|Dev: Nippon Ichi Software|
|Pub: NIS America|
|Release: March 25, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes|
by Becky Cunningham
Let me begin these proceedings by noting that I'm a big fan of Nippon Ichi Software, the company that brought us the Disgaea series and several more of my favorite strategic RPGs. So it is with a mix of affection and frustration that I write this review of a title that managed to tick almost all of my rage buttons. The Witch and the Hundred Knight takes NIS out of its familiar turn-based territory as the company has attempted to create an action RPG with strategic depth. I'm normally all for seeing companies spread their wings, especially since NIS has faced some criticism for being a bit of a one-trick pony. This game, however, convinced me that perhaps the company should stay in its wheelhouse.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight casts the player as a cute little blob of darkness that has been enslaved by a wicked swamp witch named Metallia. She names it the Hundred Knight for reasons that aren't quite clear in English, and tasks it with coating the world in swamp muck by defeating her enemies and activating a series of magical pillars. The Hundred Knight is largely mute, though it can express itself occasionally through a series of emotes. Mostly, however, it just has to go along with the story in a game that feels a bit like hiking through Metallia's marsh.
The slog begins during the game's tutorial, which painstakingly teaches the player how to move the left stick, press square to attack, and press the button that flashes helpfully on the screen to interact with the environment. Those of us who play a lot of JRPGs are, to some extent, used to tutorials that treat us like we're brain-dead or have never seen one of those funny controller things before. When said tutorial ends, however, this game takes a strange turn. It says, “Oh, there's a lot more to learn, and you can get it from the text on the loading screens. OK, bye-bye!”
It turns out that The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a confusing maze of systems piled upon systems, and there is no reliable way to learn how any of it works. The instruction manual is sparse. There is no in-game help menu. There is nothing but a pile of instructions doled out randomly whenever the game is loading a new level. I consider myself a fairly independent-minded gamer, but this game's sheer refusal to assist players who are honestly looking to understand it goes beyond absurdity.
If there's any good news to be had from this, it's that most of the systems in the game can be largely ignored, and it might even behoove the player to do so. At its heart, this is a fairly simplistic top-down action RPG, in which the player equips up to five weapons and then mashes the square button to point the ouchy end at the enemy, cycling through weapon attacks in a nice chain if the player has equipped them in the proper order. There are block and dodge buttons, of course, and various special attacks to learn. The Knight can cycle through a series of “facets” to alter its strengths and weaknesses somewhat, and the player will need to pay attention to enemy weaknesses and exploit them accordingly.
Much of the fun of this kind of action RPG is sucked away, however, by the Gigacal system, a combination of a time limit and resource management challenge that governs every one of the Hundred Knight's actions. Everything, from standing still to attacking to healing to performing special moves, costs Gigacals. If the Hundred Knight loses all his Gigacals, he starts rapidly losing hit points instead until he's dead. Healing up after being injured and using special moves burns through Gigacals particularly swiftly.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that I hate this kind of time/resource limit system with a burning hot passion. Putting that personal response aside, however, I believe that this game has implemented said system particularly poorly by tying it into every single thing the Knight does. The Gigacal counter can be reset at any time by teleporting back to base from a conquered pillar, so it's not an incentive to play intelligently so much as an incentive to play overly conservatively, eschewing the Knight's special moves and simply hammering the square button to defeat as many enemies as possible while wasting as few Gigacals as possible. The system discourages exploration and does little but cause frustration should you happen to stumble onto a boss battle with a low Gigacal count.