Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America
Rating: T (ESRB) (Editors note: plenty of sexual themes)
When you awaken you don’t quite know who you are, or who that disembodied voice is that guides you through the very basic tutorial. She tells you exactly how to do everything and it’s all very familiar as well as unimpressive. Soon you learn that you were summoned by Metallia (actually named Metallica), a swamp witch with a bipolar personality. She has a rivalry with another witch and it’s your job to help her out. You’ll do this with hack n slash, looting, talking to townsfolk, and raiding those people’s houses. Ultimately you want to whack open the Pillars of Temperance to let Metallia’s swamp seep out into other areas.
It’s a top down affair and while not beautiful graphically, it is visually pleasing with many diverse and magical locations to explore. Things are just a bit fuzzy, which seemed calculated to hide the lack of detail in characters while in a battle stage. I said before that the tutorial was simple, but to make up for the typical lack of up to date graphics and gameplay Nippon Ichi has included some interesting and often confusing extra mechanics that you are free to explore or just kind of ignore. Those who explore these extra parameters will have more fun, but I was more often temped to just Zelda my way through.
Attacking and running utilize Gigacals, which deplete with use. Running is kind of a fun way to get around as your little guy runs like an unruly pool ball. Fighting with combos can be done with up to 5 weapons and enemies are sensitive to certain weapon types and combinations (Blunt, Slash, or Magic). Hundred Knight gets better with progress, he can learn new abilities that allow special moves like slowing time or dropping bombs, which makes the tired gameplay a bit more fun. You hold items in your stomach for some reason. These will be very important to refilling your Gigacals. The Gigacals system is a terrible idea. It ultimately amounts to a time limit of sorts, you basically run out of batteries now and then and have to teleport away to get refilled. There is also a grade level which can give you buffs prior to new missions. “Facets” are like different personas for the Hundred Knight and they come with their own specialty strengths.
It all feels pretty old fashioned, but I like to consider the audience when reviewing games and I do think the gameplay eventually, after a collection of awkward hours, will satisfy Nippon Ichi and NIS fans. The boss fights are fun, no doubt, and reminiscent in a good way of classic action RPGs. The story and characters have been maligned by Western critics but I had a different experience. Sure Metallia is crude and nuts, the plot is both silly and a bit dark, however I think it works. Over time the characters show deeper layers than their initial anime roles suggest about them, and there is every indication that we are dealing with a twisted fairy tale so one shouldn’t be disappointed that it isn’t in the same category as something like Disgaea.
Speaking of fairy tales, that conscious characterization is actually one of the cooler aspects of the game: its storybook framing. Popular among indie games this generation like Trine, it works quite well as a mood setter and exists as an element in the menus, storytelling, sound, and overall feel. This is prominent in the music, which is quite good. The tracks suit the game well and serve to keep you entertained with a sense of wonderment through the more tedious portions that are for patient folks. A big problem is that they are all over produced, there are too many instruments and the underlying melody gets lost in a cacophony sometimes. That means you won’t be humming these songs, and without a bigger impact on the mind they become forgettable and easy to tune out without trying.
The English voices are pretty well done, better than the average anime dub but roughly as good as any other set of English voices for a Japanese game. I’d argue that there are more miscasting mistakes than with the Japanese voices though. Playing with the Japanese voices make the whole thing more plausible as a contained entertainment since some craziness just can’t be expressed properly in English. Perhaps that’s why so many critics hated the characters where I very much enjoyed them. It’s less a matter of subjectivity than experience with these kinds of games and their traditions. The visual novel scenes are fun and I tended to look forward to them after each quest. You might need a sick sense of humor to really enjoy them though. I happen to have that kind of sense of humor so it worked for me. The 2D art in these portions is well done but standard fare for this developer. It is a stark contrast to the blurred action areas.
For an action RPG the game is quite long and is not for the impatient. I wasn’t able to play it all for this review but I can tell by the pace there is plenty left and I’ve heard it can last 40 hours. That means there’s plenty of replay value for you die hards. You can refine your use of the more specific styles of combat, seek out all three endings, and trophy hunt to your hearts content. You might also want to go back and raid more houses that you were too weak to control or be more aggressive and attack townspeople just for fun. Though doing so will harm your reputation. I wouldn’t play it more than once, but there is reason to do so if you area completionist.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is really for the hardcore eaters of NIS published titles. It is unapologetically Japanese, which is good for those fans, but the overall experience retains a certain blandness in the gameplay department which can’t be easily forgiven. The “meta” aspects that frame the gameplay are what make it worth checking out as they are a mix of non-traditional trope and presentation utilization which make for an unusual entertainment experience. As far as the gameplay goes you’ll need to make your own fun most of the time as the game doesn’t seek to impress on any reasonable level that the average gamer has come to expect.