Knights Contract Review
Have you ever watched a movie or television show, knowing it was not a great overall work but found yourself enjoying the story for what it did well? That is the case with Knights Contract, a by-the-numbers hack-and-slasher that does nothing new or innovative, but somehow manages to pull off the rare feat in gaming of creating an emotional bond between characters and player.
The story kicks off with our soft-spoken and often oblivious-to-the-obvious hero, Heinrich, stumbling upon a village afflicted by a plague that turns people into undead. He soon meets up with the "Jar Jar" type sidekick who eventually leads you to the better half of this tale, the un-human witch Gretchen. She has returned from the dead to put to rest her former black magic allies who have since turned from being friendly toward humanity to being blood-thirsty monsters out for revenge – having your head wrongly chopped off does that sometimes. Heinrich's role in all of this is his quest to rid his curse of immortality and invincibility (he is very emo if he would rather die than have these), and it's more than coincidence he teams up with Gretchen so that they can both accomplish their goals together.
If you have played any of the recent and well-known hack-and-slashers, you will be at home with this game. You have a light attack, heavy attack, grab, and dodge button, as well as a somewhat clunky lock-on scheme, but all the basics of the button-mashing adventure game are here. One thing that sets this game apart is that Heinrich does not die. Yes, the character that you play will not die. But Gretchen can die, so this may sound really bad but you will have to trust me when I say it isn't. This game can be described as either a long escort quest, or as a co-op game with a partner that isn't helpful on her own and lacks advanced, squad-based tactics; such as getting away and avoiding the attacks from the giant monster demon. That description doesn't inspire confidence, but it is true.
The reason why you don't mind having Gretchen around is because she holds all the magic powers. These powers operate in the same fashion as role-playing game powers, in that they have cooldowns; even better is that they only have time as the required resource, so no mana pool to worry about. I could not imagine that no hack-and-slasher in the past has had such powers, but here the powers are very fun to use and effective. In many games, powers as strong as these sometimes have steep costs or are saved for later use (possibly until un-used), so it feels smooth and stylish to fire off a volley of spells several times in a single fight. And if you master the finishers which is to just press a button during a spell on a near-dead enemy, you'll finish off that enemy and possibly make the spell do area-of-effect damage.
Already the game has two good things going for it: basic swordplay and cheap, rapid-fire spells. The balance is that you have to constantly keep your eye on Gretchen. Holding her will heal her, as well as replenish Heinrich's "stamina" which can cause him to be stunned in battle if he takes too much damage. This is why the escorting aspect of this game is not so bad, because you just press the button and she flings into your arms. If you had to stop or suffer a speed penalty to babysit her, then the game could bog itself down or become frustrating. You have to play very recklessly to fail in this game.
All good adventure games have elements of exploration and puzzle-solving, and/or platforming. This is game falls somewhere between bad adventure game and mediocre as the path is mostly linear, the puzzles are nothing more than "keep your eyes open for important stuff," and without a jump button there is no platforming to speak of. There are things to collect and items you obtain in your journey, but the hidden items are very well-hidden and would require some third-party resource in order to locate. A key feature of the game that may not have had proper elaboration is that you can spend your collected souls to power up all your spells, and once you have more than four spells you can mix and match the ones you use the most. If you can find them, there are additional, hidden spells to unlock. The role-playing elements tail off from there as Gretchen can only wear one piece of jewelry and Heinrich swaps his scythe automatically.
The game is not hard at all unless this is your first game ever. The bosses have very small amounts of health, similar to the equivalent of bosses in the Mario games getting jumped on three times; possibly translating into about four or five jumps in this game unless you are extremely timid. The bosses are probably unlike anything you've seen before, and finishing them off requires fast reflexes for quick-time events which could offer inflated challenge for some because if you fail any part of the finisher you will have to "re-kill" the boss with partial health.