When we last left Heinrich, the executioner cursed with immortality, and Gretchen, a reincarnated witch Heinrich killed, they just defeated the skeleton-like witch Straeggele… for the first time. She comes back with a vengeance in the next episode where you have to run from a monstrous dog.
Leave Gretchen on her own and the beast will maul her. While Heinrich can survive, the game ends if Gretchen dies. If you want to complete the level you have to pick Gretchen up and literally carry her out of harms way. Holding Gretchen restores her life and Heinrich’s endurance faster than if they were alone. Like a scene from an 80s action movie, you have to run towards camera carrying the leading lady, darting through allies, and dodging the occasional wooden wheelbarrow in the street. You’re not safe yet, though. A boss fight begins and this is where Gretchen comes in handy.
Hold down the right trigger (presumably R2 on PS3) and you can command Gretchen to cast spells. Over the course of the game she learns how to create a bear trap, knock flying enemies to the ground by dropping a hammer from the sky, and make a phantom lance for Heinrich to lob. Gretchen is a bit like a fragile Bayonetta sans guns. Spells have cooldown times, but they recover so rapidly you can fire all of them at once. Each monstrosity Heinrich kills grants him souls. Tear them apart by using a spell as violent finisher and you’re rewarded with more souls. Similar to other brutal action games, spending souls unlocks more powerful spells for Gretchen. While summoning five ethereal spears sounds better than one, stronger spells have longer cooldown times. Since spells can act as connecters for combos low level magic remains useful throughout the game.
Game Republic also designed spells so they make enemies more vulnerable by stealing shields or, like the fight with the demon dog, tie a boss down. Once chained to the ground, Heinrich can mix up light and heavy scythe swings to whittle away the monster’s long life bar at the bottom of the screen. Hit it enough and you’ll start a gory quick time event sequence where you need to press buttons and wiggle the analog stick in time to keep the beast at bay while Gretchen creates a guillotine out of thin air. Miss even one of these cues and you’re kicked back into the fight. The boss recovers a fair amount of life, which makes QTE event mistakes almost as punishing watching a monster impale Gretchen.
She’s your sentient weakness in Knights Contract. Early on it seemed like the computer tried to move her out of harms way, but in later levels Gretchen has a tendency to walk right up to demonic hordes in futile attempt to cast spells. Like an indentured bodyguard, Heinrich is forced to come to her rescue. Being immortal has its benefits (you can stand in lava for long periods of time!), but Heinrich is not invulnerable. Reminiscent of Bushido Blade, Heinrich crawls on the ground after absorbing a couple of hits. In this state he can only swing his scythe like a hammer or recover if a player repeatedly presses the A button. Continue to take damage and Heinrich explodes in a bloody mess. The only thing you can do is mash the A button to come back to life. Meanwhile, all of the monsters close in on Gretchen and grab her.
Aside from Gretchen, Heinrich’s other weakness… are ledges. Game Republic designed levels with flying banshees and elevated ground Heinrich can slip off of. If Heinrich could jump this wouldn’t be an issue, but he can’t. This means players have to climb up wherever Heinrich was before and in a maze-y cave level this was at times disorienting. Falling often separates Heinrich from Gretchen, which means she’s monster food.
While a twist on witch hunt story ties the episodes together, I think Namco Bandai haven’t mentioned Knights Contract is actually a brutal bodyguard score attack game. You’re given a grade, unlockable artwork, and most importantly a score at the end of a level. If your console is connected online it’s immediately uploaded to online leaderboards. Each difficulty and episode has its own tiers to climb. Knights Contract scores players based on their combo length, so spamming weak magic spells at living suits of armor is one way to inflate your score. Not getting Heinrich killed give you a big boost, as well. Actually, your score (if you care about that kind of thing) is probably the number one reason to try to avoid attacks. Dying is otherwise a small penalty and that’s not because Heinrich is immortal. Game Republic is forgiving with the number of checkpoints in Knights Contract. Now if only they were more forgiving during QTEs…