In some ways, you have to applaud the attempt at a darker storyline and an emphasis on fast-paced combat. After all, that's really what the market demands, isn't it? However, when you're still rooted in archaic stereotypes, the humor remains corny and oftentimes painful rather than amusing, and the gameplay and control has its fair share of issues, you won't succeed. You'll be relegated to the "valiant attempt, but no-go" pile, which is becoming increasingly populated with mediocre JRPGs.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight has that cartoon-y, anime style that many fans of the genre will enjoy, but I actually preferred the 2D sprites to these 3D models. I can't quite put my finger on what's missing; perhaps an essence of innocence and charm that I always associated with sprites. These character designs appear to be merely average in comparison. Some of the effects are nice and the world is bright, vibrant and even nicely appointed, but the overall design leaves a lot to be considered. It's just not up to par with other modern games, and that's more obvious as the adventure progresses.
The developers attempt to put a more mature foot forward, but they can't seem to locate convincing voice performers. Either that, or due to the poor dialogue, the actors aren't given much of a chance. This is a common problem facing many Japanese productions over recent years, but it's a more pronounced drawback in JRPGs. Then again, there are some who like that over-the-top, campy style and I say, more power to ‘em. As for the soundtrack, it fits the darker theme, occasionally giving the quest a greater urgency. Much like the graphical effects, the audio effects are fine, but they're hardly impressive.
Story is always a central part of any role-playing experience, even more so when it's a linear-driven RPG. The Witch and the Hundred Knight tells the story of the swamp witch, Metallia and a bizarre, human-like creature called the Hundred Knight. Metallia summoned him from a parallel dimension, and she's out for revenge. Why? Well, she's been stuck in that damn swamp for a very long time, and now she's out to destroy the other witches in the world. Doing so will allow her to continually expand her marshland territory, and when that happens, she'll get stronger. Thing is, she's a prisoner, so it's up to the Hundred Knight to fight her battles for her.
The plot is ambitious and intriguing, but it takes a while for it to really go anywhere. Same goes for the gameplay. At first, you go through a long tutorial that involves the standard mechanics: Moving around, dodging, attacking, skills, etc. You might think that such a lengthy tutorial segment would better prepare you for what lies ahead, but nope. The difficulty spikes quick and not only do you feel a little ill-prepared, you also realize that the tutorial didn't tackle some of the most important elements of the game. Take GigaCals, for instance: This is what Metallia needs for magic, which ultimately controls The Hundred Knight.
So long as Metallia's otherworldly cohort has GCals, he can be resurrected, but once all GCals are gone, he can die for good. He'll also suffer a big-time reduction in power and proficiency, which you might learn the hard way. You can replenish GCals in a variety of ways – at certain points on the map, via items, and using grade points earned from vanquishing enemies – but the constantly draining GCal mechanic is just plain annoying. I suppose it lends a sense of tension to your exploration; i.e., "how much farther should I roam before I need to backtrack and refill?" That works in other games that are not JRPGs but it doesn't really work here.
Sure, you feel substantially rewarded when you manage to expand your reach, conquering enemies with skill and precision. Earning better treasure and stat boosters is always a big incentive. However, if you die, you'll lose some of those goodies, and that makes things all the more frustrating. Dungeons are large and enemies are quite demanding, which means you have to pay close attention to The Hundred Knight's movements. He can equip up to five weapons at once, by the way, and he gains access to magical abilities called Tochkas. He can also affect the emotion of his opponents, which is an interesting addition that should've been further explored.
Control can be a little tough to grasp, because The Hundred Knight feels a little slow and clunky at first. But there's a certain rhythm to his movements and once it clicks, you'll immediately feel more confident with general control. The only problem is that it never completely clicks, and besides that initial tutorial, they don't tell you much. You really have to find out a lot on your own. Now, while I always support less hand-holding in video games (especially these days), there's a balance developers must strike. That didn't really happen here, which means some players may experience definite frustration.
The other big problem is that dungeons drag on forever . The game starts to feel more like drudgery after the first few hours, and by the time the story and gameplay mechanic take shape, you're already irritated. You're all the more annoyed by the insufferable main character: Metallia is just a nasty bitch. I guess it's supposed to be funny but in truth, it's offensive and even disgusting. For instance, after conquering the first boss in the game, Metallia just keeps kicking her until she throws up. Then she calls her a "vomiting whore," transforms her into a mouse, and to top it off, sends a bevy of male mice running after her. The implication is obvious and unnecessary.
If this is the developer's idea of comedy, they need some writers who aren't twisted. I've never understood why vile characters are supposed to be entertaining; Metallia is easily one of the most despicable protagonists I've ever had the misfortune to witness. Yes, I get that she's supposed to be, but they just go way too far. Toss in the somewhat repetitive, overly complex (and not well explained) gameplay, and a story that takes way too long to develop, and you've got a game that redefines "tedium." Obnoxious tedium, at that. I guess for hardcore JRPG fans, this title has a lot to offer, which is why I'm not totally condemning it.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight presents us with several great ideas, especially in the gameplay department, but the overall experience falls well shy. It's ironic that we get such a lengthy tutorial to start, and then we still have dozens of questions as the game progresses. Then you've got a horrid main character, only mildly intriguing combat mechanics (which could've been very intriguing had they been correctly described and implemented), and a story that, despite its merits, remains juvenile. Unfortunately, this is just another example of a Japanese game that A. badly misses the comedy mark, and B. doesn't refine its elements enough.
The Good: Decent, fitting soundtrack. Interesting concept and story possibilities. Plenty of gameplay depth, especially if want to dig. Lots of content.
The Bad: Horrible protagonist. Not enough explanation for some of the mechanics. Takes too long for anything substantial to happen. Dungeons feel too large.
The Ugly: "Personality-wise, Metallia is the ugliest, least appealing main character I've ever seen."