A tale of family, tragedy, and eating literally anything that gets in your way.
Back in 2014, Nippon Ichi Software took a break from developing the always excellent Disgaea series (as well as taking a break from developing and publishing whatever mountain of video games they were working on at the time) to develop an action-RPG for the PlayStation 3. While the company had tried a lot of different formats in the past, this would mark their first real effort towards a real-time combat game, compared to the huge number of turn-based and tactical games they had released before this point. This would materialise as The Witch and the Hundred Knight, a punchy, surprisingly in-depth title that focused on…well, a Witch and a little dude called the ‘Hundred Knight.’
While the game rightfully received some criticism for an unfortunately common bug that caused the game to crash, it was, on the whole, received fairly positively and sold respectably well. It also has the honour of being Nippon Ichi Software’s first true 3D game (other games had the occasional boss modeled in 3D but not the entire game), all without sacrificing the developer’s standout character designs and wicked humour. So, on the whole, a nice little title that the developers experimented with, and one that showed a lot of creativity.
However, that brings us to its sequel, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 (should have been The Witch and the 2 Hundred Knight, in my mind). With the experience of developing the first game under their belt, and with the upgrade to the PS4’s hardware, Nippon Ichi Software struck out to create a game that smoothed out some of the rougher edges of the first game, in addition to once again foraying into a world defined by its powerful witches and wickedly dark sense of humour.
To that end, strap on your swords, put on your pointy hats, and prepare to cackle with the best of them; let’s take a look at The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2.
The game opens with, curiously, neither a witch nor a Hundred Knight. Instead, we are first greeted with a frantic girl, Amalie. She’s tearing apart her small backwater of a village, trying desperately to find her younger sister, her last living relative. It appears that her sister has disappeared, and the woods around the village are hardly safe for a child, thus fears are already beginning to crop up that Amalie’s sister, Milm, might have already departed from the world. To the relief of all, Milm appears soon after, covered in mud and exhausted but otherwise unharmed…apart from a noticeable ‘mark’ on her forehead.
Relief turns to horror. The mark is the first sign of the ‘Third Eye,’ an occurrence in which a young girl is infected with a strange disease that will turn her into a witch, a being of immense power and great cruelty. People are already pushing to simply kill Milm, a child that couldn’t even be into double figures, rather than risk the disease developing when Amalie desperately begs for an alternative. She proposes that she and Milm will exile themselves from the village and not return. The mayor of the sleepy hamlet watches as the two, with only the clothes on their back, disappear into the murk and dark of the woods, and remarks that they won’t last the week…
Despite this pretty sombre and grim opening, the game is actually fairly humorous and lively, though admittedly it’s mostly in a dark humour kind of fashion. For example, we have a scene introducing an early boss fight where a guy opens a cage to show a summoned demonic creature and makes the bold claim that he has rehabilitated the monster and made it love him like a close companion…just before the thing punts him across the room. The game has a good reason for using this kind of humour since the meat of the story follows the exploits of an amoral witch who clearly doesn’t really care how many innocents she has to stamp over to get what she wants. I honestly think it actually kind of works: The game dances to its own kind of morbid tune, and the end result is often fairly unique situations and story moments that you wouldn’t find in too many other games. Case in point, despite the old man’s predictions, we jump an entire year later to the scene at the village and find the sisters are actually still alive, though not entirely well. The real meat of the game kicks off when Milm, having failed to find a cure for the witch disease, finally transforms. The resulting being, who calls herself Chelka, is the polar opposite to the sweet and quiet Milm and shows that the stereotypes about witches hold a fair amount of water, as the first thing she does upon gaining her powers is to demolish the entire building she wakes up in. However, Chelka also brought a doll to life upon awakening: a doll of the first game’s Hundred Knight.
It’s worth noting that, at first glance, this sequel doesn’t seem to have much in common with the first game in terms of story. Indeed, this game takes place in a whole different world, and while many elements play out the same (witches are beings of immense power, the powers-that-be are hugely afraid of said witches, and Hundred Knight is ‘summoned’ into the world by a witch), the cast is completely different, apart Hundred Knight himself.
There are some notable points, however, that begin to connect the two games: For one, the fact that the doll that becomes this game’s Hundred Knight is repeatedly called a “Hundred Knight doll” is somewhat suspicious. If the game takes place in an entirely new world, how do people recognise a being that by all rights shouldn’t have existed even in the first game’s world? Small clues like this start cropping up the further the game progresses, and it starts to become clear how exactly this is a ‘sequel’ to the first game.
Of course, the one point where it being a sequel is obvious is in the gameplay, although it has made a few changes from its predecessor. The player controls the titular Hundred Knight, a two-foot tall, cute as a button, demonic fighter ready to kick everything that gets in his way right into the next century. The player can attack with a five-string combo in melee, can dodge around the place with a roll to avoid enemy attacks, and really lay into enemies with skill attacks that use up a resource called AP (Adrenaline Points) that he can build back up by hitting more enemies. Notably, there are nuances to each of the basic systems: None of the basic attacks can be cancelled with dodging, meaning that learning to pace yourself and not just blindly mashing the attack button will help you avoid taking too much damage. Likewise, dodging an enemy’s attack at the last second will activate a ‘mystic dodge,’ which acts (perhaps appropriately) like Witch Time from Bayonetta where time slows down around you for a short burst. Finally, the weapons and skills all deal a particular type of damage (slash, blunt, or magic), and enemies are either weak or resistant to each type, which means that exploiting an enemy’s weakness can result in huge damage. The main change in terms of basic controls from the first game is that the stamina system has been completely removed, which means that you can dash and attack with Hundred Knight much more freely, and this definitely feels like a good idea since combat is a lot faster while remaining just as weighty and responsive.
One of the highlights of the game is just how much you can customise Hundred Knight’s combat style. He can use up to five weapons that all handle quite differently from one another, but instead of just equipping a single weapon, he instead uses an entire weapon for a single swing in his five-attack combo. Since each weapon behaves differently depending on which part of the string you equipped it to, you can basically dictate what kind of style of combat you want to go forward with. Do you start with a speedy sword slash, then continue through with piercing jabs from a lance before concluding with a smashing hammer? Or do you commit to a full barrage of powerful magic attacks before flinging that same lance from before right into the enemy’s face?
This is all without mentioning that Hundred Knight has several different ‘classes’, or what the game calls “Facets”, to choose from, and he can switch between each of them on the fly. The Facets not only have their own individual strengths and stats, but they also come equipped with their own array of special skills. For example, Hundred Knight starts off with the (what else?) Wonder Knight Facet, which acts as a jack-of-all-trades, and in turn has relatively simple but useful sword slashes. He can also, however, equip a Facet that allows him to fully commit to magic attacks, which notably comes with much more powerful and versatile skills at the cost of making him much more vulnerable to physical attacks.
All of this ties into one of the game’s more curious mechanics, namely Hundred Knight’s apparently bottomless hunger. At all times, you have a counter that’s ticking down in the top left corner of the screen called GigaCalories (trust me, I couldn’t come up with this if I tried). This number ticks down extremely slowly, but it will speed up if Hundred Knight is injured since he burns the calories to rapidly heal, and indeed, he has an ability to heal extremely quickly in return for consuming a metric ton of calories. Hell, if you get knocked down to zero HP at any point, as long as you have some GCs left, Hundred Knight will simply pick himself back up at the last checkpoint. Since you’re invariably going to be hit by something at some point, it’s worth keeping an eye on just how many GC Hundred Knight has left to make sure you don’t let the poor lad get too hungry. But how do you keep your GC meter from getting too low, you may ask? Well, the enemies you’re fighting could certainly help…
It definitely fits the tone and humour of the game that your best option for continued survival is to tear your foes apart and shove them down your gullet. Interestingly enough, this actually requires the player to play somewhat carefully: To gain the ability to eat, you need to pull off a full five-hit combo string and then hit an enemy that’s close to death with a special attack. If you just wipe out enemies before the combo ends or kill them before you can use the special attack, you’ll quickly find yourself burning through GC. This ties into the highly customisable combat system pretty well and actually encourages the key aspect of knowing your enemy. Since every enemy is weak to certain attacks and resistant to others, it can be worthwhile to actually use a weaker attack in order to avoid killing an enemy too quickly so you can activate your consuming skill on them. Likewise, however, if you can kill an enemy without taking damage thanks to exploiting their weakness, you can charge through lesser foes for a while before having to worry about GC.
Basically, while every part of the game is relatively simple, it definitely asks for a certain level of mastery: Knowing both what your foe is weak to and when is the best time to exploit that weakness is key to thriving, and getting into the ebb and flow of decimating certain foes while eating others brings on a kind of zen that I haven’t felt in a while. While I don’t think this type of gameplay is for everyone, since even I can’t deny it’s all a little fiddly in places, I think people who like the ability to really dictate the kind of builds they can make, and especially to min-max those builds, will feel like very much at home.
While Hundred Knight is fairly alone on the battlefield, he’s definitely sharing the space in the narrative with some equally colourful characters. I mean that both metaphorically and literally: The game has the same standard for its character designs as Disgaea, and thus the entire cast really pops off the screen with some super vibrant use of colour. As an example, look at Chelka: Her tanned complexion has to bounce off some really harsh teals and yellow while fitting with both splashes of red, white and black, and yet the whole colour scheme just clicks together rather than clashes. On the whole, the game’s artwork is really damn gorgeous and definitely a treat for the eyes.
On the metaphorical side of things, the cast is a really varied bunch, from genuinely sincere and good-hearted souls like Amalie, to the whole cavalcade of extremely deranged witches that are tearing up the area. And when I say varied, I REALLY mean it…
Honestly, that crazy bird is my favorite character.
The game clearly knows that its expansive cast is one of its strengths since it goes out of its way to make sure that most of the cast has the time to bounce off each other and generate some banter and humour, which helps to liven up the time between gameplay sections. Also, kudos to the English voice actors; in addition to every voice fitting their role perfectly, the energy and enthusiasm everyone has fits the energetic and lively pace of the game.
That all being said, the game isn’t exactly perfect. While the combat is fast and punchy, it also gets pretty ‘busy.’ Since each attack needs to cause a large pop up of text to inform you whether the attack was effective or not, you can sometimes lose sight of both yourself and even the enemy if you throw out a lot of attacks very quickly or onto multiple foes. Since even small foes can tank through certain hits, you can sometimes take damage from foes that you couldn’t even see because of, ironically, your own damage, which doesn’t feel great when the balancing act of keeping both your health and GC high is one of the game’s more difficult spots. Also, you’re going to be taking part in a lot of combat, and while the game tries to throw new enemy types and loot at you fairly quickly, it can feel like all you really do is run down similar looking corridors for long stretches. Likewise, while Hundred Knight is actually quite a charming main character, he only has a certain number of sounds for each individual attack he makes, which means that it can get a little repetitive. While this problem lessens with time as you gain more Facets and skills, it can be a problem that’s hard to ignore since you spend so much of your time in combat. Another issue is that areas can feel pretty repetitive, which can result in the ‘dungeons’ you explore being confusing to navigate simply because it isn’t clear if you’ve wandered into a particular corridor before or not.
In addition to all of this, the sometimes bleak humour of the game is definitely not for everyone, especially since a lot of the evil stuff is done by at least one or more of the main characters. It isn’t any worse than what the main characters of the first game got up to, but if you weren’t exactly charmed by that ragtag group of misfits, I don’t think this game will sway you too far; Amalie does a lot to keep the main cast morally balanced, but even she has her limits.
Despite the problems, I really had fun with The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2: It built off the already pretty fun gameplay of the first game and refined it down to a simple but effective system with an impressive level of depth. If you’re looking for a good action title that you can really sink your teeth into, and as long as you don’t mind this game’s often ‘unique’ sense of humour, then you could do a lot worse than this tale of a two-foot knight consuming everything in his path at the behest of his sadistic witch master.
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software / NIS America
Release Date: 27th March 2018 (NA), 30th March 2018 (PAL), 23rd February 2017 (Japan), 25th May 2017 (Asia)