I knew I was going to like The Witch and the Hundred Knight the moment I saw it was developed by Nippon Ichi Software. I’ve grown so fond of their stylish presentation in games; from the music to the visuals, and their over-the-top action, be it of any genre. While I knew I was going to like the game, I didn’t foresee enjoying it as much as I did. It features such a well-crafted battle system, a (somewhat) likable cast of anti-heroes, and just the right amount of that Nippon Ichi flair that keeps me enticed, even if I just pick up the controller for a short session. Among the number of games releasing early 2016, The Witch and the Hundred Knight has scratched a niche in me that I never even knew I had and, upon the writing of this review, am eager to return to the game to see all that it has to offer.
The Hundred Knight: a demon said to be so incredibly grotesque and powerful, one that commands an army of 100 knights and can instill fear in the hearts of many and any. Sadly enough, he’s been reincarnated as our little cutesy protagonist, and with hardly any intelligence to boot. Summoned by the Swamp Witch Metallia as a familiar, you set out to cover the world in swamps and release Metallia from her remote confines before her demise in 100 days.
I can safely say that I love the characters and setting in Disgaea. The writing is so juvenile and well-done that I can ignore the otherwise malicious comments any of the characters may make, even passing them off as harmless jokes. That being said, I cannot say the same for Hundred Knight. While it still retains some of the charm from previous NIS games, some of the dialogue between characters is so crass that I found myself wincing at times. While I appreciate that the game acknowledges that you aren’t a proper ‘hero’, and rather a villain of sorts (even offering a Silver trophy for getting the BAD ending), it comes off as a bit overbearing. I want to like the characters, and I get a good chuckle from the writing here and there, but it’s such a drastic change from previous NIS works that I can’t help but feel that it could use a great deal of rework before I could say it carries that same charm. It’s not bad writing, just too evil for my tastes, but if that’s what they were going for, props to them. They’ve made some of the more convincing villains, or antiheroes, for JRPG protagonists that I’ve seen to date.
The story in The Hundred Knight is ‘serviceable’. It’s there to give context to your current objective, and it’s told in a charming storybook manner, but I never felt a sense of urgency or duty to see what the story has to offer next. My enjoyment mainly stemmed from the fantastic gameplay, and at times–while exploring new regions–the game would force cutscenes that interrupted the flow of progression, serving as obnoxious milestones that tell you you’re going in the right direction despite the linear level design. What’s more, I found the cutscenes more obtrusive than the 100 GigaCal, stamina-like meter that dictated how long you could be out and about exploring. The story really never focuses on one major plot point, trying to introduce story and character arcs that you should find important, but you really only want to get back to the meat of the game. If you’re used to JRPGs (like I am), you should find no issue, but those alien to the genre should stay away if they’re in it for an engrossing story.
Like any NIS game, you’re mostly in it for the gameplay, and Hundred Knight does not disappoint so long as you’re interested in a Diablo-like hack ‘n slash game with many interesting mechanics. One of the standout aspects of the combat is the means by which you attack. Rather than the repeated use of one weapon, you may employ five–each of a different type if you so choose. Each weapon is assigned a modifier, or attribute, such as a dice number, which influences the multiplier it gains within the chain of weapons; and a weapon type, from which selection is much more limited. Add a rather simplistic loot system, from which the benefits are noticeable (albeit a tad too much as it makes the game much easier with rarer loot), and you have yourself an addicting game. Exploring the rather drab environments in search of treasure chests and fighting the same enemies over and over again, mashing the single attack button, didn’t seem like such a chore with the promise of loot with every enemy encounter or treasure chest. It adds incentive to search every nook and cranny of the various zones you’ll visit, and just seeing your numbers increase, be them stats or damage counters, was extremely gratifying.
New to the PS4 revision, reason for the “Revival Edition” subtitle–aside from the updated graphics and performance quality–is the Tower of Illusion. Those familiar to the Item World in Disgaea will feel at home with the randomly-generated floors wherein you clear the given floor of enemy upon enemy, proceeding further to unfold the mysterious new story, garner new loot, and gain some easy EXP. Enemy levels being dictated by the item used to enter, it’s an easy means of leveling up yourself and weapons. Although, it’s worth mentioning, if you aren’t all that fond of the combat and are (for some reason) in it for the story, you’ll find the Tower of Illusion to be nothing more than an egregious chore. In a procedurally-generated, glorified arena, fighting enemies is all you’ll really do. There are no interesting new puzzles or new enemies, you’ll occasionally fight bosses from the main story and those encountered in the fields, but that’s really it. If you’re finding trouble with some enemies in the main game, or want to level one of the many stat-influencing Facets, then go ahead and tread some floors. You won’t miss much if you don’t, though.
NIS games all share a common aesthetic and sound. With art and design done by Takehito Harada, the game shines brilliant. While the textures and graphics at work are nothing to be amazed about when on the PS4, there’s nothing else that can capture the curiosity that Harada’s worlds elicit. His character portraits, when used during cutscenes, animate fluidly through the aid of the game’s engine and ooze his iconic style. However, some of that effect is lost when you are to bear witness to the static 3D models during certain events, particularly field ones. They, ironically enough, look lifeless in relation to their 2D counterparts and can really take away from Harada’s work when you find yourself not appreciating his art, but judging the 3D models instead. As for sound, if you’ve listened to the arias of Disgaea and found them as charming and fantastic as I do, there’s plenty of ‘em in Hundred Knight, all beautifully composed by Tenpei Sato.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is not for everyone, no. It’s plagued by a rather uninteresting story and questionable character motivations and writing, directly conflicting with the stellar gameplay, design, and sound. It’s a conflicting issue grating the game considering all the fun I had. Enjoyment will differ from person to person, but for anyone who has an appreciation for NIS and their work, you’ll more than likely find The Witch and the Hundred Knight deserving of the shelf or hard drive space.
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