Date: November 28, 2022
I’ve always enjoyed the Metrovania genre. It feels good exploring, finding upgrades and new powers, and defeating challenging bosses. There have been a few twists on the formula over the years (like Dead Cells’ roguelike-meets-Metroidvania), but a combination I’d never even considered is the navigation and progression of the genre with the fast pace of a bullet hell game. The Knight Witch does just that; it blends the two genres together almost perfectly, throwing in some card deck mechanics for good measure.
Before the events of The Knight Witch, there was a war between the House of Daigadai and the Childen of Gaia, which culminated in the Battle of the Broken Sky. The battle and war were won thanks to the Knight Witches — powerful warriors who gain strength from people’s belief in them — but the surface world became completely uninhabitable in the process. The survivors of the war were forced to move underground, and now all live in a city called Dungeonidas.
The story centers on Rayne, a potential Knight Witch who didn’t make the cut during the war. When Dungeonidas suddenly gets invaded by an unknown attacker, Rayne joins in the fight to help everyone in any way that she can. While the story starts off pretty straightforward, there are a few twists along the way as Rayne learns the truth about who is behind the invasion, as well as the secrets of the Knight Witches themselves.
Helping people is a big part of both the narrative and progression in the game, as when people trust and believe in a Knight Witch, they form a Link with them — the more Links a Knight Witch has, the more powerful they become. You can talk to characters that you’ve rescued and helped throughout your adventure to see how they’re feeling. These characters will say different things depending on what you tell them about the current situation, which I think was a nice touch to show how what you say to them (and do for them) matters.
Overall, I really enjoyed the game’s story, much more than I would’ve expected from this kind of game. Rayne was an easily relatable protagonist — she has some insecurities about herself that you see throughout the game, but at the end of the day she’s willing to do whatever it takes to do the right thing. Additionally, there is a nice message about standing by your beliefs and morals, rather than blindly listening to what people want you to do.
While I enjoyed the story of The Knight Witch, the gameplay was my favorite part of it. It keeps the fast-paced feel of a bullet hell game, but adds an extra layer involving a card deck, while also staying approachable for someone new to bullet hell games.
Rayne can fly freely through levels and shoot her normal attacks (called Bullets) in any direction. While you can manually aim, there is also an auto-aim function built in if needed — just keep in mind that relying on auto-aim will cause you to deal less damage. This is a good way of encouraging players to learn to aim at enemies themselves, while giving people who are not used to this kind of combat a way to still fight while they get the hang of it.
Rayne also has access to a multitude of Spells, and this is where the card-building aspect of the game comes in. Each Spell takes the form of a card, and you can take a certain amount of cards to make a deck. New Spells can be learned by either finding them hidden in levels, defeating bosses, or buying them from a special vendor. At all times, three spells from your deck will be available to cast. Once the Spell is cast, it will be reshuffled into your deck, and a new card will be drawn in its place.
Something I thought was a really nice touch when learning new Spells was that the Spell would automatically activate for free when you first learn it, giving you a small demonstration so you can know immediately if it would interest you or not.
While this may sound like an odd way of handling Spells, it’s actually really fun. The random nature of having your Spells in a deck means you will constantly have to adapt to situations with what you have, but since you get to make these decks yourself, you can know that you will never pull a useless Spell. It also allows you to customize your magic to match your playstyle.
While navigating levels, there will be plenty of enemies to fight. Every enemy has their own pattern of Bullets that you have to figure out how to deal with: some will target you directly, others will fire in a circle around them, and so on. This also means that you will almost always have to be on the move while firing your own Bullets in order to avoid enemy fire.
For the most part, you won’t have to deal with too many enemies at once. The major exception, however, are Ambushes. There are a few rooms throughout each level where you will be Ambushed, and more often than not, this will consist of waves of enemies that you need to take down. There are items you can get if you complete an Ambush quick enough, or clear it without taking damage. However, as far as I could tell, these items don’t have any actual use, and simply act as a badge showing how many Ambushes you made these accomplishments on.
As stated before, a Knight Witch gains more power by building Links with people, and this is reflected in how leveling works in the game. Rayne has a Link level, and to raise it, you must accomplish missions and rescue captured civilians.
When you gain enough Link to level up, you will be given a choice on whether to power up the Knight or Witch aspect of Rayne. Knight will enhance things such as your Bullet Speed and Bullet Damage, while Witch will increase Spell Damage and help with Mana management. I enjoyed this way of leveling because it keeps in line with the lore about Knight Witches and their power, and gives another way to customize Rayne the way you want.
Overall, the game isn’t overly difficult, especially compared to how hard bullet hell games can normally be. While the Ambushes and boss fights can be challenging, for the most part nothing feels terribly hard or unfair, and I enjoyed having to improve my Bullet dodging skills or editing my deck to conquer the challenges. There was one level that was an exception to this, where your shooting ability and mobility become restricted. This particular part of the game became frustrating, but luckily, these restrictions were only present in one part of the game.
It should be noted that there is a pretty large difficulty spike on the game’s final boss, where The Knight Witch fully embraces the bullet hell genre it draws inspiration from. Once again, I enjoyed having to get better in order to beat this boss, and it felt great when he was defeated, but I can see how it could be frustrating for some people. However, there is actually an option to completely ignore this boss if you find yourself not enjoying the fight.
I really enjoyed the combat overall. All the mechanics together constantly kept me active and offered fun challenges. The RNG mechanic with the magic kept things from being repetitive, while also never becoming frustrating.
Progression and Navigation
Although the gameplay is like a bullet hell game, the navigation is very much in the Metroidvania vein. Once you’re at the starting point of a level, you will go through the doors you can, slowly revealing the full map, and unlocking new abilities or finding objects that allow you to explore more areas. There will also be various checkpoints (called Arcane Beacons) that you can heal and customize your deck at, and serve as a respawn point should you happen to die.
Since Rayne can fly, there is obviously no platforming involved in this game. However, there will still be obstacles to avoid in some areas, such as spiked walls and objects, and the occasional puzzle to solve. None of these were made very difficult, probably so that players can focus more on fighting enemies and exploring. I was okay with this approach to the navigation, since the nature of the combat meant you had plenty of things you had to avoid already.
Another difference from the typical games in the genre is that the game isn’t all laid out on one large map. Instead, there are several levels that you will unlock as the game progresses, with a central hub area you will go back to in order to report on your progress and gain new missions.
The Knight Witch does encourage some exploration throughout the various levels. While searching the game’s levels, you’ll find civilians to rescue, power-ups to increase your health or Mana, and arguably the most important thing of all, new Spells. You’ll also find Yupi Coins while exploring. These coins are scattered and sometimes hidden throughout levels, and can be exchanged in order to learn new Spells. Once you have collected enough, your map will be upgraded to show you rooms that still have secrets waiting for you to find.
I enjoyed how the navigation was handled — for the most part. My only real complaint was that I wish at some point in the game, you would’ve been given the ability to teleport between Arcane Beacons, rather than having to start from the beginning of the levels any time you go back. While the levels aren’t massive, it was tedious having to make your way back if a room you wanted to check out was far from the portal into the level, especially when there was an Arcane Beacon so close to it.
Longevity and Replayability
The Knight Witch isn’t a very long game. A full playthrough will probably take somewhere between 9-12 hours depending on how much you wish to explore and backtrack. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem to have much replay value. After you beat the game, you can reload the save from before the point of no return, and try to find any secrets you may have missed in the previous levels. If you do wish to start a new game, you can level up Rayne differently, or try working your way through the game with different Spells, but that’s about it.
There are sections of the game where you can choose what information to tell civilians, but besides affecting your Link level and the dialogue, these choices don’t seem to have much of a lasting impact on the story to warrant another playthrough. Basically, you can get the full experience from the game in a single playthrough.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Knight Witch. It takes two well-known genres and successfully blends them to create a unique and fun experience. I would recommend this game to just about anyone, but especially fans of either Metroidvanias and/or bullet hells. If you’re not familiar with these genres, this game feels like a lighter version of both of them, meaning it would be a good way for players that are interested to get eased in.