NIS, or Nippon Ichi Software, is an interesting company. This is the alternative company you look to for niche titles when Atlus isn’t doing anything else besides Persona-related games. They have released a lot of their games over here in the states, and a couple of their games have fan followings. Like I said however, they are pretty niche titles. Some people will enjoy the Disgaea’s high level of difficulty and weird quirky worlds, and some people won’t. I haven’t played too many of the games released by the company, but one of their more recent titles has caught my eye, The Witch and The Hundred Knight for the PlayStation 3. While an action-oriented dungeon crawler is nothing new, since we have seen a few of those kinds of games do well, it is definitely not the normal kind of game the Disgaea creators usually make. For an attempt at a different genre, this game isn’t that bad. It has some big pros, but like any game, it has its flaws. Let’s put on our swamp boots and pick up your +1 fire sword and read on about this little action RPG.
The main story is about a swamp witch named Metallia, voiced by Sarah Ann Williams. She decides to make a deal with a spirit that is known to be extremely powerful, with the ability to shoot fire, have four arms, and command an army of 100 mystical knights. Unfortunately, this so-called spirit is about knee height and is adorable looking. She decides to call this little guy Hundred Knight. Metallia tells you, the person playing as the Hundred Knight, that you must travel across the land and unleash these powerful artifacts known as pillars to expand her domain as far as possible. Along the way, you will meet a multitude of characters, from a witch hunter who got cursed with dog-like features, Metallia’s snarky and rather sassy butler, to a multitude of other witches that have their own magical abilities. The game’s story has a mix of light goofy elements and some rather dark moments. I will talk about the problems of the story later on, but I will say that I liked a lot of the characters, like Metallia and her butler. The conversations between those two are funny, and the witch hunter girl is a pretty fun character also. Overall, the story is solid.
The Witch and the Hundred Knights is a dungeon crawler, in the same spirit as Diablo and Deathspank. You play as the Hundred Knight as you traverse across a multitude of locations and environments, unleashing smaller pillars, finding loot, and taking down bosses to unleash the pillars that you need to spread the swampy power of Metallia. Your main forms of attack are swords, spears, lances, hammers, and magical staffs. You can equip up to five weapons at once, and can make some pretty devastating combos depending on how you set up your weapons. Each weapon has a strength and a weakness, like the lance is a good rush weapon, but isn’t the most accurate, or how the spear is weak, but you can hit a multitude of enemies at once and also when they are surrounding you. You can use these little critters called Tochkas. There are a multitude of Tochka, and they have abilities ranging from being a timebomb, a trap to seal up weakened enemies, little miniature knights that help you fight, to decoys, just to name a few. Like in Bayonetta, if you time your dodge correctly, you can slow down time, and then slaughter your enemies for a few seconds. All of your attacks, running, and dodging run on a stamina meter that quickly refills if you don’t do any of those actions I just listed. Now, instead of being able to freely roam around, you will be under a timer of sorts.
The timer consumes this energy called giga calories or gcals. While you are exploring the levels, the timer will go down quickly when you are in new areas, but will slow down when you walk through areas you have already explored. There are many ways to keep the gcals up, but they require either food, using grade points that you can gain from leveling up your weapons, and eating weakened enemies in a mini-game. Basically, what I would do in each level is traverse my way to the smaller pillars, unlock them, leave the level, and then go back to it and grind a little. It’s finicky, but the game makes you earn your way through the experience since it won’t just give it to you. You can carry items with you, but items found in the levels from chests or raiding houses will end up in your characters stomach, which is separate from the items you carry on your body. You can wear different types of armor that will give you different traits, like stronger defense and attack stats. You can have one main armor and three sub-armors. If you are thinking there is going to be only one ending for this game, you are wrong. There are three endings, and certain levels will not be unlocked unless you get the bad ending. This is once again a long RPG, and it will take you about 30 or maybe 40 hours to complete. There is replay value due to the three endings.
In my opinion, the best part about this game’s presentation is the art style. It’s colorful, cartoony, and it has a unique personality. I love the designs of some characters, like Metallia’s butler and Hundred Knight himself. The 2D artwork looks great, but the 3D models and environments look like the quality of the 3D models seen in Diablo 3. It isn’t bad, but I guess I would think they would have obtained a bigger budget to not make the animations look slightly stiff, and the 3D models not look like a PlayStation 3 game that came out in 2006. The voice work is okay. The voice actors do a good job, but it isn’t anything award winning, though, some of the more childlike and small creature characters have annoying voices. Music is hit-or-miss. I liked a lot of the tunes I heard, but some were forgettable or annoying. The game’s composer is Tenpei Sato, who does the music for series like Disgaea and Phantom Brave. One of his more memorable works for me is with the PlayStation One cult classic, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure. It’s a solid package, but the game won’t win any graphics or musical awards.
Unfortunately, this charming dungeon crawler has some issues. Even though I don’t mind dark or goofy humor, sometimes, it doesn’t mix with this game. Some dark humor used in the game is a little too dark, and it feel out of place. I think this game would have been so much better if it was all a humorous story and not have so many grim moments. I also hate the giga calories timer. I don’t know why developers think we need pointless timers. They are only there to try and add something serious to the overall game, but in the end, become more of an annoyance and just another thing to worry about, and not in a good way. These need to stop, since it didn’t work in games like Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. I also hate the pacing of the game in certain areas. Like I said, the most productive way to get through the levels is to get all the pillars unlocked first, then tackle the enemies, and grind, and finally, take out the level boss. It’s manageable, but it’s tedious due to the fact that timer that is going down while you explore the levels. The pacing for the tutorials and learning new moves is a little lopsided. You get a lot of information upfront, but then you only get to know more helpful abilities when the time comes. I wish I could have learned how I can eat enemies to gain more gcals early on instead of later. I wouldn’t be bothered by this, but if you pause the game and look at the controls in the main menu, you find out about these moves, like eating enemies or using your little minions right on that one menu. Why show those moves when I can’t perform them yet? Like I said, some of the voice acting and music is annoying so I won’t go into too much detail there.
Final verdict: A solid dungeon crawler worth checking out!
In the end, this game will be fated as a hidden gem. If they ever do make a sequel, I hope they take out that stupid timer, and fix some of the design choices that I mentioned above. If you see this game for about $20 or $30, I would pick it up. I can think of better dungeon crawlers that I have played that had a consistent overall experience like DeathSpank, but for one of the few unique games from a developer that pretty much only makes tactical RPGs, I think The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a mostly successful experiment. When you can, find a copy and play it yourself!