Originally supposed to be released in Japan back in 2012, after suffering delays it finally saw release there in 2013 and now it’s hitting European and U.S. shores this year. With character designs from Takehito Harada along with music from Tenpei Satou, there is a lot of the Disgaea universe feel in this game right from the very start. While not a strategy RPG like Disgaea, many of the same story-telling techiniques that series uses find their way into this game and while this is far more button-mashing being an action RPG, I can honestly say if you like the Disgaea games for their over-the-top characters and story-telling as well as great character design and music, you’ll find a lot to love with The Witch and the Hundred Knight. That isn’t to say this is perfect and for everyone, but the game has a twisted sense of humor about it and isn’t afraid to flaunt it while giving you something engaging to do between the different scenes. Let’s take a look.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight starts off with the birth or the retrival, depending on how you want to look at it, of the Hundred Knight, a spirit or demon that is given form outside of their realm by the Witch Metallia. You actually play as the Hundred Knight despite getting second billing on the title, but Metallia, the Swamp Witch, is definitely the driving force behind everything you do as you were summoned and are controlled under a contract by her until such time as she’s done with you. Hundred Knight gets his name from Metallia, and while he is under contract with her, which seals away much of his power, he doesn’t always necessarily agree with her, which is of course more up to the player as you go through the game. Metallia has been stewing away for a hundred years, stuck in her swamp where she draws all her power from with her mostly faithful companion Arlecchino. Metallia’s main goal is to snuff out the life of her rival, Malia the Forest Witch, as well as spreading her swamp all across the land of Madea which will not only ruin everyone’s days but will allow her to travel unfettered across the land and put her firmly in power.
Things don’t always work out the way you want them to and Metallia and Hundred Knight come across a slew of interesting characters beyond the townsfolk living in the different regions she send you in to attack and take control of. This includes Malia who ends up being nothing like how Metallia makes her out to be. A cursed princess who also happens to be an inquisitor that mistakes Metallia for the Forest Witch and is looking for a cure so she won’t be known as the dog princess as parts of her have started to turn canine. Along with a slew of other witches from all different walks of life who all have their own quirks to them, you really get to know the insanity that these characters all bring to the table along with their often obscene and vulgar tirades from more than a few of them, including Metallia herself. This is definitely a darker game than I’ve played from NIS in awhile despite the humor that abounds throughout. Metallia isn’t one to mince words and lets loose often and loudly on those she despises. Just a word of caution on that end as this one does tend to stray a bit further into the squirmy end of the uncomfortable section as far as some events and dialogue go.
The game’s strengths visually are definitely in their character designs. They’re fun, flashy, original and have that same sense of whimsy and lightly dark gothic that works so well in the Disgaea series. These are really mainly only apparent in the cutscenes when they do the traditional pull up of characters on either side of the screen talking to each other. They’ve animated the mouths on some characters and they’ll change position, but they’ve kept that more to what we’re used to. My only complaint would be that the character designs tend to be a little on the fanservice side of the spectrum as far as the female characters go during cutscenes but pulled back the character models tend to be too far back to delve into that realm. The game itself uses a top-down view for the actual gameplay with the camera pulled back to give the player a decent view of what’s going on. This never really changes during cutscenes so all the character models here are close enough we can tell who they are but we’ll never get a better look so we have to rely on the tone of the voice actor or the emphasis put on the text we’re getting if there’s no voice over for that particular bit of dialogue. This does lead into a bit of a problem though.
The top-down view isn’t entirely static and you can change the camera position and angle to a point, but as an example, a lot of the first part of the game takes place in the forests that you’re rampaging about in which means lots of trees and branches cluttering up the view, which means that it can be a bit harder to either position the camera to see or you have to just aim and pray that you’re actually going to be getting your target before they get you. Other action RPGs will have these obstructions but they’ll fade out so you can at least see what’s going on behind that tree or foreground object that’s blocking your view and that’s not the case here. That leads into my only other complaint. While each forest or area does have a unique design from coloring to what show up and how they lay out the towns that pop up in different places there is kind of a sameness to it all. There is an attempt at giving the areas a different feel but in the end it’s another area with lots of similarity and big objects that could get in your way on screen if you let them. And you’re going to spend a lot of time in the different areas but for the most part they slowly change from one to the other which isn’t a lot of variety at the start at least.
As far as sound goes, I want to start with the music. Tenpei Satou has put together another amazing set of musical cues for this game that would fit right in with a Disgaea game and each one is catchy and memorable. They do change up depending on what’s going on and they can get a little irritating on repeat, like if you sit on a particular screen for far too long, but overall they’re a lot of fun. After that the English voice actors do a great job bringing the variety of over the top characters to life with some great performances to match what’s going on. This very much feels like a game set up with the intent of having a Disgaea feel and between the visual and the sound elements it most definitely does and for a fan of that series it’s like a warm welcome home despite the differing genre.
Pretty much all of your controls are centered on the analog stick for movement, the second analog stick for camera control, and then one button for your attack that will get mashed repeatedly, one button to single out a target so you can run circles around that target and stay nearby, and another two that trigger off your transformation into your Facet and dodge timing. It’s a fairly simple game as far as control layouts go and they work really well. I’ve got no complaints with the controls or how well they respond, even on a dying PS3 controller. Figured out it was dead in the middle of a boss fight. Good thing I have two controllers.
As far as gameplay goes you’re looking at pretty standard action RPG faire for the most part. You’ll be exploring different areas attacking mobs you can see and ones that pop out of the ground at you. You collect gear and items they drop, look for chests for bonuses, steer clear of the monsters you can’t take before you’re big enough to, and open up levers to get into other areas and get access to the boss fights. So much for the standard part of things. Now on to where they start mucking about with the formula in a good way. You are tied to Metallia as the Hundred Knight and your ability to stay in an area with it. You have to refresh your GIGAcals from time to time and there is a way to up within that area, but the only way to completely fill it up is to head back to Metallia and her swamp for a fill up. This puts a bit of a time constraint on you as you play through each level. If you’re looking to grind you can always pop back and forth at different points that act as way points you can tie your respawn to in that area. If you’re looking to just play through though and are quick about your scouting to figure out where you need to go you can burn through each area to find the boss fights or events to get you into the next area without having to go back to Metallia to recharge. It kind of turns into a game within the game that way.
Hundred Knight can also extend his time and get items in the process by swallowing weaker enemies whole. He doesn’t have pockets or a bag of any kind to carry around, so into his stomach things go until you go back to Metallia’s home swamp. You have a limited stomach space which you an open up by finding stomach expansions that open you up one space at a time. Facets are equippable and unique and each gives you different abilities that require a certain set point tier to activate so they’re better to save for the end level bosses rather than running around a level powered up as they don’t last forever. When you do find towns within the different areas you can interact with the NPCs you see walking around there and there’s often some kind of story to be told that’ll lead to an easier time getting through the area, like where a key is hidden or the fact there is a key, but really what you end up doing is wreaking havoc on the villagers by invading their homes to either pillage or chit chat for more items to use. If the villagers are too high a level you’ll get kicked out unceremoniously without any goodies, but if you’re about right on, and there is a gauge to tell you how you might do in the house, you’ll get the item from the family and increase Metallia’s terror level across the countryside. It’s a fun little mechanic but not something you have to do to play.
One of the other things they’ve done is with weapons. While you can string attacks together by mashing the button, how you attack and how powerful is determined entirely by the weapons you have equipped and in what order. You get to equip 5 weapons at a time and they chain together nicely if you pick weapons that are tagged with that particular slot and have them put there. So if you have a sword in the fifth slot that’s tagged for slot three you won’t get slot five as part of your stronger attack, but if you slot a fifth slot sword in there, or whatever type of weapon you want as long as it’s slot five, you can string together a much stronger set of attacks when you’re mashing your attack button together. This is also dependent on your stamina which gets used up as you attack but recovers quickly if you’re just moving about and not sprinting. Your health also recovers quickly when you’re not in combat. Be wary of dying as you can go back to your spawn point in that level but if you’ve picked up an item you’d really like you lose everything in your stomach when Hundred Knight bites the big one and respawns.
If you blow through the game without doing everything, clearing areas, bringing Metallia what she wants, etc, you’ll only end up with the regular ending. You’ll be looking to either play through again if you didn’t take care of everything your first go around so you can get the other ending to the game. There is a bit of replay in the way you can respond to the Witch as well. You have the option of not exactly responding in the nicest way to her and while Hundred Knight doesn’t exactly vocalize he definitely let’s his standing on different points known which can change the way she responds to you with different dialogue which can be equally amusing. Between the story and the way player can interact, if you enjoy the game it’s very easy to come back to it again just to have some fun with it all over again. And for those trophy hounds, there is a long list of trophies for you to unlock.
The game has about thirty hours of play time if you’re just looking to blow through it and get to the end and finish with a minimal grind. If you’re looking to finish it all that jumps up quite a bit to over sixty hours. For an action RPG that’s actually a pretty decent amount of play time, albeit a bit shorter than a more traditional JRPG. The difficulty does ramp up as you go and there are a few options at the start that are fairly easy to change within the game if you’re finding it too difficult, or if you started on easy, bumping it up to be harder. Considering it’s selling from the start $10 cheaper than a new release action RPG would normally, I definitely think it’s a great deal.
While the gameplay is pretty standard for a top-down action RPG and you won’t get many surprises from it there, the story is a lot of fun and plays around a lot with thr genre and makes a lot of references to other media and games but a lot more subtle than most even when they’re being over the top with everything else. The five weapon combo system is definitely a way to spice up the gameplay a little bit and offers some variety. I do have to admit I play Disgaea more on my Vita than anything else and I think if there was a Vita version of this game it’d get a lot more play on my end. I enjoyed this in stints about an hour or two long before I needed to play something else. It’s not necessarily the grind, but with an action RPG like this there isn’t much to the gameplay except hitting a few buttons over and over again and mowing through hordes of enemies to take out an end boss. Yes the dialogue and cutscene moments are a nice reprieve from that, but as cute and charming as they are, it all boils down to how much you’re willing to follow through the action RPG formula for hours on end.
They’ve gone for the same look and feel that Disgaea had to bring in those fans but they’ve also managed to put together a well done, if slightly visually clunky as far as the camera work goes, action RPG for those fans as well. It’s a decent price on a system that’s been out for a long while coming out during a time of year when everyone’s getting caught up on the games they had in their backlog and are looking for something new again, and then here comes a Witch and her Hundred Knight. While I’d have been happier with a few of the staples of the genre, like the vanishing foreground objects so you didn’t have to swing the camera wildly or being able to bring in other players, what Hundred Knight does do it does really well and is a blast to play. This has that NIS game feel and vibe to it right from the start and that’s something that’s often emulated but never as successfully as NIS can do it.
I don’t have too much to complain about as far as things not working. I’ve had a few hiccups I attribute more to be an advanced copy than the finished product and shouldn’t show up in the final. While the game does have a few issues as far as playability goes with the camera, the interactions between the Hundred Knight and the NPCs as well as the battles and boss fights are always interesting and fun and getting to yet another cutscene with Metallia always end in hilarity and breaks up the grind a bit. I do think this would make a fantastic handheld game though and I’d love to see it ported over to the Vita like the Disgaea games have been, but we’ll have to wait and see. Either way this is a welcome addition to my PS3 collection.
Short Attention Span Summary
Probably one of their darker games as far as story-telling and content go, The Witch and the Hundred Knight still maintains that sense of humor that I’ve come to love from NIS games along with the design and quirkiness that go hand in hand. A good take on the action RPG with some new ideas that bring something new to the table along with their usual cadre of insane characters out to rule or destroy the world as we know it, the game doesn’t fail to give a chuckle or provide a challenge. While the visuals in combat could be a little clearer in regards to obstructions, the character designs are a lot of fun, the voice actors are fantastic and the music that goes along while you play has that familiar Disgaea air to it which is a welcome addition and fits the game well. While this might not be the favorite of every NIS fan there is some decent play here, it’s built well despite some setbacks, and is fun to play to boot.