"I don't think I've ever cared less about a cast of characters before this. I'd go as far as saying I hated nearly everyone."
The Witch and the Hundred Knight completely passed me by back in 2014, for better or worse it seems. Blighted by technical bugs at launch, the game had a simple premise at its centre that, after a PS4 port the following year, was acknowledged and celebrated. I never played the original, but Mike Salbato's hands-on with the sequel
piqued my interest. Simple hack-and-slash fun is always welcome in my world. Sadly, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 is one of the most mind-numbing experiences I've had to wade through in recent years.
The game is set years after the first, but there's no connection between the two, so you can dive straight into this one. You follow Amalie, a young girl who is forced to leave her home when her younger sister Milm is infected with Witch's Disease, an illness plaguing the land of Kevala which eventually turns the infected into a Witch. The two are taken in by the Weiss Ritter, an organisation looking to cure the Witch's Disease and rid the world of witches. During an experiment on Milm, the witch inside her awakens and she becomes Chelka, who is hell-bent on taking over the world. At the same time, the legendary Hundred Knight is revived and possesses Milm's doll, ready to serve the witch's will and help her fulfil her ambitions.
Outside of a dramatic opening chapter, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 goes hardly anywhere. The stakes are so high at the outset that the rest of the game's 20 hours make you feel like you're doddering around, doing odd jobs and heading back and forth between your base and the dungeons. Story beats revolve around saving Milm and trying to separate her body from Chelka's, but that's all second fiddle to the inane babble and banter each of the characters has. To me, it felt like the story could've been wrapped up within 10, maybe 15 hours, but the visual novel-style cutscenes and the game's habit of throwing you into these lengthy discussions every five minutes is extremely tiring, especially when most of them are just full of fluff. The nice character portraits offer some mild distraction, but if you're like me, you'll be skipping through these cutscenes as quick as you can.
If the story isn't bad enough, wait until you meet the characters — I don't think I've ever cared less about a cast of characters before this. I'd go as far as saying I hated nearly everyone. Chelka is the most irritating and bratty interpretation of a witch I've ever encountered, and her tantrums and her horrible habit of calling Amalie an "obnoxious cow" weren't funny. Amalie is the only one who's just about bearable, and she gets a few touching moments, but she constantly relies on Hundred Knight to do everything for her, and never gets a chance to prove herself. The supporting cast are all a bunch of exaggerated anime tropes, with not one of them having a redeeming character arc. The voice acting and script is also hit-and-miss, and most of the girls spend their time screaming, laughing, or crying their way through the plot. And don't even get me started on the drag queen crow who's offensive, tasteless, and cringe-worthy. They're deeply unlikable, and by the end, you won't care about what happens to any of them.
Putting the game's story to one side, I'll admit I actually enjoyed the first few hours of the game. When out exploring, Hundred Knight can swap between various facets which focus on different stats and tactics, such as high defence or high magic. Each facet can equip five weapons at a time, so the more weapons you have, the more hits in your combo. I loved finishing off my combos with a powerful swing of the hammer to squash my enemies. Unfortunately, as these assets have been taken straight from the first game, and because the game teaches you everything you need to know in the first two hours, playing through this quickly becomes a tedious, repetitive slog. Within four hours I was simply going through the motions, dreading each and every cutscene along the way.
One new thing Nippon Ichi has added is that each facet can now learn a series of skills, and these can be levelled up with skill points. It adds another layer to the combat, and most of these do a huge amount of damage, so they'll become invaluable in boss fights. Yet even with these powerful skills, for an action RPG, fighting enemies is incredibly slow and tedious. You can't dodge when you're attacking either, which slows down proceedings even more, and to pull off a Mystical Dodge (think Bayonetta's Witch Time) you have to be extremely precise. It feels incredibly finicky for a genre that lives and dies by the speed of its combat.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 also borrows a lot of ideas from roguelikes, and these aspects just add more faffing about to an already artificially lengthened game. For example, Hundred Knight can only carry so much loot in his stomach, and this expands as he levels up. Oddly enough, while I had the maximum capacity at the end of the game, I found my stomach filled up quicker than it had done 15 hours prior. This means going back to your base and sifting through your loot, either using the Atelier to synthesise stronger weapons, or selling them for money. Doing this took me ages, at least 20 minutes every hour. I had to keep leaving and re-entering the dungeon when I just wanted to get the story out of the way.
To make matters worse, the first game's unique environments have been scrapped in favour of procedurally generated dungeons. These areas all look the same with the same shades of green, grey and brown, and it doesn't help that you spend over half of the game in one big forest. Some of the environments are pretty to look at, such as the luminescent caves filled with crystals, but the lack of variety wore very thin very quickly. I couldn't describe another environment to you, and that's a shame because some of the artwork is genuinely lovely, but this doesn't translate to the game's environments or even the in-game character models. I couldn't even tell you about most of the music, which for the most part is inoffensive, as it's mostly drowned out by the incessant attacking and slashing.
Within minutes of completing The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 I uninstalled the game from my PS4. For a game with such a simple premise, it completely drowns its initial concept in unnecessary fluff, awful characters, and gameplay so bogged down with cutscenes and needless intricacies that weigh down the whole experience. There's very little to love here, and I'd struggle to recommend the game even to fans of the original. Nippon Ichi is capable of much better than what they've cooked up here.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.