We’ve seen plenty of popular franchises get the Musou treatment over the years. Whilst it all started with the incredibly popular ‘Dynasty Warriors’, we’ve also seen ‘The Legend of Zelda’, ‘Dragon Quest’ and now ‘Fire Emblem’ get in on the action too. It isn’t exclusive to just video game franchises either; the popular anime ‘Gundam’ has had quite a few Musou releases of its own and they’ve always proven to be hits with fans of the show.
It feels fitting then that ‘Berserk’, the popular manga and anime, is getting a video game release in the form of a Musou title. I don’t think there’s a better genre that would allow gamers to properly feel like they’re playing as series hero Guts as he slices down thousands of enemies at a time. We’ve seen a couple of ‘Berserk’ video games release in the past (though only ‘Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage’ has made it to these shores) but they’ve never been able to properly capture the destructive ferocity of the Black Swordsman.
Enter Berserk and the Band of the Hawk – not only the most accurate video game interpretation of the series to date, but an incredibly enjoyable one too.
Whilst fans of the manga and anime are going to get the most enjoyment out of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, it’s actually a good starting point for newcomers to the series too. It begins with the ‘Golden Age’ story arc where Guts is first introduced to Griffith and the Band of the Hawk, and culminates with the ‘Falcon of the Millennium Empire’ arc (which I won’t go into any detail about here to save on story spoilers).
The game doesn’t really go into too much detail about the origin of Guts or his relationship with Gambino, but it does tell you enough so that newbies will get a basic understanding of who he is and what drives him on. The story is told through both in-game conversations between the main characters and a selection of cutscenes brought over straight from the anime movie too… well, for the ‘Golden Age’ arc at least; the other story arcs haven’t been re-created in an anime form, so they don’t receive the same treatment. This doesn’t make them any less enjoyable, but the game’s opening ‘Golden Age’ arc is certainly the most impressive from a story-telling perspective.
Those familiar with the ‘Berserk’ lore will find a few minor changes in the game, with new battles introduced as well as a few extra character interactions. These battles fit in well within the overall narrative so they justify their inclusion to bulk out the gameplay opportunities, whilst seeing a bit more back story to certain characters is great too. Whilst the manga gave characters like Guts, Casca, and Griffith an extended back story, minor characters such as Judeau, Pippin, and Rickert didn’t get the same treatment; whilst it isn’t to an extensive degree, it’s rectified in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk thanks to the additional scenes that touch upon their personalities a bit more.
From a gameplay perspective, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk offers more of what we’ve seen across the countless Musou titles that have released over the years. This is either a good or bad thing depending on what you think of the genre. If you’re not a fan of the repetitive nature of gameplay then Berserk and the Band of the Hawk isn’t going to change your mind; if you are a fan of it though then you’ll thoroughly enjoy everything that the game has to offer.
You’ll fight across a wide selection of battlefields that mix up large open areas with smaller maze-like sections. Whilst no area of the game will particularly thrill you from a design perspective (Musou games are known to sacrifice visual quality in order to features massive amounts of enemies), they’re all enjoyable enough to explore and are accurate representations of their manga and anime counterparts. That being said, ‘Berserk’ is better known for its brutal combat scenes rather than idyllic locations.
Anyone who’s played a Musou title before will feel right at home with the button-bashing nature of combat. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’s combat mechanics are split between light attacks and heavy attacks. You can string together combos of both, with new combo options unlocking as you level up each character in the game. Most enemies are taken down with such ease that it won’t really matter what attacks you’re using though, but rather that you connect with each hit; these games aren’t known for being tricky after all, but for making you feel like a complete badass on the battlefield (an area that it succeeds in). It’s the same in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, with a few slashes of Guts’ huge sword easily capable of wiping out a hundred enemies quite quickly.
There are a few additional combat mechanics, such as the ‘ferocity’ meter which builds up as you dish out damage to enemies. Once the meter is full you’re able to activate it, momentarily gaining a huge boost to your attack power. It also unlocks the ‘death blow’ meter which also fills up by dealing damage to your foes. When full, it allows you to unleash an incredibly powerful attack that will wipe out most enemies in your immediate vicinity with one hit. Provided you dish out enough damage, you can pull off multiple ‘death blows’ within one use of ‘ferocity’ too, something that can prove incredibly useful when you’re taking out the countless armies of enemies.
As is always the case in the genre, it’s incredibly satisfying to take down enemies. You’re able to amass combos in the thousands as you dish out attacks from left, right, and centre with your sword, whilst the use of side-weapons like throwing knives and Guts’ ‘Cannon Arm’ is incredibly fun too. Admittedly, there isn’t a huge variety of objectives to complete in missions with nearly all of them boiling down to you simply taking down enemies, but at least stays fun throughout – it’s difficult to complain that you’re doing the same thing over and over again when it’s so entertaining to do so.
The lack of any real difficulty to the game was a shame though. Whilst I haven’t tackled the tougher difficuly settings yet, it was a bit disappointing to find that the biggest challenge that you’d face in most encounters was that certain enemies would be able to block more of your attacks. This didn’t make them any more difficult from an offensive standpoint, but rather meant that it’d take you longer to defeat them. It felt like a cheap way to provide a challenge – since you’re supposed to be up against fierce warriors, it would’ve been a lot more fitting if rather than being damage sponges they instead put up more of a fight. Credit must be given to encounters against the game’s mighty demons though; these were always thrilling and would provide a stern test, even if I didn’t suffer a single death in my playthrough of the story…
You can typically rely on a Musou title to provide a plethora of characters to play as, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk disappoints a little in this area with its roster of just eight playable characters. Most of the story mode will only allow you to play as Guts too, so you rarely branch out into seeing events from the perspective of the other members of the ‘Band of the Hawk’. You do unlock multiple outfits for these characters though, whilst they also see minor changes from a gameplay perspective as you progress through the story – move sets will change along with the weapons that characters use. Each character has their own unique fighting style too; characters like Guts and Nosferatu Zodd focus on dishing out powerful blows, whilst Casca and Griffith are more quick and nimble. It’s just a shame there aren’t more characters to play as – it’s not as if ‘Berserk’ is short on memorable characters, after all…
Outside of the 46 missions featured in the main story (something that’ll take well over ten hours to complete), there’s also the ‘Endless Eclipse’ mode that allows you to take on a series of floors that throw different challenges your way. It gives you a chance to try out the playable characters that have been neglected in the main story mode of the game, whilst you can also earn a ton of collectibles in the process. It’s a fun addition to the game, whilst the progressive difficulty level keeps things challenging too; the further you go the tougher it becomes, pushing you to try and improve upon your previous attempts each time you play through the mode.
Whilst the fact that I’m a big fan of ‘Berserk’ has helped me appreciate the game a lot more, there were a couple of issues I wasn’t able to overlook. The most obvious one is the lack of multiplayer modes in the game. The style of gameplay lends itself so well to multiplayer and I know it’s going to be present in upcoming Musou games like ‘Dragon Quest Heroes II’ (which is also from the same developer). Its omission here is a real shame; it doesn’t really deter from the experience, but I would’ve loved to have shared the battlefield with a friend.
The other issue I had was the lack of English voice acting. Now this doesn’t take anything substantial away from the game, but when the gameplay is so fast and exciting it’s difficult to keep track of subtitles that appear on the screen. Whilst it’s typically just battle jargon, I wish I was able to actually enjoy the camaraderie between characters on the battlefield or the threats they throw out at each other amongst all of the chaos without having to actually divert my attention away from the game.
There’s no doubting that Berserk and the Band of the Hawk won’t be for everyone – the fact that it’s a Musou game alone will make it a divisive title for gamers. Those who enjoy the games though will find it one of the finest Musou titles to have been released for some time. Everything about ‘Berserk’ works perfectly within the genre, with the series’ brutal combat and massive scale of battles portrayed perfectly in the game.
The lack of multiplayer options and the small character roster is a disappointment, but it doesn’t do enough to take anything away from what is otherwise an enthralling experience for both veteran ‘Berserk’ fans and newcomers to the series. There’s hours of savage entertainment to be had with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk and I can’t see myself putting the game down for quite awhile.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: 24/02/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Playstation Vita