Life's not easy when you're the 100th knight in Nippon Ichi's upcoming action RPG, The Witch and the Hundred Knights. You may be doing all of the heavy lifting in clearing out dungeons, but you're second banana to your boss, a witch named Metallica. Metallica plots to cover the entire world with swamp and marshes, and has to deal with do-gooders and other rival witches as they thwart her landscape alteration program.
Nippon Ichi presents action RPG fans with interesting mechanics that help keep things fresh. The first one of these is an energy management system called Giga Calories. As you traverse through a dungeon, your Giga Calories will start depleting slowly. The more actions you do--fighting, sprinting, jumping--the faster they go down. You can recover lost hit points by using up your Giga Calories.
If you're fresh out of Giga Calories, your hit points deplete and you'll eventually die, losing all of the progress, loot, and bonuses you accumulated. Refilling Giga Calories requires you to lock on to a weakened enemy and eat it. This triggers a quick-time event where you have to mash the triangle button to get the most Giga Calories amount out of your meal.
This leads to the second mechanic in play, where the knight uses its stomach as a backpack. While eating enemies will get back some Giga Calories to keep you going, you also risk filling up your stomach. Collecting an item in a dungeon takes up one slot of your stomach, while eating an enemy fills it up with three to six slots of useless stones. You can't eat enemies if your stomach slots are full.
Each stage also comes with a score tally that has 10 tiers of rewards that you can claim with bonus points. The longer you last on a single playthrough from the start, and the more enemies you defeat, the more bonus points you get to cash in for higher-tiered items.
The challenge in this action RPG is managing your Giga Calories to outlast tougher obstacles, and acquiring more bonus points. At the same time, you'll want to collect loot in the stage while being careful of what you eat. Brave players who are accustomed to the rogue-like genre of RPGs can test their mettle by powering on through a stage and killing the boss at the end to get the highest bonus points possible to score more end-of-stage loot. Of course, the risk is that death will put you back at square one.
This brings us to the game's pillars, which are almost the equivalent of the bonfires of Dark Souls. Cracking one open on a map will not only turn a portion of a map into a swampland, but will also mark your stage progress. Pillars allow you to use upgrade points you amass from fallen foes to either bump up your stats temporarily, or your bonus points. If you want to play it safe and keep your current loot and experience points, you can opt to head back to Metallica's base and grind levels in previous stages. You will start at the same pillar you quit from when you replay that stage.
As later stages like the Valentine Mansion become complex, you can take a breather using the first or second pillar you come across if you aren't feeling confident. If you're on the other end of the skill spectrum, they can give you a big boost to your stats and score, potentially enabling you to plough through the entire stage without the need for a break.
Most action RPGs let you equip set types of weapons and switch between loadouts. The Witch and the Hundred Knights changes that concept, and instead lets you equip five weapons you can use simultaneously in a five-hit combo. You get a plethora of weapons, from swords to giant cudgels to magic maces with varying elemental properties. Different enemies are vulnerable to different weapon types--succubi bleed easily from cudgels, and plant monsters die faster by sharp blades. Golems and bugs are impervious to sharp weapons and basic maces, so you'll need magic maces laced with fire and sleep spells to make short work of them. If you want to get a better weapon selection, you'll need to make it a habit to replay stages a few times, earn the highest bonus points possible, and cash it in for high-value arsenals.
Grinding and replaying stages are also necessary in improving Facets and finding new minions to aid you. Facets are a special headgear that buff up your knight in different ways. Some will strengthen his attack and defense, while others buff up his magic. Minions can be summoned at any time to back you up, either as a decoy or as a trap that summons demonic tentacles to envelop your foes.
The developer's first attempt at a 3D action RPG seems promising so far from our 10-hour playthrough. Since it's made by the team that's notorious for packing in so many Easter eggs, gameplay secrets, and post-game bonuses that are longer than the actual campaign modes, it will be interesting to see what lies beyond the marshes of The Witch and the Hundred Knights.
While the Japanese version is out now to buy from your local importing stores, the North American version will be out in the near future for English-speaking gamers.