Review: The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PlayStation 3)

The Witch and the Hundred Knight: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation 3 1,549 view 4 likes 6 comments
Reviewed by Tom White, posted Mar 21, 2014
I sat down to check out a PS3 exclusive action RPG game from a developer that has previously done not an awful lot that works for me. I found myself wanting to see more of the story and play with the nice fighting engine some more.
Mar 21, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): March 21, 2014
  • Publisher: NIS America
  • Genres: Dungeon Crawler, Action RPG
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Nippon Ichi Software (developers of Disgaea, publishers of various titles including Atelier, Hyperdimension Neptunia and Ar tonelico) try their hand at a dungeon crawler/action RPG type game, with the use of a fairly in depth fighting engine and a humorous story it makes for an interesting experience.
Tom White

The Witch and the Hundred Knight review banner

 

 

The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3)

Downloadable version reviewed. Download size is 3255 megabytes.

Play time. On normal mode and taking the time to smell the roses I have over 30 hours and counting.

Plenty of innuendo and unsavoury themes mean it is probably not suitable for the younger children.

 

Summary

Nippon Ichi Software have localised their take on the dungeon crawler concept. A humorous story, an active combat system that rewards things other than constantly hitting attack while necking potions and well thought out art style make for a nice alternative to the usual suspects, a nice entry in the dungeon crawler gameplay style and also a good general introduction to it all.

 

If you go down in the woods today

 

Introduction

 

A few months before this review I put forth a notion that, very much unlike the PS2 before it, the PS3 might not be the (J)RPG machine many hold it to be. Nippon Ichi Software's (NIS) latest effort would form part of the rebuttal here. When I returned to Japanese role playing type things, after burning out at some point in the PS2 era, it was the action heavy stuff that really worked for me. To this end the promise of a bit of dungeon crawling but with an action focus caught my attention when NIS America offered us a review. NIS are probably best known as developers or publishers of such franchises as Ar tonelico Qog, Hyperdimension Neptunia, Disgaea and Atelier, such titles also forming the backbone of the counter to the notion previously mentioned. Though their handheld efforts are a slightly different story I have no great fondness for those games mentioned, if I have played them at all, but this is a whole new franchise without the baggage of previous titles so it looked like a good pick. More generally it is good to please your existing fans but it is better to also gain new ones.

 

From here on in there may be some light spoilers from the first couple of missions.

The game sees you play as an evil demon, the Hundred Knight, which has been forced into service by the titular witch. Evil with shades of grey then, always a favourite theme of mine and though it does not ultimately follow Dungeon Keeper's path I will take what I can get after EA's recent mishandling of that series. You join the ranks of many of the great heroes of gaming in being a mute so much of the character interaction is between said witch and the supporting cast, the star of which for me is the delightfully dry humoured Arlecchino, the witch's robot butler.

 

With the introduction out of the way it is time to consider the introduction to the work in question. It seems the dev took a leaf out of the modern GTA playbook. This means you are initially treated to a controls and more tutorial but after that you are still getting wholly new powers, abilities and additions to the play system for several missions (representing well over ten hours of gameplay) after that. Some might say this allows people the chance to get acquainted with the techniques, and there is a very subtle tutorial theme in effect, but others might be equally justified in saying it detracts from the game. Personally I found that it worked well enough, others might disagree. Other games that try similar things often end up feeling incomplete, if the techniques themselves are not superfluous to gameplay anyway, and the new abilities gave cause to occasionally revisit old levels.

 

Swamp sweet swamp

 

The Game Systems

The general overview is combat in the missions occurs in real time in the exploration map, new enemies spawn when you move off screen and occasionally you also get a special enemy based upon one of the standard enemies in the level.

 

The game tends towards an overhead camera and coupled with the “mission” mechanics make it feel like a cross between Bauldur's Gate Dark Alliance and the earlier Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, however the combat is closer to the likes of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning or possibly even a modern Ninja Gaiden affair where tight timing is rewarded and there is some hidden depth to the combat system. Personally I have always wanted full fighting engines in a more general game and this is a step towards that. In some ways this would then place it either in competition with or as an alternative to the recent Dark Souls II. Such a thing opens up the discussion of whether they want to call it a dungeon crawler, an action RPG or something else entirely, I will leave it as it blurs lines quite nicely.

NIS are known for making quite deep combat systems and there is a fair bit of that at play here, those more well versed in NIS games may call it a simplification but compared to some of the games already mentioned it is streets ahead. I have met claims on a few occasions that game console controllers are not well suited for this style of gameplay, personally I never had any problem with controlling any game like this but if you are in need of an example of one that works then point the questioner at this game.

 

There is a temptation at this point to go in depth with the analysis of the combat system, however if you have ever observed a conversation detailing a RPG game system and saw the percentage of proper nouns go north of 60% then know it would be the same here. Consider the following less of a guide and more of an overview then.

 

With a few “infinite mana” type cheats you could probably make something resembling a run of the mill Diablo clone, however NIS have either streamlined such things out or been able to design things without the legacy cruft of such games and have made something a bit special as a result.

 

"Can't touch this", if you are good on the dodge you can get a bullet time mode to deal lots of damage in.

 

An energy system (called GCal/GigaCalories in the game) is one of big changes to formula, the closest equivalent of it is probably the T(hermal)-Eng of Lost Planet. You start each mission with a a full bar but basically every action uses it, running out of energy leaves you weakened enough that standard mobs can really pose a challenge and dying like this is as bad as it gets. Fighting, exploring uncharted areas of the map, regenerating health and certain other actions cause you to lose more energy than normal. You can gain more in the mission by eating low health enemies, using some harder to get items found outside of missions or instead of taking mission specific perks. Actions that are not basic movement are governed by a rapidly recharging stamina bar which means the “mouse killer” nature of a lot of dungeon crawlers is eschewed in favour of something slightly more nuanced and thoughtful. Normally I would note it as a negative to have sprinting type features come with a penalty, I can not quite call it a reversal of that trend here but seen as it can play into combat it is not entirely unwelcome. With the GCal system working as it does and the fact that you can run past a lot of encounters I will let it slide. I did often find myself pushing the stamina bar and then finding myself in an enemy encounter without the stamina needed to fight properly which made for some tense moments.

 

By itself the GCal system would not be that interesting but it is tuned such that it forces you to balance exploration and combat, punishes a lack of skill and even gets you to question whether you have enough for the coming boss fight; a rarity in this world of regenerating health. Once or twice it even saw me make a mad dash into the darkness to try to get some more energy; such a thing is a nice example of how combining systems can make something greater than its individual parts. The mission specific perks are another interesting concept where after killing enough enemies you are rewarded with points that can be spent in mid mission “pillars”, you can use them as buffs for that particular run, increase your loot bonus level or gain some GCal back.

Play well and you will be rewarded, play badly and you will have to spend to survive

 

Difficulty is an odd one to qualify, technically there is no way you can lose the game and the penalties for dying are very small indeed. There is more to difficulty than just game overs though and game mastery can be its own reward, this game might not join the likes of fighting games where people consider any amount of stats and builds to try to make it happen but the concept is not absent. Beyond that respawn points are quite generously placed, in a manner that almost reminds me of some handheld games where there is a need to be able to shut it all off quickly is called for.

Back to the scope for mastery though. GCal is frequently a concern, some of the random special monsters can also seriously hurt you if you are not paying attention, if you come in under levelled then expect pain, a poor weapon combo can sink you in a fight and a ill considered build for the enemy at hand can lead to some close calls.

The enemies on the levels, though a bit limited in variety within the levels themselves, are quite well picked with regards to their weaknesses and strengths and will force you to use more than your “best” weapons. Such a thing can be up to and including full immunity to certain types of damage (or all but one type). You only level up and gain loot when you end a mission and weapons also level with you which, along with the end of level thing, seriously lessens the weapon micro management endemic to this style of gameplay. Speaking of micro management there are no options when levelling up, the closest you get is you eventually get the option to customise your build using “facets”. For some thing may be a streamlining too far, in my experience though there usually ends up being a “best build” anyway so damaging the illusion of choice might be a good thing.

 

All this combines to make it rise above the rock, paper, scissors model you might be forgiven for assuming is at play at first glance. On loot there is a potentially curious choice by the developers, though one that does not detract in a real way, in that you can only store a limited amount of loot collected in the level to be gained when you end the mission and using the feeding option to replenish GCal will reduce the capacity (though certain harder to come by in game items can help here).

 

More generally I am quite happy adding it to the ranks of the “if you are damaged it is because you messed up” type games.

 

If I had a hammer

 

In the first play through you can change the difficulty when at your base, in this case you have a choice between “normal” and “casual” mode. Personally I did not find normal mode too challenging as far as dying but with the length of the missions and the story actually playing a bigger role in the game than a lot of similar titles some might appreciate it. Later in the game you gain the option to raise of lower difficulty somewhat incrementally as well.

 

It is not quite a Metroidvania but there is good reason to revisit several levels.

 

It is not all sunshine and rainbows though and missions at their core do the classic dungeon crawler thing of “open up the area, fight the monsters, a bit of light key puzzle and dialog, do the boss fight, sell the loot and repeat”. Frequent asides within the missions and calls from the witch help break this up a bit but for those that have previously sunk many hours, and many control devices, into such games it is quite apparent. The varying enemies, differing level themes and some of the later levels also gaining a bit of a maze and/or teleporter puzzle aspect to balance the open field approach seen in earlier levels also serve to help matters.

 

Some treasure, now how do I get to it?

 

That probably leads onto the subject of magic. Introduced several hours into the game you have various magical abilities..... in general maths there is a concept known as the Pareto frontier and it is known in games as well, though you probably know it more along the lines of the phrase “why would I do anything else when I can win by spamming this move?”. Magic here is not the “win now button” though it is in some ways second fiddle to attacks, a pity for an otherwise so well balanced fighting engine. However as this is not a multiplayer not using magic feels a bit like doing checkpoints in Carmageddon. If you are one that makes their own fun the magic system can allow for a slightly different approach to combat, augment certain methods of play and even get you out of a tight pinch, all this is especially true when combined with some of the alternative character builds. An example might be if you decide to go without magic weapons then you can use magic spells to make up for this.

 

You occasionally find a friendly town on your travels, naturally you can take it over for your master.

 

The combat system as a whole feels a tiny bit under explored, whether this is due to the streamlining or something else is something I am having a hard time putting my finger on. I hope this engine gets used as the basis for further games, both to see this in more depth and because I reckon it represents a positive step for the gameplay style; mousekiller is not a positive term.

With the slightly distant camera and UI elements working the way they do the combat can get quite cluttered, though if you take the time to get familiar with the controls they will certainly help you out. Another annoying thing, and one that couples with the cluttered thing, is the game uses the terms “highly effective” and “hardly effective” when dealing with weaknesses, it is by no means a dealbreaker but certainly a questionable choice. If there was any slowdown, other than the in game slowdown move, it will require a session on the framerate counter though the bosses might be a good place to start looking.

Somewhere under all those numbers is a small knight

 

The Story, Music, Visual Art, and Sound

On spoilers. Though it is not quite a story for the ages it would be doing it a disservice by spoiling it so things will be kept spoiler light here.

Reading up on the development history it seems NIS brought in their main character designer and largely left him to his own devices. The result is something that NIS fans will recognise but otherwise might not be too out of place in a N64 era Rare title. Owing to the camera angles, previously discussed UI elements and camera distances the normal enemies tend to not end up that distinct but seen as I am not fighting giant rats and goblins in a sewer I can let things slide a bit. There is a tendency to do the 3d equivalent of a palette swap and beyond that several of the enemies fall into quite noticeable archetypes as far as AI and attack patterns go.

Pictured, not a sewer level. Pictured elsewhere, also not sewer levels.

 

On the story itself some might have taken a look at the overview, saw NIS had a hand in it and started thinking things like “by the numbers”. Certainly that is a very real danger when playing a lot of these sorts of games. Surprisingly this is not the case here, it stops short of full on parody of the format or straight up deconstruction but several would be tropes are nicely subverted and if you play it in the mindset of a by the numbers affair you will find yourself taken by surprise. Calling back to the introduction part you get to enter your name but you are then immediately told your name is Hundred Knight and that is what you are referred to from then on, the cynic might say that is for technical/voicework reasons but it can be a rather telling thing in games. The script was obviously written with humour in mind and it often gets there, though at times it can also fall a bit flat or perhaps too drawn out. Aside from some typos the localisation team have put in a good effort; the game retains some quite Japanese jokes and themes but if you do not know what to look for you may well miss them. Beyond that as the localisation works as consistently as it does finds it worthy of an appreciative nod.

 

Much of the game story is delivered via text dump using static 2d artwork, something probably very familiar to those which have played something like Atelier, and some somewhat crude in engine animation. Being no stranger to 8-16 bit games and modern handheld titles, assuming they can be classified as different things, this did not bother me but those spoiled by fully voiced games might think differently. Most of the intros, chapter/section ends, big set pieces and interstitials are voiced but most of the minor characters are not and some of the optional character interactions, including those between main characters, are left as text. Some might wish to know that Japanese and English are selectable options from the main menu. The initial playthrough was done in English and some ways it seems better than the Japanese original which was rather flat in comparison.

With that said NIS earn many points for a) being able to accelerate the text to the next line and b) being able to skip the lot, even on the first playthrough.

 

These little mid mission conversations serve to break up the grind

 

For the most part you are a mute protagonist but you do occasionally get to make choices, these appear to be one of the “all roads lead to Rome” dialog trees where it varies the next response or two but with no further effects.

The conversation selection, also how much of the story is delivered in this game

 

The witch then, in some ways it might be better to avoid saying much of anything. Take one look at the artwork and you may be having the internal “fanservice alarm” go off... The game is certainly not devoid of it, however the lean is far more towards the Cowboy Bebop side of things. The English script and voice actor has her played somewhere between petulant teenager and megalomaniac, all with a surprisingly foul mouth. However being a witch of unspecified power levels, another of the nice subversions of storytelling conventions, megalomania might not be an accurate term. At times it gains something of a Drawn Together vibe which is no bad thing at all. If the game's depiction of women warrants any praise it is mainly because the rest of gaming has set the bar so very low, baby steps and all that mind you.

In all it is a cut above “you are ze chosen one, destiny awaits you” theme so commonly seen in games, and considerably better than what we usually see in dungeon crawlers. The art and story also combine well to make something that is definitely not just another "medieval England by way of Mr Tolkien's story ideas notepad" game.

Music wise there is nothing I will be teaching my birds but it is more than serviceable. If you spend too much time in the base or dodging combat or looking at menus then some of might begin to grate, indeed there was a comment from the next room along those lines. Some people may also wish to fiddle with sound levels as the music can risk overpowering voices and the game options afford such a thing.

Just the options screen, many a bigger game could learn from the options it gives though

 

Other Things to Note

Though criticism has not been absent thus far this would be the part where it comes to the fore.

For a game that opts to tell much of its story via text there are some notable typos throughout the game, the most annoying of which is probably in reference to the GCal system where it tells you that it has increased “by” rather than “to” which you can see in the earlier image. I got a couple of (random, non repeatable) crashes where I was dumped back at the Playstation home screen and a hard lock on one occasion as well so save often (do it manually rather than just using the in game prompts) and probably best to cycle through multiple saves. There was also a rather amusing bug where I accidentally killed a, possibly unkillable, NPC and found myself speaking to a, newly friendly, grave marker.

 

"I am speaking to you from beyond the as a grave."

 

You are advised to familiarise yourself with the controls, once you get to the main menu you press R1 and it brings them up. They can not be customised as far as I can see here. Playing the downloadable version I was without a manual and there were a couple of occasions where the nice tips that appear on the loading screens introduced me to a previously unknown concept or mechanic.

I am not usually one to even note a lack of multiplayer but this is a dungeon crawler of sorts. A lack of co-op in many recent offerings here has been one of my major gripes, one that has even seen me drop my standards a bit so as to get something going on here, but if the time spent not sorting out a multiplayer setup was time spent doing things for the rest of the game then it was not time wasted.

The game has an odd habit of playing credits after certain points in the game, at first I thought it was a fake out credits as it came at a suitably appropriate place in the story for it but then it repeated several more times throughout the playthrough.

 

The tip screen, more than once I got a “so that is how that works” moment from them.

 

Conclusion

 

Though I was never inclined to ignore Nippon Ichi Software I will be following them more closely in the future. Much like Dragon's Dogma showed us that Japan could do well in traditionally western takes on a concept The Witch and the Hundred Knight looks to be continuing the theme.

It was probably never going to be a mega seller/system seller but it is a fine example of what well versed developers can do at the end of a system's lifetime and a notable game if you are comparing exclusives. If you are slightly burned out on the likes of Diablo, Bauldur's Gate, Sacred and Dungeon Siege or would like one more if it had a proper combat system, a reasonably humorous story and single player only is acceptable then consider this a recommendation. Likewise if you are looking for a game to introduce someone to the likes of the games mentioned above then you could do an awful lot worse than this (probably by using one of those games mentioned). In times past I would have called it a “solid rental” but in this case the length of the main campaign is not really something you can do justice over a weekend or couple of nights. On the other hand things might be a bit too streamlined for some and they may not be able to sink their teeth into it fully.

 

 

Other Images

The video portion of this review will be a supplemental part and released later. There were several other images covering in game events, levels and more besides. You can view them below.

Eating enemies triggers a quicktime/button mashing event. It works surprisingly well.

 

Wait. wrong game.

 

No sewers but you do eventually end up in a cave

 

 

 

On a walk through the country.

 

I am beginning to suspect there is a theme to this place

 

Verdict
Pros
+ Fighting engine that requires timing and observation, not rapid fire attack and a finger hovering over health potions.
+ Streamlined character backend
+ Nice varied art style
+ Humorous story with some memorable characters
Cons
- You are still gaining new abilities well over 10 hours into the game.
- The streamlining might have been taken a step too far for some fans of action games.
- Some typos and crashes on the initial build.
- The lack of multiplayer may hurt things for long term play.
7 Presentation
Though much of the story is delivered with barely animated 2d artwork and some iffy in engine 3d stuff the general design, level variety, monster design and story which manages to dodge many of the tropes seen in these sorts of games deliver a memorable experience. On the other hand monsters reuse models the camera being quite far back which means you do not always get to experience it. The text is marred by a few typos here and there as well.
8 Gameplay
The fighting engine is solid and the character backend works well, even if it is a bit streamlined. The magic being an augment rather than an out and out system usable everywhere hurts it a bit. Likewise it sometimes struggles a bit to escape the explore and conquer model. Difficulty can be higher if you want it but it might take some time to get there. Alternatively there is a casual mode for those wanting to enjoy the story more.
6 Lasting Appeal
Taking your time the initial playthrough will last well over 30 hours. Were it not for that terms like "solid rental" would appear. Though it is by no means mandatory for the gameplay style most of the best examples feature a multiplayer, this does not. The weapon selection is wide and varied but you will probably not be doing a grind in hopes of completing a rare set. It could well be one of those games you keep on the shelf and replay every couple of years though.
7.9
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Dungeon crawling with a good story and a very solid fighting engine.
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