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September 2018

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2017 (US), Feb. 24, 2017 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Berserk and the Band of the Hawk'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 22, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Slash and smash through enemies and environments alike in Omega Force's most brutal Warriors title to date, based on the manga and anime series Berserk.

Buy Berserk and the Band of the Hawk

Running on and off since the 1990s, Berserk is perhaps best known for its absurdly grim and over-the-top setting, where violence is commonplace and everything is terrible. Its inspirations can be seen in tons of other works, including games like Dark Souls and Valkyrie Profile. It's even popular enough to have had some overseas games, such as 1999's Sword of the Berserk: Gut's Rage for the Dreamcast. It's difficult to think of a better mix of franchises than Tecmo-Koei's Warriors and Berserk, which is what we have with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. In some ways, however, such a perfect match may have led to a lack of ambition.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is an adaptation of several arcs of the Berserk manga, most notably the Golden Age arc. It follows the story of Guts, a mercenary known for his overwhelming strength and oversized blade. During a mission, he catches the attention of Griffith, the leader of mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawks. Griffith forces him into his service, ultimately sending Guts into a demon-infested world.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawks plays very much like a standard Warriors title. You're thrown onto a battlefield as one of a cast of characters, and you're charged with slaying everything in your path. Your missions can involve killing enemies, protecting allies, or various other tasks. Completing them improves the morale of your allies and brings you one step closer to victory. Fail too many, or allow critical allies to die, and the game is over. If you've ever played Dynasty Warriors or any of its spin-offs, you know exactly what to expect here.

The same is true for the gameplay, which feels very standard. You have a basic cast of characters, and each one has standard attacks and powerful charge attacks that you can string together to perform combos and different moves. Every character has access to subweapons. Some are common among different characters, like the crossbow, while others are distinctive to a specific character, like Casca's hand-to-hand. You can equip items before battle to gain boosts, both temporary and permanent, but you'll mostly smash poor soldiers into the ground with your powerful combos.

Berserk mixes up the regular Warriors mechanics with Frenzy mode. As in most of the franchise, you build up a special meter while fighting enemies. Activating the meter sends you into Frenzy mode, where you do more damage and are effectively immune to damage. In addition, every one of your attacks can Obliterate enemies, which causes them to die in massive gore-splosions to clear out large groups of foes. This also fuels a second gauge, which can be spent to use a more traditional screen-clearing special move. However, killing foes with this move fuels a second use of the move, as long as Frenzy mode lasts. Certain characters can also transform while in Frenzy move and take on powerful berserker forms.

Frenzy mode gives Berserk a more aggressive and violent feeling compared to most Warriors titles. You're encouraged to brutalize as many enemies as possible to feed the Frenzy mode. If you're smart about when and where you use your special moves, you can chain together multiple moves and decimate entire armies in seconds. On top of that, Frenzy mode gets more powerful each time it is used in a stage, so rather than saving it for when you need it, you're encouraged it spam it as often as possible.

Each character has his or her own distinctive gameplay mechanics. Guts is pure power; he gains subweapons that change things slightly, but ultimately, he's there to smash his giant sword into the face of the unlucky enemies in front of him. Casca lacks Guts' long attack range but makes up for it with speed. Her moves involve stunning enemies, so she can perform hand-to-hand takedowns. Likewise, Judaeu relies on throwing knives and high speed to perform deadly combos. However, the gameplay feels like it was made with him in mind. Even his weakest form is by far the most satisfying in the game, and his overpowered Berserker Armor feels almost like a cheat mode.

Berserk can best be described as an average Warriors title. It is neither exceptional nor bad, but it's somewhere in between. The gameplay doesn't do much wrong, and it manages to scratch the itch for brutalizing tons of enemies with a single attack. Aside from the gore and the Frenzy mode, there isn't much that makes it stand out from the Warriors titles on the market.

Berserk has a pretty small cast, with fewer than a dozen distinct characters. In addition, the cast isn't as colorful and distinctive as other smaller Warriors titles. It has enough big cast members that fans of the franchise will probably be happy, but it's still lacking. Unlike Attack on Titan, it doesn't have enough new mechanics or features to justify such an anemic cast and set of features.

A big portion of this is just that there isn't a lot of distinct gameplay to Berserk. You have the main story mode, a free mode and an Endless Eclipse mode. To its credit, the story mode is strong in conveying the plot. It glosses over some details, but it is a fairly accurate retelling of the Golden Age arc, and it also contains elements of other arcs. It's not going to be a substitute for reading the manga or watching one of the animated stories, but at least it's more coherent than some of the attempts at conveying an anime's narrative through Warriors-style gameplay.

The Endless Eclipse mode is basically a glorified survival mode. You're thrown in a long, semi-random dungeon and must complete "desires" to progress. It's a way to wring some more value from the game, but it's not very engaging. It goes on too long and with too little excitement for its own good. You're expected to craft some high-end accessories to fulfill challenges, but you shouldn't have too much trouble with the mode.

By and large, Berserk does a good job of capturing the brutal feel of the manga. The characters are well-detailed, and there are lots of little touches here and there. It's easily the goriest of the Warriors titles, but it's still relatively tame compared to the source material. The bulk of the blood is contained in Frenzy mode and can be turned off by those with weak stomachs. Clips from various animated versions of the story are interspersed, but they are of varying quality. The game runs smoothly, and even when there's a ton of blood splashing around, I didn't notice any slowdown. As with many recent titles, Berserk has no dub and is sub-only, but all important dialogue is subtitled. Considering the relatively solid voice work by the Japanese cast, this works out well. In comparison, the soundtrack is bland and not one of their better efforts.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a strictly by-the-books Warriors-style game. There's enough value here for die-hard Berserk fans, if only for collecting Behelits, which unlock artwork and galleries, and they can enjoy the fun of mowing down tons of helpless foes. However, in comparison to most other recent Warriors titles, Berserk feels unambitious. As an anime adaptation, it's a darn sight better than something like Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage, but it seems to coast on its popular license rather than trying to do something special.

Score: 7.0/10

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