Every now and then theres a game thats not on my radar but when you pick it up and play it based on reviews or recommendation and are absolutely blown away with how you didnt know of the game beforehand. My big game last year that this happened to me with was Enslaved from Namco and it turned out be to be one of my favorite games last year. Knights Contract arrived on my doorstep and I saw it was from Bandai and was hoping that lightning would strike twice in regards to playing a game I never even had on my radar turning out to be amazing. It didnt.
Knights Contract will have you hack and slashing your way through waves of enemies all while trying to keep your acquaintance alive. You are Heinrich, an immortal executioner that used to behead witches that were being brought to justice. Youll be escorting Gretchen, a witch you executed 100 years ago, which also happens to be the same witch that cursed you with immortality after that fateful day. Together, Heinrich will use his massive scythe/hammer hybrid to beat down foes while Gretchen uses her deadly magic spells to aid in battle.
Heinrich used to be a simple executioner that followed the orders of Faust, a dictator whose power hungry and wont stop for anything to rid the world of witches. Youre ordered to kill a certain witch named Gretchen for a crime that she was clearly innocent of. Because Heinrich tried to speak up against Faust, Gretchen bestowed a curse of immortality against Heinrich, knowing one day that he would aid her on her quest.
Heinrich over the past one hundred years since that day has quickly learned that he does not want the burden of being immortal. Eventually Heinrich and Gretchen cross paths by coincidence and thus begin their intertwined quest together to help her save humanity and stopping Faust. Gretchen needs help stopping other witches that have broken their oath of Witchcraft ever since Faust has turned them against all humans for what theyve done to them in the past. While the writing itself wont win any awards by a long shot, the story itself is somewhat decent once you realize whats going on. Sadly though, the voice acting will bring down the whole emotional aspect that was intended to engage the player into the plot.
You directly control Heinrich with his movement and attacks, yet you also control Gretchens attacks (but not movement unfortunately). The main four buttons control Heinrichs attacks but you can hold down the trigger to toggle Gretchens magic abilities. Youll need to eventually become quick enough to use a magic spell then use a finisher with Heinrich, but youll be spamming the attack buttons so often and quickly that its often difficult to do it on purpose when needed. Battles are often and quite quickly paced. Some battles are completely too easy while others are frustratingly difficult. Getting Gretchen to cast the spells where and when you want will take a little getting used to as every spell and will take some effort to do properly; most of the time your spell will miss and be wasted though unless youre right on top of the enemy you want to hit. Gretchens magic is powerful and absolutely crazy looking but Heinrichs attack move list is deep. Well, thats on paper, because sure theres a ton of different combos you can do, but youre going to find a combo that works best for you and just keep repeating it throughout the game for the most part as its not terribly complex. Killing enemies will yield orbs that can be used to upgrade different spells for more damage and other effects, just exactly like God of War.
Heres how every level is going to play out: Fight minions, fight a big guy or two, repeat this a few times, save your friend, mini boss, minions again, boss and then quick time event (QTE) to finish off the boss. Now the biggest aggravation youll experience in the game is going to be finishing off the boss with the QTE. Fail the QTE and the boss heals and you get to start the process all over again. This wouldnt be too terrible if it wasnt for the fact that the opening you have to input the requested button press in the QTE is so quick that most players will inevitably fail them quite a few times until learned by memory.
What makes having to redo bosses so terrible is Gretchens AI. While you dont control her movement technically, youll need to constantly carry her where you want her to go because if you dont, shell stand in lava, fire or anything else that could easily get her killed. This is made worse on boss fights where there are constantly things on the ground that needs to be avoided. Carrying her around will regain health for Gretchen and is a necessity for keeping her from killing herself against enemies. Due to this, the majority of the game comes down to an escort quest and you constantly need to manage and babysit her rather than enjoy the combat the game was built around. If she dies, the game is over; if you die you have to mash the A button an obscene amount of times to get back up.
I dont generally like to harp on a games shortcomings, but thats usually when theres more positives then negatives and isnt an 8+ hour escort mission. There is massive screen tearing, horrendous and non-believable voice acting that give characters no personality whatsoever, lip syncing that ironically isnt synced, bosses that become bugged and float mid-air, and consistently unnecessary long loading screens if you dont have the game installed.
Youll constantly get lost in levels as you sometimes need to backtrack, or there are multiple paths that lead nowhere or loop around. Theres no waypoint of where to go and sometimes if you dont pay attention to what is said, you wont have an idea where to start going. Couple this with a camera youll be fighting the whole time and youve got a formula for a frustrating experience.
The finishers and a somewhat interesting story might keep some playing, but infuriating boss battle restarts due to QTE failures will challenge the most stubborn gamers. Gretchens AI feels like she just came off the short bus and wouldnt even be able to cross a road on her own without getting hit. Enemies are all exactly the same for the most part but in a fire level you fight fire guys, in the ice level its just a variant of the same mobs.
I didnt understand Heinrichs desire to regain mortality initially, but after a few hours of having to babysit Gretchen, youll soon realize why he wants to be put out of his misery. Knights Contract has a cool premise by design but an abysmal AI completely defeats the purpose and chance at having any fun within.