Nippon Ichi Software has a reputation for the absurd and strange, and while The Witch and the Hundred Knight initially seems poised to continue that trend successfully, the game’s humour soon turns dark and indignant – and its minor flaws begin to stack. Make no mistake, there’s a solid action RPG hidden beneath this title’s inappropriate dialogue and fractured design, but it’s buried so deep that the majority of players will struggle to find it.
You play as a mute blob of darkness called the Hundred Knight, and act as a minion to the cruel and foul-mouthed witch of the swamp, Metallia. You’ve been tasked with expanding the sorceress’ dominion of swampland to the far corners of the world, so that she may travel through it with her powers unabated in order to defeat some other crones. It starts off as a simple story, but it gradually becomes more complex as you progress.
Unfortunately, the narrative ends up far too messy, and the journey there is likely to challenge your patience. For starters, Metallia’s sense of humour and evil demeanour is juvenile and abhorrent. For every comical remark that she or the rest of the cast makes, there’ll be several unfunny and highly inappropriate ones to sully the whimsy. Things get so bad that you’ll long for the adventuring sections with the mute protagonist, but far too often unnecessarily long cut-scenes will interrupt your progress with copious lines of dialogue that don’t go anywhere. It’s badly structured and offputtingly intrusive.
Sadly, the interface and general gameplay mechanics adopt the same spirit. The UI is overwhelming at first glance, and even gets in the way of the action. Meanwhile, fathoming exactly how to play the title poses a stiff challenge. The beginning tutorial section drags on long enough irritate, but equally doesn’t cover enough bases. It’s through long loading screen clues and heavy doses of trial and error that the hidden depth is uncovered and you’ll learn how to play effectively. This makes for a frustrating first few hours, especially when the battles up the ante. Thankfully, there’s some entertainment to be gleaned from the game once you’re up to speed.
Contrary to NIS tradition, this title uses a real-time action combat system, which works fairly well. You can equip five different weapons which act as a five-hit combo in battle, taking advantage of each armament’s unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s a fun endeavour to build your preferred loadout from the swords, spears, hammers, staffs, and lances that you find or purchase throughout your adventure. Additionally, a dodge mechanic that slows down time grants a bonus attack opening if you’re skilled enough to read your opponent’s moves and react.
Tochkas and Facets, which act as abilities and class specific attributes, are also acquired and used in battle. Tochkas such as a giant bomb or minions can help when activated, while Facets passively enhance your statistics in the background. Your abilities can even affect the emotional state of your enemies, frightening them to the point of death, converting them to your side, or angering them and turning them into a bigger threat. Unfortunately, for as great as this sounds, abilities aren’t as effective as you may expect, and it pays to spam your standard combo attack rather than experiment.
When you’re not in combat or stuck in lengthy conversations, you’ll be exploring a variety of different regions, searching for magic pillars that expand the swamp. The locations are a bit of mixed bag, however, and can feel a little barren at times. At least you can liven things up by raiding a nearby village for items, although this does anger the locals and increase the prices in stores. Alas, most of the goodies and equipment that you’ll find are adequate enough, nullifying the need for shops anyway.
Regardless of what you get up to on your travels, you’ll constantly be shedding GigaCals. These count down from 100, and at zero start draining your health, having already reduced your effectiveness in battle by 30 per cent. This acts like a hunger/health system, where dying with your total intact will allow you to be resurrected. Run out, and you’ll be sent back to the swamp should you fall, with all of your found items forfeited. As such, the game encourages you to return to Metallia through magic pillars, use specific items, or eat weakened enemies to restore it. This could have been an interesting risk/reward mechanic, but with teleportation pillars so prevalent, it winds up being little more than a time wasting chore.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight trips up a little in several areas. The title’s interesting battle system could do with a little more depth, while its locations are inconsistent and interface unfriendly. However, it’s the narrative that really lets it down, due to Metallia’s irredeemable personality and a nonsensical conclusion. This isn’t the kind of cheeky experience that you may expect from the folks behind Disgaea – it’s a darker yet more juvenile tale. Look past the faults and you may find some fun, but you’ll need patience to get there.