Berserk And The Band Of The Hawk Review – A Lot Of Guts
“If you meet God, tell him to just leave me alone.”
Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Tecmo Koei Format: PC, PS3, PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita Released: February 21, 2017 Copy provided by publisher
Berserk hasn’t had a videogame in quite some while which is quite remarkable when you consider it influenced an entire emerging genre between now and the last time Guts ever required a controller. Being a huge part of the reason Dark Souls exists – and by extension, helping spawn the entire “Soulslike” craze – it’s high time the legendary manga series got another interactive iteration.
Fortunately, Omega Force is to hack n’ slash what Telltale is to adventure games – it’ll take anything, and it’ll turn it into something serviceable.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is basically Dynasty Warriors with ghosts and sexual violence, a one-against-thousands carve ’em up in which Guts and an assortment of unlockable fighters tackle the armies of Chuder, the Holy See Church, and night after night of cursed spirits.
It predominantly revolves around Berserk‘s “Golden Age” story arc but extends into the “Hawk of the Millennium Empire” chapters. As someone who got into the manga late last year, I can at least confirm up to a point that Band of the Hawk is a lovingly faithful adaptation. Very much like Omega Force’s first take on Fist of the North Star, you can tell some fans went to work on this project.
At least for the first half of it.
As it goes though Guts’ life as a mercenary and relationship with antagonist Griffith, Band of the Hawk‘s story mode is well paced and interspersed with anime cutscenes to provide extensive detail. Once the Golden Age arc is complete and Tecmo Koei ran out of anime crutches, however, things start to speed up unpleasantly and plot threads are glossed over with much less fanfare.
You’ll spend ages going over every little thing that happened while Guts was a full-fledged member of the Hawk, but his entire battle against the Count’s forces is truncated into a stage’s worth of activity.
Beyond the story, there’s just a hell of a lot of killing to do. With his oversized sword in hand, Guts is a natural fit for a Warriors style game, boasting a brutal moveset that slices into foes with ease. However, enemy officers – even ones so unimportant you can’t lock onto them – have amazing stagger resistance and barely flinch when attacked, making the “legendary” swordsman look ineffectual even as he’s batting peons away left and right.
Each Warriors game struggles to find some way to stay challenging, and it seems Band of the Hawk‘s method was simply to shrug off player attacks so it can land its own when it pleases.
The problem becomes less noticeable as players level up their characters and take down foes quicker, but the problem persists – especially for large demonic opponents or similar boss-grade challengers, where it’s clear the gameplay was suitable for nothing more nuanced than a war of HP attrition between the player and the boss character in question.
Basic gameplay is about what you’d expect from an Omega Force game, with characters interjecting heavy attacks into light attack strings to perform combo moves and building up a musou meter – known as ferocity here – to become temporarily godlike. In a slight twist, Berserk‘s meter can be charged up to five times, with characters becoming stronger each time the bar fills.
Even when ferocity is triggered, characters keep the current gauge level and their attacks – now considerably stronger – will be superior each time they push past the limit.
A second meter, active during ferocity mode, is filled by continuing to keep up combos against the opposition and work players toward a massive, screen-murdering finishing move. Depending on how many enemies there are and how aggressive the player is, it’s quite possible to pull off several finishing blows during a single ferocity period, and they’re almost always capable of one-hit killing everything below the toughest bosses.
Maps tend to be rather small and levels brief, but the ridiculous amount of enemies packed into each one does a decent job of masking any relative environmental restriction. Even with officers no-selling your moves, it’s hard not to glean satisfaction from being able to take down fifty soldiers in one nasty swing.
Each playable character feels unique and true to their personality – Griffith is fast and elegant, dancing around the battlefield with lengthy attack strings. Nosferatu Zodd, by contrast, is a massive butcher capable of becoming an even bigger demonic entity during his ferocity phase.
Just be warned that, unlike many Musou games, there isn’t a large cast characters to unlock and those that do appear are not exactly staggered. After several levels you’ll get access to a whole bunch of Hawk members, then it’ll be nothing but Guts, Guts, Guts until you obtain Serpico and Schierke.
Frankly, the main game loses its energy once Griffith does his Bad Thing and the classic Black Swordsman steps up. After spending so long with what amounts to the backstory, the welcome’s worn out and the markedly inferior storytelling on the part of the game is evident. One realizes just how much the campaign relied on its anime cutscenes once that udder’s run dry.
Endless Eclipse mode might offer more for those who want the hacking but are tired of slogging through an increasingly weary campaign.
Omega Force’s lightweight take on the Roguelike, this mode consists of many “floors” with specific objectives chosen from a list. These objectives are completed every five floors, and there are rewards for delving deeper – new characters, horses, and outfits, as well as the chance to start Endless Eclipse from a later floor at certain checkpoints.
Naturally, the Eclipse gets tougher as players go deeper, and progress isn’t saved beyond any checkpoint rewards – dying or exiting the mode without an interim save will reset floor progress to zero.
Endless Eclipse is a fun addition that lets players get more from individual characters, since many rewards are tailored to whomever you choose to take into the mode. It also features appearances from many side characters, giving more obscure antagonists like Bazuso and Corkus a little extra screentime.
It made me realize that I’d love a real Dynasty Warriors roguelike-style mashup. Something to think about.
As has become common in Musou games, gear fusion is a big part of the experience. Rather than unlock new weapons (since the characters have some rather iconic gear), players will earn or buy accessories with a number of passive bonuses. These bonuses can be merged and carried over to new accessories by fusing them into one, as well as strengthened with various materials.
Thanks to the sheer amount of money that can be earned during battles, as well as the ease of fusion, it’s not difficult to create some supremely powerful gear that can boost attacks, defenses, and other statistics across the board. So much so that, even on harder difficulties, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk becomes rather easy after a certain point.
It’s a decent – if not especially attractive – looking game, but any Dynasty Warriors fan understands they’ll be getting a less visually impressive game in exchange for dozens of onscreen opponents. True to Tecmo Koei’s recent habits, there is no English voice acting, which is something I remain annoyed by in Musou games where trying to read updates and concentrate on all the visually busy action is a task that inevitably ends up with a lot of lost messaging.
Even worse, Hawk isn’t well localized in the text department, with grammatical errors and poorly translated phrases occurring commonly.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk isn’t a bad time, but it’s not quite the Berserk Warriors I was hoping for. The story mode is great fun for a while but soon falls apart, character unlocks are tantalizing until you realize how thin on the ground they are, and generally nothing good the game does comes without at least some minor caveat.
Those desperate for Berserk action or simply in dire need of more hack n’ slash fun will get plenty of raw content out of the package, but that’s all it is – a bucket of plain content. You can take it or leave it, because this is far from an essential release.