Title: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Platform: Windows, Steam, PS4
Reviewed on: PS4
Genre: Hack n’ Slash
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 25th February 2017
Adaption of popular source material always lends its own series of challenges, and it must be said that the twenty something year old Berserk series is a gargantuan task to take on. The brutally dark fantasy manga played a major role in influencing the entire ‘Soulslike’ sub genre of Action RPGs and yet has rarely seen a video game adaption besides two on the PS2 and Dreamcast respectively. So can Omega Force with their signature style give this monolithic series the video game adaption it deserves?
For those of you who aren’t clued in on Berserk (read Berserk you uncultured b******s!), the manga is a tale of a mercenary by the name of Guts. Living a life on the edge of the bloodiest of metaphorical swords, Guts has lived his life by the sword ever since he was a child adopted into a mercenary band. As Guts grew older so did his almost barbaric fighting skill and his choice of sword, then upon cleaving the skull of Bazuso, the grey knight, Guts attracted the attention of Griffith and the Band of the Hawk.
Guts is forced to swear allegiance to him after losing to Griffith in a duel where they go on to become one of the most famous mercenary troupe in the land after several decisive victories for the kingdom of Midland.
However after they seem so close to achieving their goals, Guts leaves the band in order to one day be considered Griffith’s equal and true friend. Everything from here takes a turn for the worst and then it happens, the world is flipped on its head and descends into madness.
This roughly covers the early chapters of the manga through the Golden Age Arc and leads into the Conviction Arc. For most of us this is where the 1997 anime ends on a massive cliffhanger (or a slightly lesser cliffhanger in the Golden Arc Films) and you would have to delve into the manga to continue the story. Fans of the manga should be pleased to know that this is in fact the only adaption to contain most of the material that was previously only seen in the manga. However while it manages to transfer a lot of the original source material with plenty of content lifted directly from the black and white pages, it does as you would expect, take many liberties with it. Alas the Chapter of Lost Children is left out of another adaption, many supporting characters never show up and there is a fair amount of condensing in the Black Swordsman, Conviction and Millennium Falcon Arcs. Even as short as the Black Swordsman arc is, plenty of notable scenes are cut or altered dampening the overall profound effect those moments are supposed to have. A large majority of story and emotional scenes are also compensated for by splicing in footage from the 2012-
Gameplay is very much so Omega Force’s special kind of marmite affair.
For the majority of the Berserk series, the Musou formula fits it sufficiently as you go about taking on hordes of medieval armies with nothing more than a man sized sword and bad ass haircut.
Having taken a fair break from the Musou series (with an exception to last years AOT: Wings of Freedom) the gameplay is enjoyable but the initial hours of the game are rather dull and doesn’t take long before that Musou fatigue kicks in. This can likely be attributed to the game’s lack of challenging difficulty even when set on Hard mode, it does eventually ramp the challenge up but doesn’t help mask the game’s repetitive nature.
There is a Berserk mode but it felt less like a higher difficulty and more akin to something to be played once you’ve leveled your one man army in a sort of new game plus set up. Berserk does become far more enjoyable when it steps away from the Dynasty Warrior formula, dropping the moral gauge and pitting you against thousands without any allies. These levels show up more regularly through the end of the Golden Age Arc and onwards showing off the rather impressive capabilities of processing possibly the most soldiers onscreen at any given time in the entire Musou franchise.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does somewhat compensate for the Musou repetition by building new elements into Guts’s wardrobe of carnage including his hand cannon, grenades and the iconic Berserk armour.
As you progress through the story these additions are interspersed throughout with just enough of gap in between for you to learn then gleefully experiment with. The Musou gauge has seen some changes come this title. Typically you would fill the gauge via landing damage on enemies and likewise receiving damage whereupon filling you can unleash a relatively short super combo, devastating enemies in your sight. Here consuming the full gauge will send your character into Frenzy Mode, cranking your damage output to eleven. Each time upon filling the gauge your ferocity is increased buffing your Frenzy Mode abilities further to a maximum of five depending on the character. While frenzied defeated foes will also fill the Death Blow Gauge, more akin to the traditional Musou attack, which can be unleashed during frenzy to effectively wipe the screen of foes.
While the story presentation is disappointing overall, the game almost perfectly captures the aesthetics of the manga and movies. Main character models absolutely pop out bringing these larger than life characters to the video gaming screen without losing the intricate details while using simplistic textures to give that anime vibe. However as is the case in Omega Force titles, the gleeful cathartic joy to be had in dismembering enemies troops on mass is often obscured by the constant influx of information being spouted at you from the UI.
Arguably however Berserk falters in terms of the content on offer.
While Story Mode sees you mostly playing as Guts, Free mode is made readily available for tackling completed levels with any of the unlockable characters. The character roster is criminally short but each character feels fleshed out enough to be fully enjoyable such as Judeau’s Jack-
In the end Berserk and the Band of the Hawk isn’t the video game adaption we’ve been hoping for, it is a satisfactory hack n slash, just perhaps one to grab on sale when the price moreso matches the content on offer. While the story isn’t presented that effectively it’s enough to introduce others to the manga and anime it’s sourced from and is a decent Musou title.
That being said there’s an air of a B-
Stays relatively true to the original source material,
Bland yet still enjoyable hack n slash gameplay,
Solid visual aesthetics.
Repetition will likely put off those not use to the Musou format,
Still takes some liberties and even outright skips key story elements,
Often condenses too many scenes into singular fights.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk scores a lukewarm 6.5/10.