The Witch and the Hundred Knight is the latest release from NIS, and in some ways, a departure from their usual fare. Gone are long, strategic turn-based battles. The 2D sprites that the company has been known for in recent years are nowhere to be found either. Instead, The Witch and the Hundred Knight ends up being something different entirely, playing more like a dungeon crawler and looking more like Diablo than a NIS title. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that Hundred Knight isn’t a NIS game.
Awakening in the darkness, a creature—the player—is asked his or her name by a cocky voice. After entering your name in, the voice will disregard what you’ve said and name you the Hundred Knight anyway. You then wander through this darkness, learning the basics of combat, all the while as the voice speaks to you. Once you reach the end and make it out, you discover the owner of that voice, Lia. Or as she likes to be called, “Me – tal –lia!” Or even better yet, “The Great Swamp Witch Metallia”.
Metallia is a witch, one of many that exist in this world. She has spent her whole life in her swamp, and never leaves it. In fact, it seems like she may or may not even be capable of leaving her swamp. Her claim, however, is that she just doesn’t like non-swamp lands, is all.
This is where Hundred Knight comes in. He is supposedly a legendary familiar, the most powerful in all history, said to have the strength of a demon. Aaaaaand yet, he’s a cute little guy that’s as dumb as a sack of rocks. Turns out, he’s still developing and will gain intelligence through his time with Metallia. After the initial entry levels of the game, Hundred Knight begins to slowly develop a consciousness of his own, and the players can then reply to Metallia’s request with a Yes, No, Ignore, and Question option. Hundred Knight’s main mission is to destroy magic pillars all around the land. Doing so releases their power and covers that land in swamp, allowing Metallia to enter it.
Being a dungeon crawler, the player traverses these lands, trying to reach the pillar at the end. Each pillar has its own guardian that is enchanted with the pillar’s magic power in order to protect it. Getting all the way to the end and beating this guardian will usually result in a long cut-scene where Metallia finally appears again and often dukes it out with another witch of the land that you are invading.
Hundred Knight is bound to Metallia and cannot live without her. If he leaves her side for too long, he will perish. Because of this, the game employs the GigaCals system. As you map out your way in the dungeons, your GigaCals will diminish and whenever your stamina bar is refilled it eats away at your GigaCals as well. Running and fighting use up stamina, so between trying to 100% a dungeon map, and fighting off the many enemies in said dungeon, your GigaCals will go quickly.
Luckily, NIS throws you a bone and offers three ways to conserve your GigaCals. First, land that is once mapped will not eat up your GigaCals as quickly. Second, Hundred Knight is able to eat some enemies in order to restore a portion of his GigaCals. And lastly, and most importantly, the game offers waypoints. While your main goal is a giant pillar at the end, each dungeon has smaller pillars. By reaching a smaller pillar, you can set it as your next spawn point for when you return, teleport from it to any other small pillar you’ve found in that dungeon, and allocate your experience points you’ve gained in the dungeon.
All of this makes managing the dungeons in the game much more bearable, but the GigaCals system still does limit the player. While not necessarily bad per se— it isn’t too uncommon in dungeon crawls four your character to need feeding or rest and such—it still may rub some players the wrong way. Progress is not too hard to make, but you have to work for it. This is an investment, you can’t just rush to the end of a dungeon—the point is surviving, and playing smart. But when you finally do clear that map 100%, it’s a great feeling.
Likewise, the combat is pretty fun. Hundred Knight can equip five weapons at once, and there are many different varieties of weapons. The spear is weaker but its attack range spans a wide arc and can take on multiple enemies. The hammer is slow but does more damage. Swords are well balanced, lances are strong but only thrust forward and are harder to land hits with, and staves can inflict mid-range magic damage. With all this, you can create a wide range of attack combination patterns. For example: slash all around you with your spear, then thrust forward with your lance, and administer the finishing power blow with your hammer. There are lots of combinations to be had, and a flurry of five different types of attacks in a row makes for some interesting strategies. There’s plenty to customize with, and the weapon system has a combo-esque nature to it. Typical of NIS games, you can really tweak all this stuff until your eyes bleed.
The enemies are varied enough to keep thing interesting, although not too complex. It can be a bit of a grind when you play the game for long sessions. Switching out to different weapon types can keep things interesting, as certain enemies are immune to certain types of attacks. Enemies that were only weak to magic usually threw a wrench into my typical battle strategy and I would need to redo my equipment set-up.
However, the true monotony-breaker are the bosses. Between huge monsters that can’t fit on the entire screen, quick and nimble spell casters, and bulls with wheels that will run you down like a tank, there’s a lot going on. Boss fights are hectic, and all kinds of fun. You need to learn their attack patterns, and the dodging mechanic really comes into play here. If you time your dodge just right with X, you can slow down time and land lots of hits on the enemy.
Bosses don’t just have a health bar to worry about, though; they also have a bar for guarding. Attacking a boss like a regular enemy will not get you very far. You have to time your attacks just right when their guard bar is low. Now the guard bar doesn’t work like a standard health or magic bar in most games. It constantly fluctuates between empty and full, and you need to time your attacks to hit the boss when the bar is at just the right spot, the lower the better. Oftentimes the bar is at the lowest when the boss goes to do a killer attack, so it’s a high-risk-high-reward type situation.
If that sounds like too much, at the cost of draining your GigaCals and your AP gauge, you can always greatly increase Hundred Knight’s strength to plow through enemies with Chaos Revelation. Pressing L1 + Triangle will allow you to go into a super mode, your strength will greatly increase and you can smash through your enemies’ defenses. However, once you enter this mode you cannot exit it until your GigaCals reach zero or you leave the dungeon. It should only be used as a last ditch effort.
Ultimately, while not being an SRPG, The Witch and the Hundred Knight plays and feels just like an NIS game. The usual character designs from Takehito Harada, and the usual compositions from Tenpei Sato really does help to give it an NIS feel.
The same humor is present, if not more so. The Witch and the Hundred Knight has an incredibly dark sense of humor, at times borderline morbid. Disgaea has its darker jokes, but this game just cranks it up to eleven. Metallia makes Laharl look like a little goody two-shoes choirboy by comparison. She is mean, heartless, and dishes out some pretty twisted punishments. Not to mention incredibly foul-mouthed. I think I’ve seen less swearing in Grand Theft Auto games. Metallia isn’t afraid to drop F-Bombs ether, although NISA censors the written dialogue when she does, and puts in a bleep sound effect over her actress.
I like to think of myself as not too much of a prude, but there were some moments that just did not sit right with me. I understand it’s done mostly for comedic effect, and while I got the joke, I really couldn’t laugh at some of these more twisted moments. That’s not to say there weren’t some funny moments though, and overall I did enjoy most of the jokes, but some of them I personally couldn’t find enjoyment in. Dark comedy is a pretty apt description for this story.
There’s an interesting cast of characters that surround Metallia and Hundred Knight, and they help to later balance things out. Karma does seem to come around and bite Metallia every now and again too. So, the game is by no means cruel or vicious. One of my favorite cast members so far has been Visco, or as Metallia likes to call her, “Dog Princess”. She’s essentially a do-gooder Knight who was cursed to look like a dog. Her presence helps to level out the dark humor, as does Metallia’s deadpan butler and servant Arlecchino.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is an interesting title from NIS. In one sense it’s something different from them, while in another sense it’s really the same old thing. Being a dungeon crawler makes it a change of pace from their usual Disgaea games, but at its core the game offers the large amount of customization the company is known for, repetitive and time consuming game play that inevitably comes with the grind, their signature twisted humor, and familiar music and art. It’s not perfect, and NIS has made some better dungeon-crawling games and roguelike titles in the past, but the game is still tons of fun once you get into the swing of things, and offered a world that I felt was more interesting then the usual settings typically seen in NIS titles.
Food for Thought:
1. Playing as Hundred Knight really made me feel as if I was a Prinny in the Disgaea universe. Not too surprisingly, the same team behind the two Prinny PSP games made The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
2. At the end of each chapter in the game, an actual credits roll happens like you just finished an episode of an anime.
3. Hundred Knight speaks in these cutesy grunts, and I swear he almost sounds identical to Nintendo’s Kirby.