NISA has had some angry characters before, but holy sh*&!.
NISAmerica games are known for a few things: jokes, silly storylines, and tactical combat (usually on a grid). Strategic, your-turn/my-turn fights might be the publisher's bread and butter, but some of its games can also feature action-oriented bashing and smashing. That's the case this time with The Witch and the Hundred Knight, a delightfully twisted tale featuring the Swamp Witch who would like to save the world with the help of her best friend and familiar, the Hundred Knight who wants to bring sunshine and rainbows… wait, that's not right, this one’s about revenge and anger and slaughtering the weak. It’s not hard to tell who the bad guy (or girl) is, and it’s definitely not for the kids to play (even if they might enjoy the idea of bloody vomit and furries).
The real story is thin but effective: The Swamp Witch Metallia is angry at being forced to live and study her witchiness in the swamp, so she decides to expand her dominion to deal some punishment to the people responsible for putting her there. In actuality, it isn’t clear who did put her in the swamp, but her desire to escape and to deal damage to anybody who might be able to restrain her is. Metallia isn't the type to get her hands dirty, so she summons a stupid familiar named the Hundred Knight to bloody his hands on her behalf. He’s a sort of mute-idiot-savant-slave whose sole reason for living is to wield a variety of weapons, quickly learn a number of tochka (powerful spells), and wipe out the local wildlife.
As the Hundred Knight, you venture out into different areas with the intent to kill anything that moves, locate pillars to spread the swamp and empower Metallia, and kill the protectors of the more important pillars throughout each section. The controller is fully utilized to give you as many options to attack as possible, but at its core this is a hack-and-slash game. The real depth comes from finding an enemy’s weakness and switching to the right style of weaponry: swords, staffs, hammers, spears, and lances, each with unique stats, strengths, weaknesses, and rare attributes. Like many games by NISA, part of the fun comes from trying to find all of the different weapons.
Combat lets you choose weapons to use and link combos with, then tasks you with mashing the hell out of the square button to do maximum damage (the patented “Kevin swings until nothing’s left to hit” method). After that, you press right on the D-pad to open the weapons menu when confronted with another baddie. It’s not cumbersome, but it can interrupt gameplay because there’s no way to easily save a specific weapon set. You have to swap weapons in and out manually, which takes away from the otherwise upbeat pace of battle. Why not give me a way to change pre-selected weapon combinations on the fly to keep the fight going? Instead, slogging through the menus feels like a long time-out.
A free-burning candle tracks your time, meaning you can run out and fail, but not if you constantly add more to the wick with swamp-expanding pillars. Different areas of a stage seem to drain the timer faster or slower. Your time can be drained ever faster by trading it for a health boost, but even in the early-goings it’s so easy to maintain and practically reset the timer that doing so is unnecessary altogether.
This mechanic feels out of place to me; there are so many checkpoints littering the landscape that I wanted the game to be portable on PS Vita. That's not exactly a dig at the title; it's just that you can make a stage last anywhere between ten minutes or mere seconds. You can even take 45 minutes to really get through a level in one sitting. If it didn’t take so long to load—even from the PS3 hard disk—this kind of adventure would be perfect for a platform like the Vita. The game's graphics would fit on the Vita as well. While it’s not a bad-looking game with lush and detailed environments and anime characters, the 3D models are reminiscent of a high-end PS2 game's. Had this been released in the early days of the PS3, this might have looked like the best the developer could do with new technology, but in 2014 it looks like a throwback. I had to scratch my head and wonder just what was taking so long to load, because it obviously wasn’t those models.
And wow, this game is dark. The Swamp Witch might well be one of the dirtiest characters I’ve ever encountered in the realm of video games. She’s censored with bleeping, alongside the occasional “cut that bitch” and “I’ll kill that filthy whore”. She desires to actively and violently murder every character she doesn’t like. But this is only a slight detour for the crazy folks at NISA. They work hard to make sure every game has many funny quips and jokes, but this time it actually dropped my jaw. You might not see every violent act referenced like skinning someone alive, but you can hear the venom in everything Metallia says. There’s also a naked/near-naked cursed canine girl (tongue-twister, yes) shown on-screen, constant references to bloody vomit, and… more.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight is not the prettiest thing in the world, though there are some bright spots like the environments. The difficulty is remarkably low once you figure out which enemies require which weapon types, but switching between those weapons is annoying. The load times are atrocious and the story is about the angriest I’ve seen in any digital experience, which I suppose comes with doing the bidding of the bad guy. The game is still fluid enough to keep my attention and the NISA writing charm hasn’t yet worn off. It’s not as solid as their tactical stuff, but for a discounted price it’s worth a look. Helping this bitchy witch get some unjustified payback is still a great way to let off some steam.
She’s a crazy, one-woman Tarantino movie. Somebody get this witch some valium or something.
Copy provided by publisher. Exclusively for PS3.