The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 Review
Release Date: March 27, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software/NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4
2014's original Witch and the Hundred Knight took a chance by introducing deep strategy-style RPG elements into a turbo hack 'n' slash style game. Your main protagonist, the Hundred Knight, is a familiar summoned by a witch in her plan for world domination. The storyline ended up leading a little deeper, but by and large you were a lackey for a villian. In the sequel, the Hundred Knight finds itself in a bit deeper of a storyline, as he is teamed up with a witch hunter who is trying to hide her sister, who has been possessed by a witch herself. You end up with a lot of similar antics, as the possessed sister sends the Hundred Knight out on quests aiming for world domination.
The sequel is more of the same, meaning fans of the original will be delighted, while those who may have found issues with parts of the original will still be soured by the same bits. I never got a chance to play the first, but I'm finding a lot of the original title's reviews lining up perfectly with my opinions of the second. NIS is known for making a strategy game layers deep. By and large, though, an action game has a hard time making that depth worth much. As you power your way through hundreds of enemies in every maze of a level, trying to reach a goal, find an item, or simply ahnillate your opponents, you will gain experience points, distribute ability points amongst different combo moves. Hundred Knight has the ability to equip five different weapons at once, and finding the right combination (different weapons are more or less effective against different enemies) along with the right facet (subtle differences in base abilities) and appropriately leveled and selected Skills (bonus attacks hotkeyed to various buttons) is the key to mowing down enemies. You'll gain passive abilities as well as Tochkas, your own personal minions to deal out even more damage. There's a forge to sacrifice unused weaponry and armor to in order to power up others, which vary by rarity which effects final power levels.
I suppose my biggest problem is wondering how much of this I actually needed to push forward. A statistics hound will love every single step, but with so many variants to cover I wasn't sure what would get you past "find the thing that hits the hardest and power through." During levels, you not only have HP but GigaCalories, which slowly but surely deplete. Run out of those, and you start losing the little health you already have. The game is so ready for you to micromanage, the d-pad "hotkeys" take you to menus to adjust skills and equipment, or check your "stomach stock," where you keep found items until the next level end (by the way, you can digest these items to increase your current GigaCalories as well), while leaving basic things like healing and restorative items to be hotkeyed to the touch panel. Then there's strange combinations, like hitting down for the local map, but then having to click "options" to get the full world map. I'm not sure why I need six buttons to go into menus and two buttons to cycle between phases when I don't even have a run button and have to rely on the arbitrary choice of how long I've been walking forward for the game to decide I want to run, or have to use the same attack button to do a five-step combo with five different weapons when I could have up to five different attack buttons to drop efficient combos against enemies weak to certain attacks. Meanwhile, a constant text box is rattling off what I picked up, which enemy I killed last, when those things happen three per second, with enemies so similiar I wonder why I care.
There's quite a full story to be told here, dropped through text expositions. Characters are 2 dimensional cutouts at these times. Their faces change, and they move towards and away from each other, but sometimes it's odd, like when the voices state characters are hugging, but they're just standing a bit closer to each other. In particular, an early scene discusses an unconscious character being tied down on a bed for an experiment, yet her animation shows her standing up with her eyes closed. The titular witch would probably giggle at the start of this sentence, as the moment Amalie's sister Milm is possessed by the witch Chelka, she begins behaving like an irate teenager who just discovered curse words can offend people. Everything is voice acted, but without dynamic animation, I found myself advancing the text quickly to learn more about the story faster than the characters were willing to divulge. These expositions can go on for fifteen minutes plus if you let them talk it out, and among all those menus there's not a single "save" button, meaning one time after a story bit I had to quit, but there wasn't a save point at the start of the action, so I had to hear it all over again when I started my next play session. Also, dying results in you going back to the last save spot. Enemies don't respawn, though, so you just have to trudge your way back to where you were. This ends up more as a war against time rather than enemies, as your supplies and GigaCalories burn up and lead you closer to the inexorable death from hunger instead of being bested by your enemies. A couple of times I found myself giving up and just running through an area to get to the next save point, where a special creature that would heal your GigaCalories would be, along with a chance to warp and stock up on restoratives.
While the core gameplay is fun, and the story is interesting, design choices keep this title from being a must-buy. The game is strongly focused on leveling, creating weapon combinations, and pounding through enemies, when just as many buttons could have been assigned to different weaponry, allowing you to forge your own combinations. The control scheme or camera angle sometimes gets in your way, and at times you simply run across an enemy far too powerful, but your death really only results in dashing back through empty battlefields until you get where you were in the first place. If you are a fan of micromanagement games, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 will easily fill that niche, as you balance character levels, weapon schemes, and inventory maximizing across these hack and slash levels. These two genres are definitely unique when melded together, but they each have inherent bits to them that, when forced upon each other, cause a detriment.
-It's genuinely fun beneath the odd design choices and meshing of genres
-Voice acting in story scenes make it a lot more vibrant
-Getting that perfect combination of skills, facets, and weaponry to take down a swarm of enemies is very satisfying
-So many options they get lost in the muck
-Deep story expositions are cool, but in a hack 'n' slash really spread out the action
-Control scheme is far too focused on menus and organization over fighs and domination
Special Thanks to NIS America and Nippon Ichi Software for providing a copy for review.