The Witch and the Hundred Knight PS3 Review
Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) initially made a name for itself in the gaming world with their flagship SRPG series Disgaea, combining a cutesy Anime aesthetic along with addicting turn-based gameplay and charming, often zany localizations. Recently, however, the company has diverged slightly from their formulaic SRPG titles and have started to publish other games featuring an Anime aesthetic but also entirely different gameplay genres (incidentally, the company has also begun to release actual Anime, most notably Anohana and the TV adaption of Persona 4).
On the development side, The Witch and the Hundred Knight retains the familiar visuals and music that has made Disgaea and its twice-removed cousins a cult hit, but has also taken a sharp left turn from its SRPG-oriented predecessors; while previous titles featured sprites engaging in turn-based tactical battles, Hundred Knight is a fully 3D top-down action game closer to Western titles like Diablo, Torchlight and other loot-driven roleplaying games.
The story centers around the titular witch, Metallia, a skimpily-dressed (naturally) swamp witch who has summoned the similarly titular Hundred Knight to do her bidding. Despite its Kirby-like look and voice, the puny Hundred Knight is considered a legendary demon that can destroy any foe. It also happens to be the main playable character, who must blindly obey all of Metallia’s orders while suffering her constant physical and verbal abuse without question (the game’s inclusion of a response tree consisting of agreeing, disagreeing, or remaining neutral during key prompts does nothing whatsoever beyond changing a few lines of dialog at a time). Seemingly immortal but with a lifespan of 100 days, Metallia’s goal is to cover the entire world with her deadly swamp gas, tasking the Hundred Knight to destroy all the magical pillars keeping her toxic mud at bay while also fighting against rival witches, among other foes.
The concept of a cartoonishly evil protagonist has been a common theme for NIS’ past titles dating far back as the original Disgaea. Whereas would-be conquerors like Laharl and Mao were so over-the-top with their antics in addition to displaying a softer side when the story demanded it, swamp witch Metallia’s antics are not only unfunny, they’re sadistic to the point that they would give nightmares to even the cruelest characters in Game of Thrones. The closest resemblance to wacky humor regarding the character is her frequent annoyance by being called her real name (Lia) rather than her self-serving moniker as well as her Cartman-esque vocabulary of bleeped-out swear words. Both grow tiresome very quickly, but Metallia’s penchant for violently torturing her enemies only becomes more disturbing as the story goes on.
Within the span of the first act alone, Metallia orders the Hundred Knight to dispatch of her rivals in the most brutal manner possible, making constant remarks such as “stab that whore in the mouth”, “tear that bitch’s head off slowly”, “shove this up her ass”, and so on. When she decides to literally kick her enemies when they are down after players beat them in a boss battle, it only gets worse as she engages in physical torture, mental abuse and even attempted rape. How this game failed to receive a higher content rating is a mystery, but what is even more baffling is how the writers of Disgaea could create something shockingly twisted and utterly joyless. There are hints of Metallia having a tragic back-story that would at least explain her behavior, but by the time the story tries to paint her as sympathetic, it is far too late; the character is irredeemably unlikeable and atrociously written, and what’s worse is how the game’s visuals and music attempt to paint all of the uncomfortable situations with the same contextual wackiness of previously pleasant NIS titles. Whatever attempts at edgy humor the developers had in mind, they are profoundly wasted and lack any sort of punch line or irony. With all of the controversy surrounding violence and sexual situations in videogames, The Witch and the Hundred Knight has managed to craft something almost more offensive due to its conceited insistence that we should take amusement with its disturbing sense of humor.
But even the most offensive titles can be endured by players who would rather engage in the gameplay. Unfortunately for Hundred Knight, the gameplay is substandard even if the story wasn’t so repulsive. Featuring an angled top-down view, progression is achieved through stages linked together in a world map, with each stage featuring a set number of goals ranging from “go here” to “go find this switch and then go here”. Naturally there are countless enemies along the way that require several hours of button mashing to clear, each dropping items, equipment and other useful drops for the Hundred Knight. Each enemy has a simplistic move set but also a specific weakness to certain weapons. Striking an enemy with a sword, for instance, will do little damage compared to whatever weapon it happens to be weak to (such as a hammer), which in theory suggests that players should be adjusting their equipment on the fly. Unfortunately, the process of re-arranging and re-equipping weapons is too cumbersome and slow, making it more preferable to whack it with whatever your strongest weapon is until it dies. Weapons are also ranked by level and rarity, the former which can be raised through experience, and up to five can be equipped at once for a lengthy and deadly combo chain.
There are many other abilities that are part of Hundred Knight’s repertoire. Ironically, the dreadfully long opening tutorial fails to describe almost all of them, instead painfully drilling the basic fundamentals such as how to walk and move the camera. Had they used this time to properly explain the character’s more essential abilities, they would have been easier to grasp despite their arbitrary descriptions. Chief among them is the ability to devour weakened foes, which adds junk and potential items to Hundred Knight’s stomach stock (of which the contents can only be unearthed after leaving a stage) as well as restore GC (Gigacals) points. GC points represent an on-screen timer that slowly counts down in each stage, and can also be depleted further for things such as quickly restoring lost health. GC is mainly a penalty, however, as falling in battle will bring the Hundred Knight to the nearest checkpoint at a substantial GC loss. Once the counter reaches zero, the player’s attack and defense will decrease by 30%, and suffering one more death will force you to exit the stage (and potentially losing some of the items you acquired).
There are even more complex systems in place, including Tochkas (familiars that perform specific actions such as bombing key structures or capturing enemies), Facets (stances that change Hundred Knight’s attack parameters such as favoring offense over defense), Witch Domination (where you can raid NPC’s houses in an attempt to rob them of their treasure) and so on. As numerous as these different systems are, they are easy enough to understand even as the game fails to explain them properly.
But when all is said and done, the core game itself does not do enough to justify all of these additional mechanics. For lack of a better word, you are grinding and looting, just as any other Diablo-inspired game. The difference here is that The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a much duller affair compared to other games of its genre, and much more poorly optimized. Despite the simplistic visuals, the game’s framerate tends to consistently chug when the screen is filled with enemies, and the loading times between each stage can get irksome as well (booting up the game alone takes a good two minutes to wade through unskippable logos followed by loading until the title screen shows up…then it’s more loading after that). Worst of all is the cluttered UI, where radial dials, menus and other elements tend to obscure the very targets you’re trying to grind for exp. The game’s difficulty can also take massive swings ranging from pitifully easy to frustratingly difficult at the drop of a hat. Stages can also vary from straightforward slogs to labyrinthine madhouses, both wholly dull and uninspired in both design and fun.
In the end, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a failed experiment made more noticeable due to its heartlessly joyless story. Too mediocre as a game and too mean-spirited as a story, it is hardly worth anyone’s time unless they are truly starved for more of NIS’ character designs and music (the only two elements this game shares faithfully with past titles).