Berserk and the Band of the Hawk PS4 Review

As a fan of Berserk, I have always wanted to have more games featured in its tragic world. I remember playing the first game based on the IP, it was for the Dreamcast and went by the name Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage, which came out in May 2000 for Sega’s ill-fated console. Yuke’s – who are now known for handling the WWE games for 2K Sports – picked the right genre for the game, an hack and slash that felt like a conversion of the scrolling beat em’ up into a 3D world. Sadly, for me, while it was great seeing Guts transition to video games, it did not escape the issue that a lot of license games suffered from in that generation – being an average video game.

A sequel, Berserk Millennium Falcon Chapter: The Holy Demon War Chronicles, appeared four years later for PS2, but was limited to Japan, so I never got to experience it. It’s been over 12 years since the last game, but with a trilogy of Berserk films retelling The Golden Age Arc out on DVD/Blu-Ray, and a second anime season, which originally felt like it was never going to be created, now available, the team at Omega Force (developers of Warriors/Musou games) have picked a good time to revitalise the IP to video games.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk starts from the beginning with the most well known arc, The Golden Age Arc, the story featured in the first season of the anime, but goes past that and into the Falcon/Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc, but doesn’t manage to finish the conclusion of that story. Some corners have been cut  when it comes to detailing the events of Berserk, either through censored scenes from the anime (such as a certain arm being detached) or skipping over stories. Interestingly, In The Golden Age Arc most of the key points are hit fairly well, backing up each mission with videos ripped straight from the three Berserk: The Golden Age Arc films. With that source material at hand, the developers have managed to offer a good vision of Guts’ life and the world he inhabits for people who have never seen Berserk.

Things take a turn for the worst when it finishes up The Golden Age Arc and moves onto The Black Swordsman and onwards. With no animated source material left to attach to the missions, Omega Force was left to create their own CG shorts for a replacement, and they aren’t as polished, which is something that is easily noticeable after watching the film animations for the first seven hours of the game. The pacing of the story also increases, as it relegates small arcs to single stages, where in the previous half of the game, the stages were extending the battles to see the bunch of misfits led by this mysterious and charismatic Griffith bonding his group of mercenaries together. It’s a shame that the second half is so glossed over, because it is at that point where the world of Berserk becomes extremely different, and it also these parts of Berserk that haven’t had time to shine just yet, as the anime is still catching up to the Falcon/Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc, so only the manga readers know what the game is rushing over as it comes to its conclusion.

I believe a Warriors game makes perfect sense for Berserk. In fact, the main character, Guts, is known as the Hundred Man Slayer (there’s an amusing joke from Guts about getting another strange nickname for killing 1,000 men in the game, something that is a common occurrence), and so having an entry in a series that is known for slaughtering many enemies feels right at home, and at first it looks like it’s doing the right things.

Visually, the artists have done a decent job at bringing the darker tone of Berserk to life. The models look good, especially close ups, giving them a distinctive look that manages to blend Kentaro Miura’s art style (the creator of the manga) with the game’s stylish display. Keeping with the gruesome nature of the anime, models become covered in blood of their enemies after decimating whole armies in just a few minutes, making it uncommon to see characters clean during the action. Koei Tecmo weren’t lying when they advertised this as their most violent and bloodiest Warriors game to date. Level design is not as pleasing, with many maps being corridors or boxed arenas surrounded by some average looking environment detail. It’s a sacrifice made to allow so many models on screen at once, and while the game is aiming for a 1080p60fps presentation, it does drop often. At the moment, there is no PS4 pro support, but there is supposed to be a patch incoming to make the frame rate stable on PS4 pro systems.

I am a little disappointed with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk when it comes to the gameplay. Missions aren’t inventive, sticking true to standardised Warriors formula focused on either killing something, protecting something or surviving for a certain amount of time.

The problem is with what I just mentioned – the game feels like a Warriors game from a generation or two ago, an entry that has lost all the enhancements that have come with such games as Samurai Warriors 4 – Hyper Attacks were a smart inclusion that cut the time spent killing mindless soldiers – that made the series step up to become something more than a shallow hack and slasher. With those improved mechanics stripped out of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, what’s left is a combo system based on light and heavy attacks, but does not include much variety to experiment with various combos. Characters have minimal combo strings built around X amount of presses then a triangle press or two to switch up the combo. Even the inclusion of side weapons doesn’t help to remove this issue. It’s cool to see the characters enter their ferocity state to deal incredible attack damage (watch those bodies explode into fountains of blood), and using the souls of the enemies to power up another metre to finally use a powerful finishing move (the musou special of the game), but it’s not enough to match the depth that the recent mainline Warriors games have.

With so much killing involved, it’s a shame that the developers decided to base it around the old Warriors formula, as the gameplay repetition cannot be saved by its cast of characters. Unlike Warriors Orochi 3, which had over 120 characters to change up the combat, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has a measly eight playable fighters. Each one does come with a unique fighting stance, such as Guts being the walking tank of death, especially so when he becomes the Black Swordsman, coming with increased speed and attack to make him a real body exploding machine. Others like Griffith are speedy and light on their feet, based on fencing actions, Casca mixes up her light sword skills with physical kicks and punches, and Schierke can use her magic to make her vastly different from the other characters, but there isn’t enough here keep the excitement flowing andit left me wanting more fleshed out mechanics.

The story mainly has Guts at the centre of attention, so other characters become more frequently used in Free Mode, a place to replay any of the game’s missions, but with any of the characters who are currently unlocked. This is due to characters in the story mode being relegated to a stage or two. This tale is about being Guts, because he’s the freaking badass, right? More so with the Berserker armour, an almost godlike version of Guts that makes the game easier to beat on the harder settings.

Guts in this game is made for slicing through multiple characters at once, but one area where the combat falls flat is on the bosses. These can be human sized opponents or towering monsters, but they all suffer from being damage sponges. It should be exciting fighting a unholy demon like Nosferatu Zodd, instead, it becomes a tedious boss fight where nothing seems to flinch them as  players slowly reduce their multiple life bar down, repeating the same combo again and again with the occasional dash to avoid an incoming attack. The combat mechanics don’t feel suited for big boss fights, and with the camera having issues in placing a good viewpoint on huge monsters, it’s a struggle to find something satisfying in participating in boss battles.

Outside of the story, apart from the Free Mode already mentioned, the only other content included is Endless Eclipse. This is an fascinating additional, because it takes an idea of an endurance mode and spices it up with randomised dungeons as players try to reach layer 100 to unlock rewards by finishing desires (challenges) to move up layers. It also includes rewards that can only be unlocked through this mode, such as one special boss character Wyald – why it’s him, I do not know, as he isn’t that exciting of a character, he’s just very big. With each character having secrets unlocked within Endless Eclipse, it becomes the mode of play for replayability, while also giving characters ways to gain experience and gain new accessories to equip to buff stats or infuse with other accessories to make better gear to survive longer. But the issue is there was only so much of this I could do before becoming bored of the game as a whole. Cooperative play isn’t even an option, so players can only slog through the contain on their own.

Berserk is a nice fit for Omega Force’s Warrior/Musou series, but I was left a little disappointed that they took a step back with the gameplay. What this means is that Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels like a late PS2 entry in a franchise, where as the mainline series is currently taking the right steps to improve itself for the better. Fans of Berserk will get a kick out of the story mode, as this is clearly a game that takes its adaptation seriously, and with much love from the team that created it. It’s fun being able to become Guts and deliver some bloody ass whooping in this astonishing, yet tragic, story, but being stuck mechanically in the past is a sin I never wished for in my ideal concept of a Berserk Warriors game. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is cast away into the depths of the eclipse as a gory average Warriors game with a captivating mature theme, but lacking substance to keep people motivated to playing past a single completion of the story.

5 out of 10
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