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Review: The Witch and the Hundred Knight

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Disgaea meets Diablo? Kind of...

Diablo 3 was disappointing. That might be an odd way to start a review on a game from Nippon Ichi Software, but while I and many others await the Reaper of Souls expansion to complete the many Diablo 3 renovations, the urge to dive into a good dungeon crawler is only rising. I had no idea what The Witch and the Hundred Knight was a week ago, but after hearing that it might just satiate my hunger for hoarding loot, I had to get in on that.

What awaited was an interesting take on a tried and tested genre, with many new mechanics that seek to innovate. However, for every positive this game has on offer, there's an unfortunate negative. 

The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3)
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher:
NIS America
Release date: July 25, 2013 (JP), March 21, 2014 (EU), March 25, 2014 (NA)
MSRP: $49.99/€49.99/£34.99

The titular witch, Metallia, has been fighting with the forest witch Malia for over one hundred years, which is preventing Metallia from growing the size of her realm. As Metallia can only travel where there's a swamp, she decides she can do with some help and summons the Hundred Knight, a pathetic-looking demon with a deceiving appearance. Its considerably powerful, and helps Metallia to extend the reaches of her swamp.

You may find the story somewhat similar to Nippon Ichi's Disgaea series, as you spend the game fighting for the bad guys. However, there's not much of the signature Disgaea humor to be seen, thanks in part to Metallia's attitude. She's gratingly rude, spouts swears as often as possible, and with the Hundred Knight being a silent protagonist, you have to rely on other characters to get any form of humor. Then again, while it might seem like there must be laughs to be found in here somewhere, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is considerably darker than anything Nippon Ichi has previously put out. 

While I don't want to go ahead and spoil the story for those of you who want to give this game a go, I have to say that you might find parts of it incredibly uncomfortable. To give you an idea, I stopped playing the game for a few hours after a particular story event in the first chapter, just to digest the horrific scene it was describing. Now, I'm not a squeamish guy at all, but what was being described could put Saya no Uta and the brothers Grimm to shame. I'd liken it to something I'd expect out of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows

For those of you that have played something from the Diablo series, the basic gameplay will already seem familiar. You walk around as the Hundred Knight, beat-up enemies, find lots of loot and gain experience along the way. That said, the combat is a lot simpler than most dungeon crawlers, as you'll spend most of it hitting 'square' over and over again to perform weapon combos. Hundred Knight can equip several weapons at once, so hitting the melee button will have it perform a string of attacks, one for each weapon and in the order equipped. You'll need to pick your weapons carefully, as some enemies are only vulnerable to blunt weapons like hammers, while others are dispatched easier when pierced with spears. 

One of the most interesting spins on the typical dungeon crawler formula is the addition of GigaCals. The Hundred Knight will start with 100 GigaCals at the start of a level, and as it moves around and performs actions, it will slowly lose them. When you hit zero, your health will start to deteriorate instead, so you may find yourself working out whether you can take on a big enemy with what you have remaining, or if you'd rather grind during the last ten or so GigaCals before leaving the map. There are ways to replenish GigaCals during the level, but you'll want to make sure you leave the map voluntarily via one of the numerous pillars you'll find. If you let yourself die while you have no GigaCals remaining, you can say goodbye to the items you've picked up during that level, as well as half of the experience you accumulated on the way. 

As you progress through the game, you'll unlock the ability to change your 'facet': the form Hundred Knight appears in. Doing so changes its stats, abilities and weapon proficiency, and you can even set them up with different load-outs and change your form mid-level. This leads to creating strategies with different set-ups -- like using the Wonder Knight form to deal with pesky creatures with strong armor by equipping blunt weapons and staves with status-causing effects, while leaving your stronger Power Fortress form to do the majority of the damage with blades and piercing weapons. 

As you progress through individual levels, you will earn Grade Points and Bonus Points. Grade Points exist on a per-level basis, and are used to give yourself temporary stat boosts for the remainder of your time on that map. Most of the time you'll be putting points into HP, attack and defense, but you also have the choice to replenish some of your GigaCals, or to convert them into Bonus Points. When you accumulate enough Bonus Points, you'll gain access to a new 'level' in the Bonus tree, which in turn awards you with items at the end of the level. Putting all of your Grade Points into Bonus Points would give you the biggest reward if you can finish the level without dying, but you may need to put points into other stats in order to give yourself a fighting chance of getting that far. 

Sounds good, right? The Witch and the Hundred Knight makes some genuinely neat changes to the typical gameplay you see in games that share its genre, but the biggest problem is that it never feels like these systems are being stretched far enough. The tutorial is one of the most uninformative and utterly boring tutorials I've ever played through, with mechanics like GigaCals and Grade Points left unexplained. When you start the game proper, you'll find yourself wandering around the maps, trying to figure out where all of the content is. Levels are made bigger than they should be to make GigaCals important in the early game, when it's too soon for the large spaces to be filled with loads of enemies. Yes, it gets better with time, but it makes a pretty horrible first impression that's sure to put off a fair portion of its audience. The lack of enemy swarms and piles of loot may also have you craving a return journey to Diablo's Sanctuary, rather than venturing deeper into this with the accompanying barrage of terrible dialogue from Metallia. 

When you're not out exploring, you'll often be in dialogue with the main cast. During these moments you'll get an interface that imitates the style of visual novels, with crisp looking 2D art of the characters to either side of the screen. With this being static 2D imagery, it's a lot easier to convey emotions than with janky looking 3D models and animations. It's almost a shame that there's 3D in this game at all, as while looks aren't everything, The Witch and the Hundred Knight has to be one of the worst looking PS3 games during the adventure segments. There was genuinely a moment where I paused the game during the tutorial to look up whether this was originally a PSP game, as I was so confused as to why the 3D models looked so awful when the 2D visuals are so crisp. 

Without even seeing the game, you'll be able to figure out that this was made by Nippon Ichi Software. It's the music that gives it away, as the typical focus on goofy, upbeat, accordion-filled tunes is ever apparent. This is fine in itself, as many of the songs are pretty good, but there's a minor issue in some instances where it doesn't seem to fit the mood of what's happening on screen. There's nothing dumb happening in the same kind of tone as, say, Etna, Laharl or Flonne from Disgaea chatting it up. It's the foul-mouthed Metallia with her teenage attitude, with only the servant Arlecchino to offer the rare bit of humor. 

Fans of original Japanese audio can rejoice, as you can pick between that and the English dub speech for the duration of the game. The English dub is actually rather good, but it's the Japanese dub that I found most entertaining. This is because of a certain change that was made between versions, which is retained in the Japanese audio. In the original version of The Witch and the Hundred Knight, Mettalia is actually named Metallica, after that one rather famous metal band. Funnily enough it might rile up Lars Ulrich if it remained in the western release, so her name is changed to Metallia in the English dub and text. This means that whenever her name is mentioned during in the Japanese dub, you'll be subliminally told to dig out your copy of Death Magnetic. [Editor's Note: Or Load? Can we get some love for Load?]

This game is full to the brim with ideas, and some really interesting ideas at that, but The Witch and the Hundred Knight ultimately fails to use them to the best of its ability. The sparse worlds and wasted potential, coupled with a dull cast that's lead by one of the most unlikeable lead characters in a video game, sinks the game straight into mediocrity. It's a genuine shame, and I can't help but wonder what this game could have been had the game received a few more months of development time.

5 – Mediocre (5s are an exercise in apathy, neither Solid nor Liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.)


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The Witch and the Hundred Knight reviewed by Chris Walden

5

MEDIOCRE

An exercise in apathy, neither solid nor liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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