"The Witch and the Hundred Knight offers a surprisingly dark narrative that some might even find initially off-putting if they go in expecting rainbows and sunshine."
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is different from your standard JRPG when it comes to both gameplay and its narrative content. Rather than being a grind-heavy strategy RPG with a turn-based battling system, it is instead a real-time hack-and-slash action RPG with some strong looting tendencies. And rather than providing a light-hearted and comedic story to follow, it offers a surprisingly dark narrative that some might even find initially off-putting if they go in expecting rainbows and sunshine.
The game's narrative revolves around the egregious witch Metallia and her attempts to dominate the world through relentless application of stinky swamp mud. In order to spread her influence (and swamp), she summons the Hundred Knight, a legendary figure that has been talked about for ages, which actually turns out to be a pathetic, scrawny creature only capable of communicating through childish babbling. So, this is where you come in, taking on the role of the Hundred Knight. It's your job to go out into the world and "release" the Pillars of Temperance, plants that hold the seed of the swamp, allowing Metallia's swamp mud to flow freely into new areas.
Metallia herself is set up as a nasty piece of work almost from the get-go. Right from the beginning you are forced to follow her commands as she barks them out at you, and belittles you for every little thing she can possibly think of. It doesn’t take much time at all for you to learn that she is belligerent, aggressive, foul-mouthed (she spouted out all my favorite cuss words in the span of an hour) and prone to irrational bouts of violence and torture. What a woman! At least, so it seems for a significant portion of the early game; some players may find it difficult to engage with her as the story's main protagonist due to quite how objectionable she can be at times, but it's worth sticking with her. Give her a chance because over time, she gradually starts to show her hidden depths, and the fact that she is a much more complex character than she initially appears.
"The story unfolds gradually and slowly, a little too slowly at times perhaps, but provides a genuinely compelling reason to keep playing the game."
It probably comes as no surprise that Metallia has plenty of issues, and they are both deep-rooted and serious. However, the story gradually sees you learning the truth behind her wickedness, eventually leading towards the answers to several questions posed early in the game: why she can't leave her swamp without the Hundred Knight releasing the Pillars, why the other witches in the world won't acknowledge her despite her obvious power, and exactly what is going to happen when she claims, all too calmly at that, that she's going to die in a hundred days' time.
The other characters are just as interesting as our beloved swamp witch. We are introduced early on to Metallia’s butler, Arlechino, who seems dis—, erm… very pleased to eagerly fulfill every one of his master’s desires; and believe me, there are many. Another noteable main character you meet is a naïve, sweet girl named Visco who has been cursed to resemble a dog for all of eternity. Her precious personality is a welcomed break from Metallia’s abrasiveness. The rest of the cast is full of mysterious witches who eerily seem to know more than you, dedicated Pillar protectors who won’t hesitate to kill you with, with or without reason, and many more.
The story unfolds gradually and slowly, a little too slowly at times perhaps, but provides a genuinely compelling reason to keep playing the game. Part of the reason for the narrative's slow pacing is due to its JRPG nature, or A.K.A: the fairly lengthy gameplay parts that follow the story scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can get boring fast. So, in short, the gameplay has you hacking and slashing, collecting treasures and trying to carefully manage your resources for the most efficient play, right out of the gate.
"You earn experience as you run through enemies, but you don't actually "get" any of that experience applied to your equipped Facets until you complete or leave the area having discovered at least one of the checkpoints."
There's some pretty peculiar systems at play in this game that take a little adjusting to; and it doesn’t help that the game doesn't give up the secrets of its mechanics easily despite the 50 different tips that randomly appear on the load screens between areas. Some of you will rejoice at the fact of not having the mechanics served to you on a silver platter during the tutorial. For the rest of you, though, you might prefer the option to look up information on what on Earth HP, AP, TP, GCals, Grade Points and Bonus Points are and what they're for before continuing headlong into the gameplay. If you fall into the latter category, you may find The Witch and the Hundred Knight to be frustrating for your first few hours, but I assure you that everything will soon fall into place.
When it comes down to weapons, there’s nothing too incredibly impressive about this game. You can equip up to five at once, each of which inflict Blunt, Slash or Magic damage, which do yield some pretty stellar combos once you get the hang of it. Weapons handle noticeably different from one another, and even within weapons of the same type there is variation. Some spears jab out in front of the Hundred Knight, for example, while others are designed to be whirled around his head to hit enemies in a wide area. Naturally, some enemy types are weak or strong against particular attack types, so it's in your interest to keep a wide array of different weapons on hand to strategically equip as the situation demands. The Hundred Knight also earns new "Facets" as you progress through the game, each of which has its own set of specific weapon proficiencies.
The game has a quite odd leveling system, which ties in to the aforementioned Facets somewhat. You earn experience as you run through enemies, but you don't actually "get" any of that experience applied to your equipped Facets until you complete or leave the area having discovered at least one of the checkpoints. Instead, alongside experience, you earn Grade Points through kills and combos. These contribute to a Grade Level, and every time you earn a Grade Level you earn a single point, which can be spent at a checkpoint for a temporary buff to your stats. In other words, you can earn temporary "level ups" over the course of a single jaunt into a dungeon through the Grade system, and your base stats will improve permanently at a slower rate over time through the more conventional leveling system. It initially seems complex and confusing -- thanks largely to it not being explained at all well by the game, but once you get your head around it, the reason for it being like this becomes clear, particularly when combined with the game's "GigaCals" system.
The Hundred Knight runs on GigaCals, which reflect how much magical energy it has. There's a constant, slow GCal drain at all times, which adds a competitive “race against the clock” feeling. However, this draining rate is increased with everything you do, whether it's mapping unexplored areas, recovering stamina from running or attacking, or recovering health from being damaged, which is quite the killjoy. GCals can be replenished by either eating enemies, which fills the Hundred Knight's stomach with garbage items, reducing the amount of space for treasures to take home once you leave the area, or by spending the precious bonus points from Grade Levels, which potentially denies you some useful stat buffs. If the Hundred Knight runs out of GCals, it is irrevocably weakened, cannot heal itself and will be sent home with half XP if it gets knocked out, so it's in your interest to ensure that doesn't happen. At the same time, however, you want to try and ensure you earn as many Grade Levels as possible in a single run to ensure you're powerful enough to take down the area's boss.
"Ultimately, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a lengthy, challenging and demanding game that may not offer a lot in the way of instant gratification, but becomes more rewarding and enjoyable as you progress."
The boss fights tend to conclude a run through one of the game's lengthy, sprawling areas. These confrontations were pretty challenging, requiring careful observation of attack patterns and understanding of the game's core mechanics, particularly with regard to damage types. They're much more than your average slugfest, too; a fluctuating "Guard" bar beneath the boss' HP meter shows not only when is the best time to attack, but also when the boss is about to unleash a powerful attack. Combat, now, becomes about positioning yourself carefully so that you aren't hit with the attack in question, and making sure you are able to inflict as much damage as you can at the same time. There's always a way to do this, and none of the bosses feel like they're making use of cheap, unavoidable attacks.
Lastly, I would like to touch on the audible and aesthetic aspects of this game. Flat out, they are incredible, and arguably my favorite part. The music had me hooked from right at the start. It’s upbeat melodies are often met with a solemn undertone that makes you question what’s about to go wrong; thus, always keeping you on your feet. The choir-like vocals are haunting, giving the game an even darker feel. Lastly, the 2D art is a thing of it’s own! The dark purples and bright greens, and other such color schemes, swirled together make a pleasurable viewing experience. The charters are drawn very detailed and interestingly; and always have your eye searching for more details. Honestly, these small, but intricate details, really bumped up this game’s rating for me.
Ultimately, The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a lengthy, challenging and demanding game that may not offer a lot in the way of instant gratification, but becomes more rewarding and enjoyable -- both in terms of narrative and mechanics -- as you progress. It spins an unconventional, surprising and, at times, morally ambiguous tale, and complements this with some surprisingly deep hack-and-slash combat and challenging boss confrontations that bring to mind some of the best encounters of the 2D top-down SNES era. Its complicated interlocking game systems and initially abrasive protagonist will doubtless prove to be a turnoff for some players, but for those willing to invest some time and give Metallia the love she clearly most desperately needs, there's a lot to like here.
Review by: Sara Perfin | Reviewed on: Playstation 3