Title: The Witch and the Hundred Knight
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: Playstation 3
Release Date: July 25th, 2013
Random fun fact: the title of the game is actually The Witch and the Hundred Knight, without the "s". You got the name wrong, Polygon sub-forum.
So after an year of delay and big changes like going from an open-world game to a linear dungeon crawler, they finally managed to pull the game out. Miyamoto has once said, "a delayed game is eventually a good game". So does this apply to this game? Well, it's not an question that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". But if you really want an answer, I can tell you that, yes, it's a good game, but also with a few flaws.
Once upon a time, in a world different than ours called "Medea", there is poisonous swamp known as Nibleheine, and in that swamp, there lived the Swamp Witch Metallica (or Metallia in the English version, name changed for obvious reason) who aimed to dominate the world by filling it with swamp. Her first step of world domination is to defeat her rival, the Forest Witch. However, as she can't leave the swamp herself for an unknown reason, she decided to summon the legendary demon lord, the Hundred Knight, as her familiar to help her.
Despite being a game from NIS, if you are expecting a ridiculous story with a lot of forth wall breaking jokes like the one you see in Disgaea, you might be disappointed. While there are few comic relief here and there, for the most part, the story is rather serious, and probably the darkest story NIS has ever told too. However, that doesn't mean it is a bad thing. In fact, I found The Witch and the Hundred Knight actually has one of the best story ever came out of NIS. In fact, I will go as far as saying that the story is definitely the main focus here. Without spoiling anything, the best way to summarize it is a heck of a roller coaster ride full of heartwarming and heartbreaking moments (as well as some trolling and shock factor here and there). Both Metallica and the Hundred Knight seem to be just nothing more than a female Laharl and the player's avatar actually have lots of surprise character development to them, and they comes with lot of fun interesting side characters such as Viscol, the "heroine" of the story, as well as Alrecchino (spelling is unofficial), Metallica's sarcastic butler. Chapter 8 is probably my favorite when it comes to the story.
Well, for the most part, the gameplay is not bad, and it works well. To describe it in a more simple way, it's a typical dungeon creawling action RPG similar to the Mana or Diablo series. You can see enemies directly on the map and you fight them by hacking and slashing them. There is also Mystical Dodge, which is something similar to the Witch Time from Bayonetta, which allows you to slow down time when you dodge the enemies' attack at the right moment. You can also equip up to five different weapons, with each of them giving you different types of attack depend on it's weapon type as well as combo order.
However, I found the game didn't do a really good job at explaining combo system. The tutorials are easy and simple to understand, my problem with them is that you can't look them up manually, they only show up by chance on the loading screen. A section in the menu that allow us to read them is definitely more than welcome. There is also a time limit for your exploration known as Giga-cal, which will decrease over time. Of course, there are many different ways to replenish you Giga-cal, and for the most part, the time limit is well balanced enough that it didn't ruin the game's experience nor did it make the game too easy.
Overall, there is nothing wrong with the gameplay, it didn't do anything innovative, but it didn't do anything wrong either. But, as I had mentioned, there are some flaws here and there, most of them being the game's design.
WTF just happened? How did I die?
And here comes the part where we count up your crimes (sorry, can't resist the Kamen Rider W joke that no one will get). The game has flaws, and not just small flaws, they are flaws that can ruin your experience with the game and lead to some real frustrations. The first problem you will encounter starting from the first 10 minutes will be the trees. If you can't tell with screenshots by now, the game is played with a top-down camera, and there are lots of trees. Usually that shouldn't be a problem, right? All you have to do is make the trees invisible when you walk under them. Well, EXCEPT THEY DON'T TURN INVISIBLE WHEN YOU WALK UNDER THEM. It's not just trees, that applies to pretty much every obstacle that gets in your view such as rood or pillars. So in other words, when you are in a forest fighting some enemies, you are pretty much dead without knowing how you died.
The second flaws will be the enemies's attack animation not being flashy enough. That might sounds like nitpicking, but it can turn out to be a bigger problem than you initially think. I am not talking about ugly animations, I'm talking about attack effects that you probably can't see unless you put your face right in front of the screen. The worse part is that later on in the game, there is a place that is made up with nothing but green light, like, the whole screen is green, the floor, the enemies (which are mostly green slime), you, etc. You will be having a lot fun trying to figure out where the enemies are and where are they attacking you from.
The last part will be the invincible time that we have taken as granted whenever we got knockout in an action game. There is no invincible time, you got knock down by an enemy and another attack you right after? You just got double damage with no chance of fighting back. If you are fighting a group and got knock down by one of them? Well, your death is fated, you can't fight back. Not every game need invincible time, but this game will be the case where it needs one but doesn't have one.
For those of you who don't know, this game is one of those game that got a casual mode patched in soon after they released the game because people are complaining the game is too hard and they can't enjoy the story because of that. My first reaction is pretty much the same as you right now, "wusses!". But then I played the game and I finally know what it means. Part of the reasons will have to do with the flaws I had mentioned above, but it is true that the game is too hard. There will be many occasions where you are the same level as the enemies, but you have to kill them after you hit them like 10 times when they can just kill you in two hits. In the worst cases, during the last three chapters, there are enemies which's level are lower than mine for at least 20 and they can still kill me in one to two hits. No, I'm not exaggerating. And the game is still hard after you turn casual mode on, just not as hard as normal. Fortunately for me, by the time i turn casual mode on, the game pretty much just made me feel numb about it's difficulty and made the game feels a lot of easier, despite it's still hard.
In other words: Normal mode=Tak Fuji Xtreme mode, and casual mode=hard mode. Remember, just turn casual mode on whenever you find the game too hard, everyone did that, there is nothing shameful about it...
Well, visually the game offer nothing too stunning. Graphic wise, it's not too impressive, but the game did create a dark and grim world that feels like where witches would live. Though that's not always a good thing, there are a bit too much green, like someone just puked on the screen. And when there are no green, it will have too much of the same color. It looks pretty at first, like something that comes from a dark fairy tale, but you will most likely grow tired of it after a while, and "puke" will probably be the only word you can think of to describe it's color palette.
Now, for the sound department, the voice acting is pretty good overall, especially Metallica's voice actress Ise Mariya, who I had previously praised in my Tales of Xillia 2 review. There are high and low for the soundtrack, but for most of them, they are good, and the good ones are really, REALLY good, especially the boss theme, which makes you wish they last forever so that you can keep listening to the background music.
There is also a vocal track played at the end of each chapter with made up language sung by Emi Evans, who also provided her voice for the vocal tracks in the excellent soundtrack of Nier.
And I believe no one will forget this track once they finished chapter 8.
Being NIS first full 3D game and action game, overall, I found The Witch and the Hundred Knight to be very enjoyable. There are some flaws that can lead to some serious frustration when I was playing it, but after I finished the game, I can nonetheless still tell you with a straight face that "yes, I enjoyed the game very much".
-Gameplay that did nothing wrong
-Hundred Knight is adorable
-Design flaws that prevent you from even knowing what happened
-No invincible time when the game obviously needs one
-No Sawashiro Miyuki
Also, the game is coming out in English next year, and you can vote for the reverse cover that's only available in the English version here (the art are actually from the guest artists in artbook that came with the limited edition).