Berserk and the Band of the Hawk (PS4 Review)
As a fan of Berserk I am used to waiting; between issues and for an adaptation that extends beyond the Golden Age Arc, so when Koei Tecmo announced a few delays and a large gap between the Asian and European release of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk it was expected. Hoping that, just like Kentaro Miura, Omega Force would deliver. And they did, to an extent.
With almost 3 decade’s worth of content on offer, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk had its work cut out. Adapting so much story, backstory, and character development in one condensed package is a big ask, even for the most veteran developers. The fan inside me would hope that every last mistranslated line from the manga would make the cut, but unfortunately cut is the operative word here. A large chunk of Berserk’s story and nuance is omitted from Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. Much like Guts, Omega force have looked Miura’s beast in the eyes and decided that it needed to be torn asunder. Moments like Guts’ upbringing, Gambino’s treatment of Guts, acquiring the Dragon Slayer, Rosine’s story arc, and the King’s Bakiraka are personal favourites that will never see the light of day in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. Although Omega Force have taken a rather bold approach and started from the beginning of Golden Age arc and brought it right up to the fight with Ganishka.
What is left in feels almost cobbled together. Bouncing between fully animated cutscenes, 3D modelled events, text based conversations called events, and a few in game pieces of dialogue that are relayed in Japanese while you are trying to thin out Midland’s armies will leave you disorientated. Without one dedicated method of delivery for Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’s story, players will be at odds and aggravated by a lack of decision to produce animated scenes on the same level as the first half when they near the end. It’s truly a shame because the animated segments are exactly what I wanted from Berserk and the Band of the Hawk; beautifully cinematic moments that perfectly captured Berserk’s world the way I had always imagined it. But to be faced with key moments relayed by character models (that are better suited to heat of battle) a few hours in left a bad taste when you had been teased with greatness so early on ruined part of the experience, especially when part of that experience is riddled with poor grammar and spelling mistakes – presumably capturing the sense of nostalgia some players may have for old, incorrectly translated scans of the Berserk Manga.
Although all could be forgiven if Omega Force managed to capture the sheer force that Guts swings his sword or Nosferatu Zodd’s brutish ways. And in the confines of a Musuo engine, Omega Force has pretty much nailed it. Like any other game in the genre, you are able to mix between light and heavy attacks for various combos and unleash a devastating frenzy mode that empowers all of the player characters in their own way. Pushing through the story will also allow an additional power-up that applies to both Guts and Zodd that allows them to trade their Deathblow, a large scale attack only available in frenzy mode, to transform in to their respective apostle or berserk states. These modes feel just like they should, nothing stands a chance against an apostle or enraged Guts. Bodies fly left and right in a haze of blood and body parts, trying to keep Berserk’s signature gore as true as possible. The only real issue with the 8 playable characters is that, in spite of the small roster, characters like Judeau, Casca, Griffith, and Serpico all feel relatively similar and their movesets pale in comparison to Nosferatu Zodd, Schierke, Guts, and Wyald. The lack of movesets are more obvious when you are heavily exposed to Guts’ abilities during the campaign, with almost 40 missions being exclusive to Guts, providing very little respite to change characters out with the Endless Eclipse.
Then again the Endless Eclipse is probably where you will spend most of your time post story. In the Endless Eclipse players are tasked with a series of “desires” and asked to pick from one of four every time they complete a set series of levels – with a few exceptions where you are forced to take on desire. This is especially true if you want to unlock the various different outfits for the playable characters or if you want to play as Wyald at all. For anyone familiar with Devil May Cry’s Bloody Palace, Endless Eclipse is the Musuo equivalent without the excessive focus on difficulty and score. It’s a great way to farm new equipment and materials to upgrade or even switch up your current build as players don’t have the ability to switch weapons. Although mileage will drastically vary based on how much you enjoy the rather repetitive environments and shallow combat of a Musuo game, a larger issue for Berserk than many others in the genre due to a refined character selection and inability to chase after bigger and better weapons.
Even though the environments are a bit repetitive from time to time, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is definitely one of the best looking Musuo games I have ever played, for what it’s worth. Character models, bar Casca, look exactly how you would imagine them – warts and all. There is however a very severe lack of variety in the campaign at times and no matter how great those thieves and soldiers look in comparison to previous Dynasty Warriors games, they are still the same 5/6 bloodied up models.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a game made for fans; Musuo and Berserk. Berserk fans will pick at the intricacies, or lack thereof, in the story mode and Musuo fans will lament it for the lack of innovation and shallow offerings. It’s a hard sell for either market, but for what it is worth; I did enjoy seeing the characters come to life on screen and flying through levels in the berserker armour. It’s just a shame that it was behind a massive barrier and by the time I finally I unlocked the armour I was unable to play on. If you have ever wondered what a Berserk game would look like in 2017 it’s definitely worth a punt, even if it is for a few fleeting moments of brilliance in what can only be described as a neutered version of what everyone had hoped for.