When it comes to games that contain escort missions, some are actually quite fun if your escort is helpful to your cause, while others can be a pain if your escort does nothing but get in your way and actually prevent you from achieving your goal, whether intentionally or accidentally. Knights Contract by Namco Bandai is actually a mix of these two scenarios. Throughout the game you're accompanied by a witch who can provide many useful spells for you to use, but only if she herself isn't in any trouble; the catch is that she constantly is. It makes for an interesting concept, one that I actually got into while playing, but how does the execution hold up? Let's find out by going more in-depth with Knights Contract.
Set in a time in which witches are hated and everyone is superstitious about them,
you play as Heinrich, a witch-executioner who did his work under direction from the game's antagonist, Dr. Faust. Seemingly out of nowhere several other witches are resurrected, and they seem to hold a grudge against Heinrich for killing them in the past. To exact their revenge on humanity the resurrected witches create monsters and zombies to unleash terror in the world, all the while under direction of the Dr. Faust. Not long into the game Heinrich meets Gretchen, a reincarnation of a witch he killed a hundred years ago. While she doesn't decide to create monsters to wreak havoc on the world, she does curse Heinrich with immortality as an act of revenge for her execution. Eventually Gretchen makes a deal with Heinrich, or rather a contract of sorts: if Heinrich helps Gretchen stop Dr. Faust she’ll lift Heinrich’s curse of immortality. So…help the witch you killed a hundred years ago to take out the guy who ordered you to kill her and she'll lift the curse that she herself placed upon you. Interesting plot concept.
While the story and the cinematics that help move it along are nice, there are a lot of them and you’ll see them constantly. If you’ve played Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 or PS3 (I’ve only experienced the PS3 so it might be different on the 360) you may recall how often you had load screens when it came to the missions. That’s how the cinematics and cut scenes feel here, especially towards the beginning where you have a battle or two, then a cut scene. Even more annoying is when you start a stage, move two steps, and have a cut scene, or have a cut scene, move two steps, and end the stage.
The game’s combat system is easy to pick up and get used to within minutes of starting the game. You have two different types of melee attacks: a normal attack by hitting X and a harder attack by hitting Y. You can chain your attacks together for longer and stronger combos, similar to the God of War series. You can also use B to grab weaker enemies and either throw them with B or attack them with A, X, or Y. You can also hit the A button to evade which really comes in handy during the boss fights. However you can't jump per-se, which is kind of strange for a third-person action game. The only time you can jump is if you approach something you can jump on top of and even then it's automatic.
Another mechanic is the ability to lock on to enemies by holding down LB, but this only serves two purposes: see the enemy’s health and know the enemy's location. If you've ever played the later Legend of Zelda games (mainly from Ocarina of Time onwards) you can lock onto an enemy and then strafe around it while attacking and even evade it by side-jumping or back flipping out of the way. That is to say if I lock onto something and get in close I can hold the control stick back while attacking and at a moment’s notice hit a button to get out of the way of an incoming attack. In Knights Contract however holding back on the control stick while locked onto an enemy will actually make me attack in the direction I’m holding. This can be kind of annoying for using spells as you'll attack in whatever direction you're facing, so quite a few times I had my spells attack the wrong spot because I was trying to evade an enemy at the same time I tried to use a spell on it. It's not a huge annoyance once you get used to it, but it's still an problem when timing is critical.
You also have two special attacks that require a gauge to be filled, which you fill up by defeating enemies. To do these attacks you hold down LT and hit A or B for Gretchen’s attack and hit X or Y for Heinrich’s. To be honest I never did use Gretchen’s attack but Henirich’s kind of stops time briefly while you hack away at enemies for a limited amount of time. This is useful against boss fights if you’re having trouble with them or if there are too many enemies on screen. For bosses it's best to take out about three or four bars of their health, then execute Heinrich's special ability and just go on an all out rampage against it. More than likely the boss will either be defeated or close to it when the effect wears off.
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