The Witch and the Hundred Knight Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3
Games from NIS always have something alluring about them. It’s probably rather dangerous to use that word – alluring – when so many of their games feature scantily-clad girls of indeterminate age, but there’s usually some narrative gimmick or particular gameplay system that sounds amazing… on paper. It’s usually the case as well – as with Hyperdimension Neptunia or Mugen Souls – that these enticing elements tend to fall flat, resulting in a lacklustre, slightly disappointing game that never lived up to its promises. With The Witch and the Hundred Knight, NIS do it again – it all looks competent enough until those darned cracks start appearing.
Presented as a top-down brawler, Hundred Knight seems substantially easier to comprehend than the rather convoluted plot of Hyperdimension Neptunia – as a legendary warrior called into being by the anti-hero Metallia, you’ve been summoned in order to spread her power and essentially take over the world. It’s an intriguing premise, even if it isn’t original. But, as in the game, Hundred Knight promises more than it ultimately offers. The so-called legendary warrior actually turns out to be a short, almost cute little fella, complete with squeaky Moogle-esque chirps. Of course, this annoys Metallia almost as much as the player. It’s an even bigger surprise that she turns out to be one of the most unlikeable characters yet to be dubbed ‘anti-hero’. One early moment in the game involves a rival witch turned into a rat (to avoid having her face kicked in), only for Metallia to conjure three horny male rats into existence at the same time. As if a rodent rape/gang-bang wasn’t unfunny enough, the rat is eventually eaten by Metallia – little more than a careless punchline that feels supremely weird in tone. The bizarre, unnervingly weird story also takes up a hefty chunk of the overall time – cutscenes are frequent and protracted, with a lot of dialogue but little in the way of meaningful plot development.
This weirdness permeates the rest of the game, with enemy designs and NPCs that feel like non-sequiturs. The meat of the game itself tasks your diminutive brawler with exploring various levels, essentially beating up everything in sight and collecting gradually more powerful loot. Scattered throughout are pillars that can be activated, thereby serving as checkpoints and spawn locations should you return to the level. And, oh, you’ll be going back and forth aplenty thanks to Gigacals – a constantly depleting counter that is whittled away through actions in-game as well as any deaths you might incur. Essentially, it’s an arbitrary time limit; a clock that tells you when to quit the level, only to warp straight back in to continue under a fresh counter. While it can be boosted with certain pickups, as well as by consuming enemies with low health, Gigacals amount to a pointless inclusion that might have added some strategic depth were the solution not so painfully morose.
As the game otherwise consists of punching things, the combat had better be up to scratch. As an action-JRPG, Hundred Knight feels more hands-on than turn-based equivalents and the intertwining systems that comprise the main game offer a short glimpse of depth. Eventually it’s all revealed to be surface sheen – aside from swapping out your equipment and grinding to level up, it’s not particularly likely you’ll delve too far into the myriad menus. Initially daunting, these menus offer the chance to swap out your play style, acquire a set of powers and key up to five weapons in a chain – certain combinations of which will add multipliers to the damage dealt. Add in other upgrade systems based on certain collectable substances and Hundred Knight’s complexity looks impressively obtuse but soon becomes invalid beyond the staple gameplay loops.
One quirk introduced early on in a dull hand-holding tutorial is that of Witch Domination. As you travel the world you’ll encounter villages, complete with forges, shops, NPCs and more. Each house can either be visited or raided – with a karma system employed to keep a track on your approach. Raid a house and the villagers will dislike you, visit it before raiding and you might obtain a different item if the house is successfully dominated. It sounds great – a style of gameplay that’s less monotonous than the button-bashing based combat, perhaps? Instead, it feels redundant. Most of the time all it takes to determine the success of a raid is a quick comparison between your level and that of the occupants of the house. Even then, there’s nothing bar a poorly animated house shaking around to indicate the fight inside. In essence, the raiding is little more than a boring middle-step in picking up an item. Once again, something that’s intriguing to begin with soon becomes a chore.
It doesn’t help that Hundred Knight doesn’t have the most attractive graphics. Muddy textures and low-polygon character models cannot be hidden with the sub-standard particle effects. Even the dialogue scenes (featuring 2D drawings) aren’t as pleasant to look at, nor visually refined, as those in Hyperdimension Neptunia. It’s a different style – more angular and haphazard – but nothing of the quality to be found in high-end JRPGs. In the same field, the sound design suits the game to begin with but soon becomes off-putting. Changing the language track to the native Japanese allowed Metallia to sound less like a petulant teenager (and also revealed her original name to be Metallica… oops, guess Lars’ lawyers had a field day there) but does little to drown out the heavily synthesized music that sounds like a demented circus.
There’s a good amount of content (around thirty to forty hours at least) to The Witch and the Hundred Knight – it’s just a shame that it never really comes together. With all of the disparate systems, conflictingly weird tone-shifts and strange design choices, you can see how the developers have attempted something new within the parameters of the genre. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work and eventually becomes a drag, not factoring in the added filler like the Gigacals timer or the need to grind. It’s another Japanese curiosity, then; one that probably won’t satiate even the most ardent fan of Eastern output.