"A good game, but you'll go through hell if you want to see the best ending. "
As per the norm in gaming today, the PS3's The Witch and the Hundred Knight got remade. However, its Revival Edition included a huge correction to its action-RPG formula that must have made it a far more enjoyable experience.
The original version probably would have reminded me a lot of the NES' Crystalis. When I first played that game, I loved it, but my enjoyment was diminished a lot upon replaying it for one simple reason: The lack of buttons on that system's controller. You got multiple swords throughout the game, with each one being strong against some foes and weak against others. The lack of buttons meant you couldn't tap one to switch weapons, so you'd have to go to a menu screen to do so. And due to the nature of the game, you'd be doing that very frequently. Back then, I didn't know any better, but when playing it after getting used to more modern hardware, all that menu-hopping became downright unbearable.
With Witch, you control a familiar summoned by a Metallia, a witch confined to a swamp who needs help in releasing mystical pillars to spread her swamp and expand her domain. Your guy's main form of attack is to pick up five weapons and use them all in combos. Those weapons come with slash, blunt and magic styles of attack and, like Crystalis, foes tend to be weak or strong against each of them. Therefore, to be remotely efficient at monster disposal, you would be expected to constantly swap weapons.
The Revival edition made one big change to this formula — it gives your guy three different load-outs that can be switched between with the press of a button. Now, you can craft five-weapon sets for each variety and tear through foes without the need to tinker with stuff constantly. As a guy who likes his gaming experiences to be at least reasonably streamlined, not having to live in menus is a big positive and played a large role in me finding this quirkily little tittle to be quite enjoyable. At least to a certain point which I'll get to eventually.
Witch, developed by Disgaea creators Nippon Ichi, handles its storytelling in an interesting fashion. After your character has been summoned by Metallia and gets through a tutorial area, you'll find yourself going through a number of chapters playing out as vignettes that often are only tenuously connected. Initially, Metallia is happy to simply expand her swamp — even if it is deadly poisonous to most beings, it sustains her to essentially keep her confined within it — and get revenge on the Forest Witch, whom she blames for her current state of imprisonment.
After taking care of her in particularly vicious fashion, she continues to expand the swamp while having all sorts of interesting encounters. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with a princess cursed into being a half-dog hybrid and attempts to cure her condition even if that action completely goes against her typically selfish and violent personality. She has a particularly hostile encounter with a witch whose territory is in the middle of her planned expansion. She attempts to join an elite cabal of powerful witches serving as de facto leaders of all witches…and then has to decide what to do after being spurned by them. She'll take on an overly-excitable apprentice and regularly abuse her long-suffering robotic servant in a game that masks all sorts of horrible things under a veneer of often-dark humor.
The game is divided into 11 chapters — 13 if you're going for the best ending — and you don't really get much of a glimpse of the main plot beyond meeting some of the characters playing roles in it until the ninth, when Metallia receives an offer to become the witch advisor to the local king. By the time you've started to connect the dots, you'll likely have mastered the game's system, which is one of those things that, as the game itself tells you in the early going, seems really complex, but isn't really that tough to learn.
You'll travel through a variety of areas from forests to deserts to towns and mountains to find pillars. Small ones are used as checkpoints, while the large ones tend to be guarded by bosses and expand the swamp when released. You'll get the hang of the weapon system and also collect a number of special skills such as bombs necessary to remove obstructions and blades you'll throw to activate switches and attack foes from a safer distance. You'll collect additional Facets, which determine your growth upon gaining levels. You'll collect Anima from fallen foes and spend it at Metallia's house on various things useful to your quest. While exploring, you'll also be quick and efficient or things won't work out all that well…
Every time you enter a level, you'll have an energy meter that starts at 100 and gradually descends as you explore and fight. When it expires, you'll want to find a small pillar and warp back to Metallia's house immediately as your attack and defense are drastically lowered. Even worse will be what happens if you lose all your health. Normally, this just takes a chunk of your meter and sends you back to the last small pillar. However, if it has expired, you'll get sent back to base minus all the items you collected, as well as half the experience you've amassed. While there are multiple ways to restore some of that meter while out in the field, you'll find out that avoiding damage is very important to keeping it high because every time you take damage, your health will auto-regenerate at the cost of that meter evaporating quickly.
Overall, this is a fun game that I found to sort of fall apart down the stretch due to a pair of factors. After most of the game takes a very lackadaisical pace telling its story, way too much stuff happens way too quickly. The end of the 10th chapter is loaded with huge revelations and the 11th chapter concludes with a bunch of stuff either ending abruptly or happening with no real foreshadowing, making things feel really unsatisfying.
Assuming you've beaten a trio of optional bosses, you'll then be able to go for the best ending and that leads to the mother of all difficulty spikes. While a few bosses gave me a bit of trouble until I'd figured out their patterns, I'd found this game to be pretty manageable. And then you start the 12th chapter, get your marching orders and find that every single monster has been boosted to the degree that it's easy to be one- or two-shot with regularity. I spent a bit of time working through this, but quickly realized I was no longer having fun because the vibe of the game had essentially gone from "have fun and learn from your mistakes" to "MAKE NO MISTAKES!!!" just like that.
Until getting near its end, the only major gripe I had was that the overhead camera angle wasn't alway the most efficient, with background graphics often obscuring my view of the action. Well, I guess I could also count the bonus dungeon included with the Revival Edition. While it has its own story, the dungeon itself is little more than a horribly boring slog through a 100-floor tower where every single one blends together. Playing through it, it felt like a total afterthought, so that's also what it is in this review.
Take those away and I was enjoying a fun action-RPG with entertaining characters and a fun battle system. I enjoyed exploring each region of the game looking for treasure and battling foes and generally had a really good time with it. Things sort of fell apart down the stretch, making it an easy decision to not see it through all the way, but until that happened, it was a fun ride.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 21, 2022)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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