Unlike Griffith, this game did nothing wrong
Despite the massive critical acclaim and generous fan support, the now over 27 year-old Berserk manga has only had two video game titles to its name (one exclusive to Japan), which had come out over a decade ago. Now that the series had a recent resurgence with a new anime series last year and the manga having come off an 8 year hiatus, it seems that now more than ever, people are clamoring to play as the original Black Swordsman Guts in his quest to kill the absolute worst demons in Hell. Who better to take the challenge than Omega Force, the creators behind the popular Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash series?
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk (Henceforth shortened in this review to Berserk, as that subtitle is too long) is a musou-style hack-and-slasher that tasks you with clearing various battlefields and absolutely decimating hundreds of foes as you go along. Berserk is not a kid friendly title, as blood and guts spray all across the battlefield as you cut foes in half with a blade that is larger than the average human being. The standard controls you’d expect from a Dynasty Warriors game apply to Berserk, such as having a light and strong attack that can be chained into combos to wipe out all but the strongest foes. As you cut apart more and more of the sorry enemy forces you gain energy that once filled, will make your human army even stronger and with the ability to do a special attack that if activated properly, can kill off an entire screen of bloodied foes. Its immensely satisfying to see a crowd of people explode and leave nothing left but their very souls. I did mention that Berserk isn’t family friendly, right?
While all of that seems standard for a typical musou experience, Berserk does vary in structure a bit more than the average game in its genre. For one thing, its a bit harder to kill off everything in just one swipe of your sword or two. Enemies have a slightly larger health bar than usual, and even the saddest of mooks will not hesitate to take a stab at you if you are not careful. Enemy commanders also take a bit more strategy to defeat than the standard “weak, weak, strong” attack that will fell most other musou games. Its not the most difficult game by any means, though it is a nice change of pace from the other ten musou-type games that release every year. Even after you have slogged throughout the main campaign, Berserk features the Endless Eclipse, a multiple story dungeon where you slice and dice down into Hell. Its a nice change to the game after you beat the relatively short main story line.
In terms of story, Berserk handles the most famous events of its decades-long history with the Golden Age Saga, along with a bit of what happens after. In Berserk, you follow a young mercenary named Guts, a mostly unlikable fellow who kills with his giant sword, and the group known as the Band of the Hawk. The goal is to try and win as many battles as possible so that the leader, an effeminate man named Griffith can eventually take over his own kingdom. While that plot may sound a bit generic, Berserk is nothing of the sort. Without trying to spoil an amazing plot (though its been 20 years since it was originally told, I’m not that much of a jerk) there is so much dramatic tension as the game and story goes along. Murder, treason, rape, Berserk doesn’t hold back on just how dark the story can be. The game itself doesn’t hold back much either, as its told through a mixture of in game cut scenes, and clips from the trio of Golden Age Arc movies that came out a couple of years ago. Omega Force was not kidding around when they said that Berserk would be the darkest game they have ever worked on, and those with small stomachs may want to give this a pass.
Speaking of cutscenes, Berserk itself looks pretty good. While it certainly isn’t the most polished game (having hundreds of enemies on the screen at once can do that) the models they use are extremely fitting for the series. Characters look exactly how they should in comparison to some of the movie cutscenes, and Omega Force didn’t skimp out on the backgrounds looking like a real war zone. The music also fits in well to hype you up as you slaughter thousands of foes in the way to victory.
Berserk isn’t perfect however. A major gripe that I have with the gameplay is during the occasional Boss battle. While the fores are taken directly from the best battles of the Berserk series itself, in the game they drag on to the point of irritation. The battles themselves are not terribly hard, but the gauntlet itself is that they have such a large health bar (or bars as the game continues) that once you learn the pattern, its a marathon to see if you can build up the special meter enough times to deal any damage or not. Another issue that most people that play musou games is the lack of playable characters. Compared to most games that Omega Force creates the small roster of characters in Berserk take away a good portion of replay value. All of the roster is varied (heck Nosferatu Zodd makes a surprising choice) It doesn’t help that throughout most of the story, you can only play as Guts himself, instead of switching around who you want to play as.
If you can overlook the small roster and annoying to defeat boss encounters, you will find that Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a fine experience and a must have for anyone who is a fan of the series as a whole. This style of gameplay is perfect for the series, and should not just be passed over. Even musou fans may want to take a deeper look into this title, and if it sell well, maybe we can get a sequel before another eight year hiatus (fans of the manga know this pain.)
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation Vita, Steam; Publisher: Koei Tecmo ; Developer: Omega Force; Released: February 21, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.