The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a hard game to love. As a big fan of its developer, Nippon Ichi, I really wanted to love it. I certainly loved a couple of their other recent titles—The Guided Fate Paradox and Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness—but in this case, lightning doesn’t strike thrice. It’s frustrating because there are a lot of good ideas that went into the development of The Witch and the Hundred Knight, but unfortunately, it leaves a bad first impression, a bad last impression, and several bad impressions in between.
There are flashes of fun throughout the game that cannot be denied—and there are definitely enough reasons for genre enthusiasts to play the game if it appeals to them—but these moments are fleeting when they are so greatly outnumbered by countless instances of frustrating gameplay, poor and potentially offensive or tactless storyline content, and technical issues. Still, I stuck with the game to not one bitter end, but three. Over 60 hours I explored every corner of every map and witnessed every ending. And when all was said and done, I wished I could have those 60 hours back.
The Witch and the Hundred Whores, Sluts, and Bitches
It all starts with an identity crisis and a bad first impression. The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a game that is caught between varying target audiences. There are times when it feels like a kid’s game—a fairytale of sorts—with plenty of bright colors, and cute creatures making cute noises. Even the character the player controls, the Hundred Knight, could be described as adorable.
But the main character, Metallia, the Swamp Witch, whose greatest ambition is to spread her swamp throughout the world, wants no part in an E rated game. In fact, after a few hours of play, I was sure that The Witch and the Hundred Knight must be rated M! I was quite surprised when I discovered it was rated T. Perhaps the liberal (or conservative?) use of censorship secured the T rating, but that doesn’t stop Metallia from saying some truly atrocious things.
The most notorious example (perhaps because it takes place so early in the game) occurs when Metallia turns one of her enemies into a mouse, and then takes great pleasure as a bunch of “horny” rats chase after the mouse. It is directly implied that this person-turned-mouse is about to be gang raped by a mischief of rats, which of course makes Metallia quite happy.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that games should not have profanity or content of this kind. I played through South Park: The Stick of Truth and loved every minute of it! But in that game, the absurd adult content fit perfectly because it was, you know, South Park. That made sense. But that sort of content does not fit at all into the colorful world of The Witch and the Hundred Knight. Likewise, I don’t think that witches calling each other whores, sluts and bitches improved the game in the slightest, though I suppose they were drawn to look rather scandalous (and to make eye-catching box art).
The Witch and the Hundred Characters
Yes, Metallia is an antihero, and some players may choose to view her as a villain, and may even enjoy her harsh language and violent nature. If actions speak louder than words, then a combination of actions and words must speak louder still. Metallia’s actions and words towards the beginning of the game were enough for me to find her character to be immensely unlikable, and that damage turned out to be irreparable. Unlike Laharl from the Disgaea series who managed to turn from a brat into a likable brat, Metallia’s growth throughout The Witch and the Hundred Knight never pays off in any significantly meaningful way. Nippon Ichi certainly tried to develop her character, especially later in the game, but the combination of Metallia’s rough dialogue, absurd plot twists and a weak supporting cast made it impossible for me to become too invested into her character, or any of the others for that matter. There are very rare emotional moments sprinkled throughout the game, but these are so few and far between that they are hardly worth mentioning.
Throughout the game, Metallia encounters a wide variety of characters such as other witches, members of a royal family, and even a village of beastmen, but the way the story unfolds makes it very difficult to care about any of them. Characters are introduced in one chapter, only to disappear for much of the game. Others are introduced so late in the game that it just seems like too little, too late. And the plot twists and turns so rapidly that there is little room to get attached to any one character, especially as the characters change drastically, becoming quite unlike the characters you thought you knew.
Even the most developed characters who are present throughout most of the game fail to inspire any sort of connection with the player. Whether because of poor storytelling, lackluster character design, and unfathomable plot twists or droves of boring dialogue, it just never quite works.
Nippon Ichi also plays a dirty trick on the player by awarding a trophy for the “true” ending when the game is far from over. They even go so far as to allow the player to start a new cycle from the beginning of the game, without ever mentioning the three “optional” bosses that have to be defeated in order to get on the path to the “bad” ending—the real end of the game. The “true” ending absolutely horrible and I feel bad for any players (or reviewers) who stopped playing at that point, thinking the story actually ended that abruptly.
But by far the most pathetic part of the storyline is the main character controlled by the player, the Hundred Knight. It is a silent protagonist, and exists only to give Metallia something to boss around and the player something to fight enemies with. From start to finish, the storyline and characters throughout The Witch and the Hundred Knight fall flat.
The Witch and the Hundred Fights
The good news is that The Witch and the Hundred Knight has an action RPG combat engine that is fairly decent. The Hundred Knight can be equipped with up to five weapons simultaneously, and button mashing leads to a combination of attacks that strings all of those weapons together. Each weapon is labeled with a number between 1 and 5, and equipping weapons in sequential order according to that number rewards bonus multipliers while dealing damage. Weapons can also deal one of three types of damage: blunt, slash or magic. Accordingly, enemies have resistances and weaknesses to these three damage types, so picking the right weapons for the right enemies is essential. Finally, AP can be earned by attacking enemies and spent on powerfully charged attacks and slow motion dodging maneuvers, and Grade Points can earned at the same time and spent on temporary stat buffs that last only throughout the current map.
In theory, that all sounds fantastic, but in practice, there are several issues that crop up. The first is that there is no fast way to switch between weapon sets. If you encounter an enemy that can only be damaged by blunt weapons, but you’re equipped with swords instead of hammers, you’ll have no choice but to avoid the enemy or head into the menus to reequip. The game basically forces you to use certain weapon types in certain areas, so having a preferred play style really doesn’t matter. I hated using hammers, as they were very slow and cumbersome, leaving The Hundred Knight vulnerable to attack, but I had no choice but to use them from time to time.
But the worst part is that combat becomes rather redundant fairly quickly. It’s basically just a bunch of button mashing for most enemies throughout the early chapters of the game. Eventually things become more difficult, and the player needs to dodge attacks, block, use healing items and generally stay out of trouble, but once the enemy patterns are learned, things get dull again.
To spice things up, the Hundred Knight can change facets or classes. There are 6 facets in the game, and each compliments a different weapon type or play style. The Power Fortress facet is great with axes and has high physical defense. The Marginal Gaze facet is strong with staves and spears, and is good at dealing magic damage. The Shinobi Assassin facet is strong with swords, can run almost endlessly, but has weak defense. The Trick Screamer is great at dodging and the Noble Raptor is the best at landing critical hits.
But despite all of these interesting options, I found little reason to use anything except the default facet, the Wonder Knight, which is balanced and generally useful. Once again, there is no way to save weapon sets, or in this case facet sets, so switching between them can be inconvenient. And since you can have one master facet equipped and two sub facets which lend their abilities to the master, I stuck with the Wonder Knight as my main facet throughout the entire game without issue. Unfortunately, each facet levels independently, which adds a grinding element to the game it really doesn’t benefit from.
The Hundred Knight also gains a small list of special abilities called tochka as the game progresses, most of which have some sort of use in combat. There is a projectile, a time bomb, a decoy, and even a trap that can destroy weakened enemies, forcing them to drop an item of some kind. There’s also some independent tochka that will fight alongside the Hundred Knight. One shoots magical orbs at nearby enemies, a set of tiny ones deal blunt damage, and another one buffs the Hundred Knight, increasing its defenses.
But once again, an interesting feature is made less desirable. In this case, a significant loss of frame rate can occur if there are too many tochka and enemies on screen at once. Against bosses, it becomes very noticeable, to the point that it is distracting and gets in the way of gameplay, and this is only one of several technical issues present throughout the game.
The Witch and the Hundred Errors
The very first time I booted up The Witch and the Hundred Knight, I was already annoyed. After a series of logos that couldn’t be skipped, I got to stare at a loading screen before finally arriving at the title screen a minute and twenty-three seconds after I had loaded the game from the cross media bar. I haven’t waited that long to load a game since the Commodore 64! That set the tone for things to come, and my patience was tried repeatedly throughout my time with the game.
The worst offender was a crash that booted me right back to the cross media bar. This occurred 5 times, or around once every 12 hours of gameplay—including right at a pivotal moment when I had finally defeated a boss that had been troubling me. This sort of crash simply should not exist in a completed and published console title.
I was also extremely frustrated during two boss fights—including the boss of the game—in which a damage over time attack continued to tick away dealing damage to my character even while combat was paused while I was choosing between healing items and tochkas. Needless to say, after playing the entire game being able to peacefully peruse these menus, this glitch was incredibly annoying—especially when I died while trying to select a healing item.
And some of the biggest issues with the game aren’t glitches or technical issues at all, but are instead simply bad design decisions. For example, in many of the forested areas throughout the game, trees appear in the foreground above the map. They do a great job of making sure the player can’t actual see what’s happening in battle.
Similarly, combat is so decorated with interface elements that I felt blind throughout the entire game. Whether it’s bouncing damage numbers, words indicating the type of damage dealt or a big ring indicating the Hundred Knight’s stamina, there is always something in the way of seeing combat clearly throughout The Witch and the Hundred Knight. Practice makes perfect, and I got used to this after a while, but I would have loved to have the option to turn all of that crap off. Instead, all I found in the options menu was a toggle to add more to the interface; a text log a la MMORPG. That turned out to be useful for determining exactly what I picked up and when, but was otherwise just another distraction.
Beyond that, cutscenes can’t be skipped (though they can be sped up significantly), the credits play after every single chapter of the game, and the in game economy is almost entirely useless, because the kinds of equipment available in stores is almost always obsolete when you encounter it. Buying items can also be a pain because if you want to buy 10 of something, and the shop only has 3, you have to leave the shop and re-enter it. This is a feature borrowed from other Nippon Ichi titles that is really unnecessary in The Witch and the Hundred Knight, and just slows down the little bit of shopping the player might have to do.
My biggest pet peeve with The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a massive difficulty spike that occurs on the path towards the “bad” ending of the game (which I would describe as the real ending, even if the “true” ending would imply otherwise). Basically, in the second to last chapter of the game, the enemy levels increase significantly. You are likely to be about 15 levels too low at this point, and are forced into a slow and tedious grind to level up. But even after grinding for hours and getting to the appropriate level, the enemies are still capable of killing the Hundred Knight in 2 or 3 hits, or even in a single blow from time to time.
That drastic difficulty spike is made more frustrating because the increased challenge further reveals the flaws in the combat engine. As more enemies fill the screen and the frame rate plummets, the controls become seemingly less responsive as well—particularly the dodge mechanic, which can be a life saver, becomes much harder to time properly. And in an environment where a single mistake can lead to utter failure, it can be infuriating when the dodge you performed simply doesn’t happen.
Further exacerbating the situation is that when enemies knock the Hundred Knight over, it can be like fighting a rogue in World of Warcraft: you get stunlocked, and are helplessly pummeled to death. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I was 1-shotted and stunlocked in the later chapters of The Witch and the Hundred Knight. Just when I thought the combat had become fun during the middle of the game, it transformed into something ugly and frustrating towards the end. The boss battles in particular became infuriating. I was often tempted to lower the difficulty from normal to casual out of sheer impatience, but I resisted and kept playing. It was a bit rewarding to overcome these challenges, but not nearly rewarding enough for the amount of time spent.
It was really tough for me to get through The Witch and the Hundred Knight—especially during that difficulty spike. And at the very same point in the game, another drastic change occurred. Instead of being told where to go with helpful waypoints and objective indicators, I was told I had to complete 7 objectives but was not told where they were. In this one chapter, I had to basically explore the entire world again at random, hoping to stumble upon my objectives. Now, I’m all for exploration and I’m as against overbearing tutorials and hand-holding as the next guy, but this was just absurd. If you’re going to make a chapter of the game non-linear, you need to sprinkle clues throughout the world to help the player along! Not just create 7 random triggers around a massive world and hope for the best. As long as I’ve been a reviewer, I’ve never been as tempted to just quit playing a game outright as during this chapter.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight
I do have one nice thing to say about The Witch and the Hundred Knight: it has an exceptional soundtrack. It’s just a shame that soundtrack wasn’t placed into a better game. Tenpei Sato has crafted a brilliant score, with plenty of memorable melodies, sweeping orchestrations and beautiful vocal pieces. I enjoyed the music in this game from start to finish, and the soundtrack is its greatest feature.
The visuals were a bit more hit and miss. At times, it felt like I was playing a PlayStation 2 game. It looked decidedly dated, with simplistic character models and humble animation. But the 2D character art was up to Nippon Ichi’s usual standard, so it wasn’t a total loss.
There are quite a few other mechanics in The Witch and the Hundred Knight, almost as though they were crammed in to make the game more like other Nippon Ichi titles. The levels of the enemies can be raised to increase the challenge; items come in common, rare, epic and legendary flavors and weapons can be leveled up to be made a bit more powerful; stages have a list of Bonus items that can be earned by fighting a lot; and the Hundred Knight can attack NPCs and raid their homes for loot, adding to a stat called Karma and raising the prices at shops.
There are also some roguelike mechanics. Items and experience earned in the game cannot be utilized until the player leaves the level, and can be lost if the Hundred Knight is downed. The Hundred Knight burns Gcals while in combat and while revealing the map, and if it is downed when no Gcals remain, the player will lose all of the items and half of the experience found on that map. I found these mechanics to be completely unnecessary as this is not a proper roguelike. Dungeons can be escaped at almost any time, and running out of Gcals merely forces player to leave the dungeon and reenter it, pointlessly.
But when it comes down to it—and it pains me to say this—The Witch and the Hundred Knight was a waste of my time, and will likely be a waste of time to most of its players. There were times that I enjoyed it, and I do believe there are those out there who will enjoy it much more, particularly if they can appreciate the vulgarity and unusual nature of the dialogue and storytelling, and forgive the flaws and quirks of the gameplay. There is certainly a lot of game here if you’re looking for hours of gameplay per dollar spent. But to the average gamer seeking a good storyline, great characters or an engaging action RPG, there are a hundred better games more worthy of their time and money.
Ari completed the “bad” ending of The Witch and the Hundred Knight in 62 hours, and spent a few more hours seeing the other endings as well. His copy of the game was provided by the publisher.
Available on: PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3