rather than resting on their laurels, Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) have opted to try 3D graphics with a more action-orientated RPG style in The Witch and the Hundred Knight. Has this gambit worked in their favour, or has it become unravelled from the seams?
A Matter of Taste
Before we get into the gameplay, we need to talk NIS’ brand of humour. It is divisive. Some really dig the juvenile jokes that either come across as clumsy or hilarious depending on the translation effort. For the most part, The Witch and the Hundred Knight features stereotypes found in most bad anime. A servant who keeps calling the foul-mouthed Swamp Witch Metallia by a different name, only for her to correct him, is mildly amusing once, but grows tiresome before too long; while a “Dog Princess” initially hates Metallia, but soon develops Stockholm Syndrome to become an ally of sorts. Note you never control these characters, instead taking on the role of the silent Hundred Knight.
Then there’s the jokes that stoop to new lows just for the sake of making a joke, that come out of nowhere and are there just to sound edgy. While South Park: The Stick of Truth does this to a similar extent, they never go to quite the boundaries that The Witch and the Hundred Knight does. In fact, in some early jokes, Metallia performs some excruciatingly vile acts, followed by snide comments, that nearly made me stop playing due to just how tasteless it was. Couple this with stereotype characters, a story that is utterly forgettable and you have a strong reason not to bother playing, despite having multiple endings and branching paths.
Glimmers of Hope
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is at its core a Diablo clone but with that typical NIS flair for numbers and stats. There are hints at some game-changing systems that are reasonably fun to use. Each weapon you pick up has a die value which corresponds to a particular weapon slot. If you manage to chain them properly, there is a damage bonus added, making them more effective. Given that these kinds of games usually require you to wear the most valuable gear, this extra level of complexity is welcome as you’re forced to work out whether there is a benefit to equipping that rare item.
Combat itself is largely hack ‘n’ slash, with enemies weak to certain types of weapons. Standard affair until you work out that the dodging mechanic has a “Miracle Dodge” slowdown that can be executed just before you are hit. This makes combat slightly more compelling than just hammering on the button and hoping for the best as you’re working out when the best time to dodge is.
But then there are the undercooked systems. Witch Domination allows the Hundred Knight to raid a house, executing a hostile takeover for loot or required items to progress. This accumulates karma, which increases the prices merchants sell stuff for, though the things on offer seldom tempt a purchase. You can use Anima (another name for souls) to do various things, though this is rarely relevant. You also have access to Tochkas (special magic skills), which aside from a couple will not be a regular staple in your arsenal. Few of the Facets (the game’s classes) also are beneficial, with the best one being the one that increases the window of Miracle Dodge opportunity.
Slimming the Fat
By far the worst offender is the GigaCals mechanic. Imagine if you will playing Diablo or Torchlight or even Path of Exile, where you are forced to go to the hub because of an arbitrary countdown. Doesn’t sound like fun does it? That is what The Witch and the Hundred Knight does. As you move around, you drain GigaCals by uncovering fog-of-war, attacking and healing. Should it ever be reduced to zero, the Hundred Knight will be weakened with health draining as you perform actions. Should you perish before losing all GigaCals, you take a massive hit and your stomach is partially emptied of loot. You can of course escape via Pillar of Fools that have been opened, to come back a few seconds later, but this is an arbitrary way of banking in accumulated experience to gain levels and severely breaks down all sense of immersion.
However, all of this leads to the biggest gripe with the game: How it explains how to play it. The tutorial covers all the basic combat mechanics, but labours over the exposition and simplest mechanics at the cost of explaining some of the more complex nuances. Those it leaves the tediously long loading screens to tell you, with no option to look at an in-game guide instead so you can learn everything you need. Everyone can probably figure out in a Diablo clone how to hack and slash to victory, but valuable things such as each weapon having a die value and the Miracle Dodge are not mentioned once, meaning the tutorial has utterly failed to give the player meaningful information. Granted discovery is always nice in a game, but core mechanics should not be left to loading screens to explain.
Presentation is also a sour note to the game, as the graphics look dated even by PlayStation 2 standards with hugely blurred textures and ugly character models. The game chokes at times when there are a larger than average number of enemies on-screen at once, making some encounters almost impossible to keep track of. This is an issue because the areas aren’t randomly generated inter-woven metropolises, but very linear stages that last a few minutes each time and are generally mediocre at best. Music is of general NIS quality, while the voice acting here is particularly diabolical. This is one example where the Japanese voice-over might be required.
By massively over-shooting the boundaries of good taste, The Witch and the Hundred Knight does everything it can to put you off playing it. Even by NIS standards, this story is a huge mess with overused jokes and unlikable clichéd characters. Despite a couple of fun mechanics and the combat being somewhat bearable, too much of the game is designed to annoyingly poke at what little patience remains. Apparently this game had a troubled development, so considering the hatchet job that was eventually released, they needn’t have bothered.