You emerge as a small fragment of a shadow and suddenly become aware of yourself as large green eyes appear in pitch black. You are then asked to recall your own name. Just as that one wisp of memory becomes clear, the green-eyed being instead forces upon you the title of Hundred Knight. The one-sided conversation continues and flecks of self awareness begin to appear. You barely understand enough to Affirm or Ignore what is being said.
A bright light flashes and now you’ve been taken to another land — the bizarre, cruel and strange world of The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
This is how players first become acquainted with Hundred Knight and the Swamp Witch later known as Metallia. The game starts off with a pretty simple explanation of the Self Assertion system; a vital method of communicating Hundred Knight’s will to others. Players have a choice between Affirm, Deny, Question and Ignore and once you’ve chosen your option, the other person will respond accordingly. Beware because depending on who you speak to and what you choose, the response will greatly differ.
Affirm is generally a positive statement, Deny is generally the negative response; Question is a sort of backtalk but can also ask for reconfirmation or show doubt and Ignore is a nonvocal cue that forces the conversation to end without giving an opinion or feeling. At the beginning, you only have access to Affirm and Ignore but as Hundred Knight’s intelligence level increases, it’ll quickly gain the other two responses.
As you may have noticed, Metallia has a particularly condescending and mean-spirited tone while speaking to her familiar. Don’t worry as she’s just as nasty to every other character in the game, with a filthy mouth to boot.
Those strange, unique and funny character interactions are actually some of the most enjoyable parts of The Witch and the Hundred Knight: whether it comes from discovering new Witch domains and meeting each ruling Witch, her familiar Hundred Knight or even her ever faithful butler Arlecchino.
Metallia and Arlecchino have a pretty great dynamic. I’ve always had a soft spot for back-talking hired help but what really sets Arlecchino apart is the shamelessly passive-aggressive manner in which he does it. He balances the Swamp Witch’s more aggressive and straight-forward tendencies very well. It’s not just those two with the magic chemistry, though; all of the characters have really great personalities and create a wealth of variety and suspense in the plot.
Speaking of that, the plot itself is rather enjoyable, if not a little slow to start. The game blends the general insidiousness you can only get from a villain protagonist and implications that things are not what they seem to be in this world. It works surprisingly well at keeping interest and I found myself more fascinated as I went along.
- Combat is a simple affair of using the Square button to attack and create combos. Later on you’re able to wield multiple weapons at once and integrate them into a combo system. Blocking is also possible (but good luck figuring out how to do that because the game never explains the process).
- Later on Hundred Knight will grow strong enough to control other minions, each having a unique “class” and weapon.
- The main goal of each section of the game is to destroy the main concentration of magical energy there, called a Pillar. If destroyed (or more accurately made to “bloom”), they will cause swamp to spread in that area. Small Pillars become more important as they create safe checkpoints (essentially mini-bases) that replenish Gigacals or Gcals, allow for stat increases and for warping between them and Metallia’s home.
- Gcals are essentially the medium that keeps Hundred Knight bound to whatever area in the human world it’s in. If that depletes before the player finishes their mission, the familiar will begin to lose HP until it runs out and is sent back home (a Game Over if you will).
- There are a few ways to replenish Gcals, including devouring enemies. There are (rather gross) side effects to this method such as the build up of stones in Hundred Knight’s stomach, which takes up precious space in its inventory. You’ll have to complete a “Bowel Dump” to get rid of these stones. I did say it was rather unpleasant.
- Another mechanic that is vital to remember is the Contract Torch. Unlike Gcals, the Contract Torch is a set timer of how long Hundred Knight has to complete a mission and unlike Gcals, cannot be reset unless you return to the main Swampland using a small Pillar.
- As part of the swampland take-over, Hundred Knight must also Raid houses and “conquer” them. How it’s described in-game is that you enter a house and pick a fight with the residents until you win or get kicked out. If the former, that house is ” Witch Dominated” and you take their family treasure. (How it actually works in-game is that literally the little guy goes in a house and starts up a small ruckus until someone gives him a sweet or object.)
- Hundred Knight can also simply visit houses, with the residents’ attitudes changing before and after any domination.
Combat in this title is fun and lively, if not the most innovative. The combo system is an interesting idea but is largely unnecessary as simply using the same sword attack repeatedly works just as well. Being able to control other minions later on in the game does liven things up, as you must learn how to manage your small army and how to use their unique characteristics best.
Boss battles are also quite enjoyable and require players to employ a good amount of strategy to win. Simply beating on a boss without moving will get you killed very quickly. Instead Hundred Knight must constantly dodge their strikes and be prepared to swiftly launch counter attacks of its own.
However, the fact that I had to organize the gameplay in list form hints at a deeper issue — it’s far too complicated and ambitious for its own good. That old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” comes to mind and it applies here; the developers put so many mechanics into this game that it turns into one big tangled mess with no defining characteristic.
Take Bravely Default for instance. The main mechanic of that game is the Brave and Default system and while other gameplay aspects exist, they all support that one system and never overshadow it. A truly great RPG takes a single characteristic and makes that the signature of the title. Why? Because it gives the game an identity, something that players can easily understand, use and then remember for years to come. This defining identity is sorely lacking in The Hundred Knight.
Another unfortunate issue is the vital information posted on the top left corner of the screen, specifically how it’s displayed:
See how cluttered that looks? It makes finding anything other than the basic stats a chore. It’s problematic that the information stored up there is so important but you feel almost visually tricked into thinking it’s not because it’s so difficult to understand half of what’s shown. This includes Gcal readings, which is especially frustrating because it’s an important stat that should be immediately visible. The interface should have been cleaned up and arranged much better than this.
However, The Witch and the Hundred Knight does have a beautiful artstyle and even more gorgeous colors. Everything from characters to Witch domains is incredibly vibrant, which really helps to sell this weird and fun world. The soundtrack is excellent as well, with a nice blend of old world accordion and a creepier Nightmare Before Christmas sound, except for the boss theme which is more of an awesome rock piece straight from the Shin Megami Tensei series.
What I also love about this game is that, unlike most other titles that would have you play as the seemingly gentle and good Forest Witch, you get to be on the villain’s side and aid in her insidious plot to flood the world in swamp mud. Funny enough, that’s also why it feels surprisingly uncomfortable and intense playing the villain because you’re forced to do really terrible things at times. Either you’ll love that fascinating moral tug or absolutely loath it.
While The Witch and the Hundred Knight does scratch a much needed itch for Nippon Ichi games that aren’t simply more Disgaea installments, this title is definitely not for everyone. Most new IPs are prone to some mishaps along the way, and this title is no exception by a mile. It requires a bit of patience to properly delve into for the first few hours but if you’re willing to look past its flaws, there’s a vibrant and still very enjoyable new world worth exploring.