When we think about the myriad of games we've played over the years, and the many, many stories we've sat through, pretty much all of them can be boiled down to the same basic premise - the classic story of good triumphing over evil. Nearly every role-playing game sees an angsty teen with spiky hair and a huge sword setting off on a quest to save the world, and almost all protagonists tend to be of the goody-two-shoes variety. With the exception of the legendary original LEGO Batman game, very few games let you see things from the bad guys' point of view - but every so often, its fun to be bad. Just ask Michael Jackson.
One such game that sat you squarely in the shoes of the bad guy was The Witch and the Hundred Knight, a foul-mouthed villainess whose sole mission in life was to swampify the kingdom and get as many evil deeds as she could under her belt in the meantime. A bit of a divisive game to say the least, thanks to it's (albeit intentionally) unlikeable cast, its sequel, the imaginatively titled The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2, has a tough act to follow.
Some were of the opinion that the original game's story went a bit too far with many of the witchly protagonist's evil deeds, beyond what would be considered reasonable for an anti-hero. Perhaps in an effort to distance itself a little from the controversy of the original game, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 is much less in your face, albeit still full of "witches bein' b*tches" just for kicks, dark humour, and the quirky silliness of many of NIS America's other titles (a *fabulous* drag queen raven-come-butler, for example).
The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 tells the story of Amalie and Milm, two sisters who've already had a hard life, having been left orphaned by a witch attack on their village some three years earlier. However, things soon get a lot harder when its discovered nine-year-old Milm has contracted the dreaded Witch Disease. Ostracised from their home town, things take an even further turn for the worse when the 'Third Eye', the source of a witch's power, opens on Milm's forehead, turning her into the nefarious witch Chelka in the process. Her sister Amalie, a member of an anti-witch brigade, ends up becoming conflicted between performing her duty to the kingdom, and the need to protect her younger sister, who's still alive somewhere in the body her and Chelka are sharing. By pursuing her studies as a Holy Valkyrie, she hopes that she can come up with a way to get her beloved sister back, curing her disease for good. This is where you come in, playing as the titular Hundred Knight - Milm's favourite toy brought to life by a witch's spell, as you accompany Amalie on her quest.
A hack and slash dungeon crawling game at its heart, most of your time will be spent running along around maze-like forests, as fast as your little legs can carry you, beating up the many, many enemies along the way. There's no separate self-contained levels here, as all the little pathways link up to form a larger world map, which can make getting between your objectives a bit tiresome - often, your goal sits quite a way off into the unknown, and you'll often need to retread your way through already-visited areas to get there. Periodic warp points unlock as you go, which does make things a little easier, but there's still a lot of running around to be done, and with only a little pair of legs to carry him, the diminutive Hundred Knight is in for a bit of a trek.
As the Hundred Knight moves along, his energy - represented by the GigaCalorie counter - is constantly ticking down, effectively working like a timer to stop you dawdling too much, with activities like dodging and healing consuming calories at a faster rate. Running out of GigaCalories doesn't necessarily give you a game over, but it will ramp down the Hundred Knight's abilities, so he'll deal less damage to your enemies, yet will end up taking a heck of a lot more in return, with the odds being you won't last too long after. Fortunately, the Hundred Knight can pull off a handy move that sees him lunging at a weakened enemy and devouring them in exchange for a portion of precious GigaCalories, keeping you out of the danger zone for a bit longer.
Also fortunately, though he may only be little, Hundred Knight somehow manages to conceal many a weapon around his tiny body, to the point where he can equip a whopping five weapons at once to rain down all kinds of chibi destruction on his enemies. During a combo, each weapon is used in turn, with different weapon types - say, swords, hammers or spears - working better on different types of enemies. As such, you'll either want to mix and match as many different weapons as possible to cover all your bases, or be prepared to chop and change mid-battle, depending on the circumstances.
As with most dungeon crawlers, you'll pick up plenty of 'loot' during the course of your adventure, many of which are better weapons, with unique effects or rare abilities attached. Through the game's 'krafting' system, you can actually fuse weapons together, making them stronger still - which means, with a bit of work, your Hundred Knight can become a whirling dervish of destruction. For the sequel, Hundred Knight can also don various 'Facets' - essentially new outfits/forms - that tweak his stats and available skills to suit, such as the tank-like Power Fortress that excels at physical defence and heavy-hitting at the expense of magical defence, while Marginal Gaze turns that on its head, making him weak to physical attacks but tank-like against magic weapons instead. Hundred Knight can even summon in his own minions - known as Tochkas - which can lend a hand in taking out groups of enemies, or act as tanks and distractions to let you sneak round the back of the bad guys instead.
All in all, then, the combat here is a fun, albeit rather button-mashy affair. Switching up your weapons to something a boss is especially weak to is always a great strategy, especially as you get extra bonuses for wielding multiple versions of the same weapon type. Personally though, we prefer the more scattergun approach of one of each weapon type to cover all our bases, switching to new and more powerful gear as and when we pick it up - but tweaking Hundred Knight's load-out is always one of the best ways to get the edge over your enemies.
However, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2's most unique mechanic is its inventory system, aka 'Stomach Stock', which has been carried over from the first game. Essentially, any gear, equipment or bits and pieces for upgrading get put into Hundred Knight's 'stomach' - and only get transferred into your inventory, and become usable, at the end of the level. Should you get defeated before the end of a stage, you may find yourself losing some or all of your stash if you're not careful.
Expanding on the original in almost every way, if you liked the original game, you'll soon find yourself at home in The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2, because, aside from a slightly toned-down story, relatively little has changed. Chelka might not quite live up to Metallia in the evil deeds stakes, but thanks to a quirky and likeable cast of characters (with some unlikeable ones added in for good measure), along with a typically daft sense of humour, it's still a pretty fun ride, as you try to save your sister from Chelka's nefarious clutches. With addictive button-mashing combat, and oodles of weapons to find, improve and wield, whether you just want to slay everything in your path, or enjoy fine-tuning your set-ups, The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2 is a pretty decent dungeon crawler, all things considered - and it's not punishingly difficult either, which is a refreshing twist too.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4