Nippon Ichi Software is one hell of a developer. One day they could be lighting the world on fire with one of the most celebrated games in a genre (Disgaea), and the next, they could be milking a franchise into oblivion (Disgaea Infinite). Strategy RPGs are their forte, but they've made 2D platformers, action-RPGs, and a whole lot more.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3)
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Release: March 25, 2014
Witch may have one of the most confusing titles in recent memory, but when you break it down, it's not so bad. The game stars the Witch Metallia ("Metallica" in Japan), as she attempts to wreak havoc on the world by summoning the "Hundred Knight" that's you) -- one of the most powerful familiars of all time. The problem is, this "legendary" creature starts off as nothing more than a cute little helmet with arms and legs, leading to an interesting dichotomy between Hundred's adorable nature and Metallia's fiery damnation.
Metallia herself is one of the most absurd "protagonists" NIS has created to date, as you're not really supposed to find her likable. In fact, she's more than downright evil, as she often times assaults her victims in ways that some may find unsettling (seriously). It's a really weird juxtaposition to NIS's typical stable of evil characters (especially Disgaea), which are usually more talk than action, with most of the evil done off-screen or merely described in an extended monologue.
Nevertheless, you'll have to live as Metallia's servant, and serving her every whim time and time again is basically how the story plays out throughout the adventure. She's lived in the swamp all her life, and since she's too lazy and stubborn to leave it, you'll have to do her bidding, then periodically report back with your findings and loot. So, it's your job to maim, kill, destroy, and ransack as many villages as possible -- fun! In theory, at least.
Most of the action will be done straight hack-and-slash style -- no turn-based cycles here. The Hundred Knight can move around just like an adventurer in a Diablo game, top-down view and all. Our hero has the ability to attack and defend, but the former discipline quickly becomes a complicated affair with combo weapons, counter strategies, and enemy diversity. It's an interesting design that transcends the typical genre conventions.
For instance, hammers are perfect for single encounters, and spears are great for crowd control -- so combining the two into a combo that leads with a spear and mixes into a hammer could be a great way to thin out some ranks. Add in hundreds of nuanced weapons, more attack types, and a cavalcade of items to buy, and you're in menu-scrolling heaven.
Then there's the GigaCal meter, which puts a cap on how long you can stay out in the wild by linking your actions to a timer. It makes sense in that you're constantly worrying about how far you can go, and thus need to play cautiously, but in the end it just causes needless frustration, and messes up the pacing considerably. There are ways around it like using certain items or consuming foes, but this mostly just delays the inevitable.
There really isn't much to Witch and the Hundred Knight, as you're basically going to be doing the same pattern over and over, fighting menial enemies as you make your way to the boss, followed by a lengthy cutscene.
While it's always interesting to see what's going to happen next, the fact of the matter is the scenes themselves often go on for way too long (sometimes 20 minutes or more), and will have you reaching for the fast-forward button on more than one occasion. It's strange how uneven the action portion of this action-RPG can really feel, and some paring down of cutscenes would have been a good place to start.
Combat is also fairly repetitive when you break it down. While the macro-level equipment trappings of typical NIS RPGs are here in all their glory, the Knight is limited in what he can actually do, and it leads to a lot of dull moments. Hacking up enemies is fun enough, but it's not often that you'll face anything worthy of your skills outside of the few and far between boss characters.
If you enjoy crazy stories that constantly top themselves and deep action-RPG conventions that others find frustrating, you'll enjoy The Witch and the Hundred Knight. But with a lot of small adjustments, it really could have been a great gateway into the world of complicated isometric titles.