So, imagine you wake up from a long slumber, stretch your arms and legs, clear your eyes of Mr. Sandman’s sprinkles, and find out you’re a slave. No thoughts, no willpower, just a mindless repeating of combat for a cruel, sadistic overseer. That is exactly the feeling I got from The Witch and the Hundred Knight, in narrative and reality.
Right off the bat the loading times stuck out like a sore thumb. There is nothing hardware-intensive in the game on the scale of Mass Effect visuals or COD multiplayer. Combat looks like it came out of Dragon Age, with the real-time battles and navigation of areas, just with a NIS flair. So with NIS-level visuals and basic combat from over three years ago, waiting over a minute per loading screen is unneeded tedium.
After the lackluster voice acting abound in The Guided Fate Paradox, which I also reviewed, it was a big relief that the triple-A quality voices are back. The company’s traditional humor has also been infused back into the game but it is very adult in nature. The BDSM theme of the titular Witch character will either bring a breath of fresh, comedic air to the player, or turn said player completely away depending on if they are easily offended, as the humor gets dark very, very quickly.
Combat is not like a NIS game at all, as turn-based combat is their bread and butter. The real-time combat is fun, and the combo system of linking five different weapons together is unique. Sadly, it is hampered by a leveling system that makes the slave nature of the game infiltrate reality. The main character, Hundred Knight, only levels when leaving the stage, which makes grinding overly tedious if you are severely outmatched at the start of a new chapter or act. In the stages are pillars that, when opened, allows the Hundred Knight to boost his powers temporarily with temp XP, as I term in, that is only good for the stage and then disappears. This constant see-sawing of leveling gets boring really quickly, not to mention dragging out the game.
Adding to the boredom is — and I say this with a heavy heart — the worst soundtrack for an RPG in recent memory. All the music was boring and did not inspire anything but contempt at the drudgery of grinding through the combat and stages. A good soundtrack can make monotonous combat bearable because there are some rocking tunes to fight to, but a bad soundtrack is like a debuff bomb to the face that never expires. One just needs to remember The Suicide Mission theme and you get my point.
NIS, as a company, has been showing its cracks as a storyteller with its last few offerings not named Disgaea. This game is no different. The story is original but it is hampered by slow pacing to the point that Hideo Kojima has been usurped as the king of cutscenes. Every thirty seconds, if not quicker, there was a cut-scene for more dialogue, and not even dialogue of much substance other than random verbal attacks from the Witch against the hero or the situation. For an action-RPG this kills the action instantly, thus ruining the experience like a car stuck in a traffic jam, starting and stopping on constant repeat. I was never drawn into the world or emphasized with the characters to be of the mind to keep going through the story like an addict, desperately wanting to know what happens next.
In combat there are a few things going on other than just mashing square, and those are supposedly added to give the game depth. However, they add to one of the biggest problems the game has: over-complexity. For example, Hundred Knight has a calorie meter that shows his energy level for the stage. It goes down constantly from doing anything, like exploring the map, healing HP, and even swinging his sword. Hundred Knight can consume enemies to replenish it but it is a slow, tedious button mashing process. So what happens when it runs out? Well, not much other than your HP is used instead. Now you’d think this would be a problem, but since you can exit the stage by just finding a pillar, warping back to base to recharge, and warp back to the same pillar, it becomes a useless feature for what it was intended.
The combat system focuses a lot on weapon attributes: slash, blunt, magic. This is one of the most basic kind combat devices in use but alas it is turned into an annoyance. As mentioned earlier, you can chain five weapons; ultimately, while this sounds like a lot, it feels too light with the abundance of enemies that are immune to one or two of the three weapon attributes. This means the player has to do a 2-2-1 mix so they always have a weapon that can damage everything, but playing roulette and wasting time for repeating weapon cycles, or constantly switching equipment all the time for when an immune enemy shows up. Either way it adds to the already tedious nature of the game.
I saw the demo for this game when I was living in Japan last summer and it legitimately had me excited for it. However, once I played it, it became readily apparent that it was just the eye candy of seeing it in Japan that hooked me. If you can get through the tedium of combat and the over-complexity of the menus, then the story can be amusing and fun if it is your kind of humor. But unless you’re a hardcore NIS fan this is not for you. It is not a gateway RPG, but a testament to how hardcore a fanbase can be, and what they will accept.