I’m a little unsure where to begin when it comes to discussing The Witch and the Hundred Knight, the latest outing from Disgaea developer Nippon Ichi Software, because there’s just so much going on here that it can be a bit tough to get a handle on it all. It’s a really, really busy game with a ton of features, loot, weapons, and other stuff happening all the time, and it can get a bit overwhelming as a result. The game casts the player as a small, kind of adorable little demon known as the Hundred Knight, an ancient and powerful force summoned to the world by a foul-mouthed, brash Swamp Witch named Metallia. As the servant of this exuberant, petulant Witch, you’re tasked with hacking and slashing your way across the land and helping to expand her murky confines, spreading the marshlands ever outward to increase her power, with an overt sense that, probably, she’s not really the best at this whole world-domination gig – or at anything at all, really.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward and packed with pretty extensive features, most of which are explained in a lengthy introduction segment that eases you through learning the controls and getting a sense for what’s to come. More and more systems pile up as you go through this, culminating in a pretty simple but instructive boss fight that’s there more to help you get a feel for how to do things than to test your ability as a gamer. There’s a whole lot of this to get through, but mostly that’s because there’s just so much packed into The Witch and the Hundred Knight that, really, you need a good chunk of time to really get the hang of it. I thought it all dragged on a bit much – as do many of the cutscenes throughout – but it’s not especially overbearing for the JRPG genre as a whole. After learning the ins and outs of the equipment system, hack-and-slash methods, and other combat bits and pieces, we’re on our way to greatness (read: probably atrocity)!
I like to think positive thoughts, so let’s get crackin’ with some of the things that The Witch and the Hundred Knight does well. There’s quite a bit of ground to cover here, fortunately! The first thing that hit me as a plus was the art. Distinct and well-done, this flair-riddled art brings some goodness to what could be pretty dull cut-scenes. While the in-game art is sometimes a bit muddled because of just how much is happening, it’s still pretty well-done and there’s plenty to drink in. I’ve seen some talk about ‘ugly’ level design, but for me, the ugliness seemed intentional – after all, you’re here to wreck things and spread an inhabitable swamp, so to expect stunning beauty might be a bit off-base. The soundtrack here is really, really great throughout. Some bits may end up a bit repetitive if you’re in the same spot for too long, but I wasn’t put off even when that happened because the music itself is very well-done, and there’s a good variety to it as you make your way through various spaces.
The meat and potatoes of the game is, of course, the combat. There’s a lot going on here, too – mostly thanks to the Hundred Knight’s six weapon slots, allowing a lot of variety in what’s equipped and often relying on some quick swapping to make sure you’re outfitted for the task at hand. It can get pretty hectic, especially when the environmental features make it tough to see exactly what you’re doing, but overall it flows nicely and there’s enough information showing that you can tell whether you’re doing any good even if it’s obscured behind a mass of trees. I won’t say I could keep up with all of the information streaming by on the screen at any given time, but the relevant bits were easy enough to pick out that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by how much there was. The most important thing is that it’s very, very easy to tell when the weapons you’re using aren’t working and you need to change up the game plan.
So, there’s a lot that The Witch and the Hundred Knight got right, but what about where it falls short? I’ve mentioned the long, drawn-out cut scenes a few times, and they’re easily the worst part of it all. Coupled with the fact that the plot itself is not exactly super-strong, it gets rather dull sitting through things, though most of the conversations do allow skipping forward if you’re not terribly concerned about following every twist and turn of the somewhat sporadic story. The characters don’t really display much depth, but there’s some pretty good humour built into the way they interact, and the occasional option for the Hundred Knight to weigh in with vaguely-defined emotive responses (Assent, Dissent, Question, or Ignore) means there are a few ways that some of these things can go. There’s also a decent “grindiness” to the game, and I did a fair bit of backtracking for loot and levels on more than one occasion just to make sure I was ready to keep pushing on, since I ran into a few scenarios where my prior levels just weren’t enough to keep going forward. However, since I genuinely enjoyed the combat system – and found new things by revisiting old haunts – I didn’t actually mind this aspect as much as I might have otherwise.
All put together, while The Witch and the Hundred Knight isn’t without it’s definite flaws, the experience was a fun one for me. More often than not, I was enjoying playing the game – even during some of the more drawn-out bits or while being hit with hamfisted cliche plot points. The best parts of it outshine the worst by pretty good measure, and the combat systems are interesting and varied enough to remain interesting as you seek out tactics to take on new enemies, bosses, and so forth. The game’s ‘GigaCal’ system, which moderates how much you can do in any given foray into the field, is a fun limiter that manages to remain unobtrusive while providing additional concerns to keep an eye on, and the rest of the underlying systems are pretty easy to keep a grasp on while you’re out adventuring.
[+Good combat and underlying systems] [+Fun, engaging gameplay] [+Tons of loot and equipment] [-Slow-paced cut scenes] [-Not much character depth]