++Review – Witch and the Hundred Knight

It is now, in the waning days of the previous console generation, that the straggling releases condemned to debut at the end of the line have the greatest chance of being completely overlooked. The causes for this are wide and varied, from the notoriously short print runs of the final few Saturn games, to the necessary under-stocking of retail outlets making way for the new, shiny console hotnesses. And this is a true shame, for it’s at the end of the console’s life cycle that developers are at the most familiar with the hardware and its capabilities.

No piece of hardware taught us this lesson better than the PS2; and no other developers had a better handle on the end-of-life window than ATLUS, NISA, and Vanillware. Odinsphere, Grim Grimoire, and *deep breath* Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, among others, proved the savvy with which a swan song can be trumpeted… and the frustrating lack of frequency with which you’d find these on store shelves.

Things will be no different this time around, and I caution you to look up from your Destinies and Titanfalls every once in a while, lest you miss out on some of the more satisfying, and most difficult to find games of the PS3’s generation. Witch and the Hundred Knight, obviously, numbers among them.

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Witch and the Hundred Knight [PS3]
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NISA
Release: 03/25/2014
MSRP: $49.99
Words: James Bacon

Admittedly, Witch and the Hundred Knight (hereafter referred to as WHK) isn’t going to be for everyone, but what NISA title is? The player that this will appeal to is the same guy or gal who loves grinding to impossible power levels, searching every nook and cranny for each possible weapon, and managing stats that quickly get out of hand… so, you know, the typical NISA fan.

Regarding gameplay, it’s an extremely simple affair. The camera is fixed above the battlefield, and you run your little avatar around while cutting into your enemies with sword, axe, hammer, and spear… and since your master, Metallia the witch, is as disgruntled as witches come, everyone is your enemy. The experience is not unlike the Legend of Zelda at its core, but diversity can be found in equipping your knight with a wide variety of weapons and items.

You can have several weapons equipped at one time, and as you push the attack button, you’ll swing with each weapon in turn. Each weapon has its own strengths – spears are great for crowd control, while hammers are single-target massive damage dealers – so you can craft a combo that keeps you safe by pushing out groups of enemies, smashes singular foes, such as bosses, or you can take a more eclectic approach, equipping one weapon of each type for maximum chaos.

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WHK looks like a PS2 game, but in that very specific, end of a generation way, sort of forcing it to keep company with the aforementioned Odinsphere (etc.), and evoking a remarkably tangible sense of PS2-ness. I’m sure it wasn’t done purposely (probably due to a smaller budget), but the dev team really made the game shine in an incredibly nostalgic manner.

Regarding the plot, I was specifically asked to avoid mentioning much, as the game is story driven, and spoilers are a bad time for everyone. What I will say is that, after some simple establishment in the tutorial level, the entire game revolves around your acquisition of land, and the press ganging of of villagers to your cause. Metallia is a swamp witch, and so she wants the world to be half-submerged beneath the foul, fetid muck of her beloved fen, and it’s your job to ensure that happens. Along the way you’ll roughhouse with the various denizens of the different areas you transform in order to set them straight about Metallia, as well as to grab an invaluable stock of items.

And then there’s the GigaCal system. The game doesn’t really do too good of a job explaining precisely what a “GigaCal” is in relation to the game world, and subsequently, all I ever saw it as was an unnecessary timer that forces you to return home, completely crushing any momentum you may have built up, and ruining the flow of an otherwise enjoyable game. There are ways to add time to this timer, but not perpetually. It wasn’t so bad that I put the game down, but it definitely dampened my experience.

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Verdict – 7.0 (Good): Thankfully, WHK won’t be hard to find due to its presence on PSN as a result of NISA’s commitment to digital distribution, but it will deliver on every other aspect of an era ending gem. It’s quirky, funny, irreverent, and solidly grounded on unshakably classic design and mechanics… if only the GigaCal restrictions weren’t in place, forcing unnecessary return trips, and padding out the games length unnecessarily. Also, some of those cut-scenes can be excessive.