"At the end of my time playing, I was left wanting more, so it seems like NISA is on the right track here."
While playing The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 at NISA's press event, someone behind me was watching me play, and asked if the game was a roguelike. The NISA representative hesitantly said no, that it's more of an action RPG, but some of the gameplay elements present — like randomly-generated floors and an inventory that you can lose upon death — make me feel Witch 2 is at least a roguelike-like.
Rogue elements or not, characters and story will certainly play key roles in this upcoming sequel. Girls across the realm of Kevala are contracting an illness that turns them into witches, including the young Milm, who has been inhabited by a witch named Chelka. Milm's sister Amalie belongs to an organization opposed to these rising witches, but of course, matters are a little more complex when the thing she's fighting has taken up residence in her little sister's body. Taking control of the Hundred Knight, players work with Amalie to sort out this witchy problem. Given the limited time at the event (and desire to play multiple titles within that time), I wasn't able to see a ton of story content, despite somehow finishing the game's first chapter. But what I saw was interesting, well-written, and at times funny or emotional. I'm sure the full game will have its share of light-hearted moments, but so far, there seems to be a good balance of these aspects with the serious moments.
Diving into the randomly-generated dungeons is where we get into the crux of the gameplay. Thankfully, in 2018, "randomly-generated" is not a cause for concern that the environments will look and feel generic. The forest I explored was lush and colorful, with details like little ponds, a variety of plant life, and winding paths, so it didn't even occur to me that the areas I was exploring weren't built by hand.
When it comes to action RPGs, it's vital that the controls feel right, and I'm happy to say that The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 has a great feel to it. Controls are tight, and whether swinging a huge sword or rolling away to evade a huge lightning-spewing snail (as one does), I never felt like I took damage because of floaty controls.
Equipping the titular knight with up to five weapons, your attack button cycles through them in a set order. Each weapon type — swords, spears, scepters, and more — has a different weight, feel, and style, so it pays to get used to what you're wielding and in what order. Since weapons can be imbued with a variety of special effects and elemental affinities, preparation is key to be effective in any given combat situation. A host of skills (special attacks) unlock as you progress, each of which can be upgraded for added potency.
Further along, beyond what I got to play, you'll also get access to minions called Tochkas, which support and fight alongside you in dungeons. The Hundred Knight himself also will be able to learn up to six different "Facets." Think of these as different classes and you'll get the idea. At the end of my demo, I unlocked a Facet that offered extra defense against many types of physical attacks, at the expense of magical defense. While there will be six total Facets, you can only bring three into battle at a time, using the trigger buttons to swap stances. Choosing which three you want before you leave your home base will require careful planning. I asked about some of the other Facets that will be available, and they will include a shinobi/ninja-like one in which you have minimal HP and defense, but exceedingly high speed and critical hit rate. So as long as you can avoid taking too many hits and adapt to the speed, it could be quite effective. There's also a Facet that fights exclusively (or at least, almost entirely?) with Tochkas. In this Facet, your minions' stats are higher than usual, as they're the frontline fighters. As you can see, different Facets will offer drastically different styles of play, on top of altered stats. I'll be curious to see the remaining three.
Your time in dungeons is not technically unlimited, as your Knight has a GigaCalories meter that gradually depletes as you fight and explore. Luckily, this isn't a fixed timer, and to keep from running on empty, there's a few ways to sate your hunger. The most basic method is to eat! Unlike your common adventurers, the Hundred Knight doesn't cart his spoils around in some leather bag, but in his stomach. I fully admit to my amusement at the inventory menu being called "Stomach Stock," with an ever-growing item capacity as you level up. While you explore, collected items and weapons are stored here, until you exit the dungeon to either use or sell them. But if your calorie meter is running low, you can digest stored items for a slight boost. Higher-quality items are worth more calories, but digesting them means they're gone for good. Eat wisely!
The more effective method for restoring GigaCalories doesn't use up your items, but must be used at the right moment to be effective. Sometimes in combat you'll see a prompt to hit L1 to execute a finishing move called Depletura. Any enemies you defeat with this attack are converted into both GigaCalories and AP (used for special attacks). By weakening a group of enemies and unleashing Depletura on the whole group at once, you'll reap the most benefit, giving you the GigaCalories you need to explore deeper and deeper into each dungeon.
At the end of my time playing, I was left wanting more, so it seems like NISA is on the right track here. The first Witch and the Hundred Knight never made it onto my radar personally, aside from the wonderful artwork. I've been told it's a decent game that would have benefitted from some combat and gameplay refinements, and that seems to be two key focus areas in the sequel. Like with the original game, I've been a fan of the aesthetics from the start, but having spent some time with this one, I'm definitely looking forward to the final game when it releases next month.