First things first, despite its grammatically ambiguous name, The Witch And The Hundred Knight is a tale about a witch and a single knight, called 'Hundred Knight'. As the story goes, poor old Metallia, the bad witch in this tale, is fed up of being stuck in her secluded swamp, banished as far away from humanity as possible, and doomed to live out her days alone. With nothing better to do, and an almighty chip on her shoulder, she's spent the past hundred years plotting her revenge. Summoning the sort-of-cute Hundred Knight from an unknown realm, her plan is to spread her beloved swamp far and wide, leaving a path of chaos, death and destruction in her wake - but seeing as she's forbidden to leave her swampy confines, she needs someone else to her dirty work for her, which is where you, as Hundred Knight, come in.
As you may expect, though, being kept in eternal solitude has turned Metallia into a bitter, twisted witch, hell-bent on revenge. When she's not busy plotting all the ways she wants to end her rival and arch-nemesis, the Forest Witch, she spends her time manipulating (and occasionally torturing) humans just for fun. At one point fairly early on in the game, Metallia ends up trapping a poor princess who had the misfortune of mistaking her for the kindly Forest Witch, while looking for help with her peculiar canine curse. Never one to miss an opportunity, Metallia sends her on a long-winded errand for ingredients, before tying her up and having a little sadistic fun, all in the name of a 'cure'. In terms of her general demeanour, Metallia tends towards that of an angry spoilt teen who's just discovered swear words, effing and jeffing all over the shop, with colourful insults and crude jokes for both friend and foe.
At its core, The Witch And The Hundred Knight is essentially a dungeon crawler, with more than a passing similarity to Diablo. With a style that walks the line between Halloween and fantasy, most of your time is spent exploring the twisting and turning forests, getting into scuffles with the often hostile wildlife. With hidden alcoves, paths and treasure chests to hunt out, a handy "percentage explored" counter for each stage and random item, loot and equipment drops, there's plenty of reasons to replay old levels for the OCD completionists who have to see and do it all.
While the settings may change, the aim of each stage remains the same - all you have to do is activate each of the giant plant-like totem pole pillars in each level, which help spread Metallia's swamp further and further afield. Each level has a number of these plant-like totem poles waiting to be discovered - and your mission, as Hundred Knight, is to find and activate as many of these as possible, including the more powerful pillar at the end of each stage, which is guarded by a boss.
But while exploring may be the name of the game, the lickle Hundred Knight doesn't have all day - ever present and ever decreasing is a counter in the top left hand corner of the screen, which works much like a time limit for each level. Called 'Gigacals', you expend energy the whole time you're on an errand, whether standing still, attacking or exploring - but before you go running for the hills at the thought of a time limit, it's worth knowing that you can restore spent calories fairly easily. Firstly, those pillars you've been lovingly activating on your travels can be used to restore a small amount of Gigacals, in exchange for a 'grade point' (which you earn through defeating a number of bad guys). You can also consume your enemies after you've knocked down their health a bit, converting them into Gigacals (and sometimes extra items) too - useful for when you're between pillars and running low.
The combat itself is pretty simple, too - mostly a case of mashing the square button to attack - with enemies, and even end of level bosses never posing too much of a threat (and if things do take a turn for the worse, you can use the nearest pillar to warp back to base without losing your place in a level). Often vulnerable to different types of damage, whether the slashing of a sword, the blunt force of a hammer or a handful of magic missiles, it's up to you to pick the best weapon for the job. Fortunately, Hundred Knight is more then suited to the job, able to wield not just one or two weapons at once, but five. How he manages it with those stubby little arms, we'll never know, but having five weapons used automatically, one after the other, means that you can cover most of your bases with a single load-out comprised of one of each family of weapons in the game, only swapping them around when you stumble upon a much better 'Sexy Simple Hammer II' or 'Space Blue Sword II'.
Of course, The Witch And The Hundred Knight isn't without it's complexities - in fact, at times, it comes across as a bit of a mish mash of ideas, many of which are only half explained, half used and not really worth the bother. There's more different types of points you accumulate on an average trudge through a level than you know what to do with - experience points, bonus points and grade points to name but a few, whilst the items you pick up on your adventures are split between your regular inventory and your 'stomach stock' for some reason. As you play through the story, Hundred Knight grows in intelligence, learning new responses to use in the rare occasions he's asked a question, although your answers don't seem to have any sway on the course the story takes, so it all seems rather pointless. The game's karma system also seems to be a bit of an odd inclusion too - if you choose to raid the houses of the villages you come across on your travels, your karma level (kind of like your reputation) rises and villagers may decide to attack you on sight or put up their shop prices - shops which we found we never really went in anyway, even if we had been tempted to smash in poor old Mrs. Dryden's window to pinch her treasured weed gum (a rather feeble health restoring item).
While the NIS-staple boob jokes and crude humour may not be to everyone's taste (even if they do make me snigger, and I'm a woman), The Witch And The Hundred Knight is a fairly simple dungeon crawler with a decidedly different story and characters. Straying away from the well-worn anime stereotypes, Metallia does her job as an unlikable antagonist, even if some of her deeds can seem a bit on the extreme side at times. While it may stray into over complexity for complexities sake, most of the extra bits and pieces can safely be ignored in favour of some basic button-mashing and a spot of old-fashioned loot collecting. And that's alright with us.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 3