GAME REVIEW | Hack & Slash A-Plenty in "Berserk" Adaptation
Let's be real: if Berserk was ever going to get a video game adaptation, it would have to be in the style of Koei Tecmo's Musou series. Sure enough, Omega Force themselves were tasked to bring Guts's gory story to the PS4 and Vita, with our giant sword-wielding hero taking the center stage in a balls-to-the-wall action game. Fans of Kentato Miura's long-running series will find plenty to love in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, whereas longtime players of the Musou games will probably find it being sufficient enough to quench their hack-and-slash thirst.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk follows a good chunk of the original manga, with it starting in the Golden Arc and ending at the Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc. Taking control mostly as Guts (with the option to play as Griffith, Casca, and Judeau in some levels), players recreate the infamous battles seen in both the manga, anime, and film trilogy. The more you play, the more you'll be able to earn upgrades, level up the Hundred Man Slayer, and unlock new goodies and costumes to play in via Free Mode or Endless Mode.
Gameplay-wise, this is how Berserk should be brought to consoles. After all, a character like Guts is famous for slaying dozens of soldiers in a single blow, so having hundreds of enemies tackling him at once is a no-brainer. Hitting combos with the quick and strong attacks also appear to be fairly easy to accomplish, which leads to some pretty sweet kills that turn Guts's enemies into piñatas of human flesh. While it can be a tiny repetitive at times, it doesn't take away from the fact that its mechanics feel exactly at home with the Black Swordsman.
Watching as you stab and pummel your way through droves of enemies as you play is quite the sight to see. Even though we've seen these sorts of attacks in the likes of Dynasty Warriors and XSEED Games' Senran Kagura, it's presented here in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk in some surprisingly well-rendered detail. Heads pop off, limbs are severed, and entire bodies are chopped into tiny little pieces in ways that fit perfectly with Miura's popular series. You'll honestly get a good laugh when a victory rolls about, as you watch as the remaining enemy forces cower in fear of Guts and his Dragon Slayer.
What I appreciate about this Berserk adaptation is how the gameplay evolves as Guts's physical manifestation changes. As the story progresses, Guts goes through some nasty modifications, which leads to some new weapons being unleashed via his mechanical arm. Blowing away enemies with its cannon and explosives adds another layer of gore-tastic visualizations, leading towards a higher body count that can help you earn a couple more rewards at level's end. Needless to say, this game manages to give Berserk fans an honest chance at controlling their favorite scar-covered character.
Boss battles also offer a solid challenge, and while it never reaches Dark Souls levels of difficulty, it still managed to keep me on my toes throughout the bout. Having to time my hits and evade a monster's charging attack added a nice level of strategy to these specific missions. Granted, there could've been maybe a couple more of these types of boss battles thrown into the game, but that would probably mean having to go against canon (and trust me: the recent anime series adaptation got a lot of flack for deviating from the manga early on, so it's best to avoid that).
While the control mechanism is surprisingly smooth -- with there being no room for error in what sort of attack you plan to make -- one complaint I do have is its camera setup. Half the time I found myself having to stop Guts's killing spree and adjust my peripheral vision. Even though it gives you the option to lock on when a target is in the vicinity, when there isn't you are forced to manual move the angle of your shot at almost every corner. A pain? Absolutely! Fortunately, it's far from a deal-breaker.
In regards to its means of telling its story, the game likes to switch between FMV of the CGI characters and clips from The Golden Age Arc trilogy. Although it does a decent job with retelling some of the more poignant moments of the series, there are some corners that are cut here and there, and with good reason. Despite the weirdness of censoring out the non-sexualized nudity from the game, I do get why they had to eliminate some of the more disturbing sex scenes to avoid getting an AO rating here in the States. (The films did receive the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in Japan, after all.)
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk will take you roughly 11-13 hours to complete, depending on how well you master your Dragon Slayer. Players can revisit past levels and play as any of the characters in Free Mode. An Endless Eclipse mode also adds a good challenge, with gamers having to deal with dungeon after dungeon filled with creepy demons. It's highly recommended that you play as each of the eight characters, as it gives those unfamiliar with Berserk a chance to discover new things about the person they're playing as.
- Gameplay matches with Berserk lore
- Gory, detailed graphics & kills
- Loads of replay value
- Some questionable censorship
- Hacking & slashing may get repetitive
- "Golden Age" Arc kinda done to death at this point
Fans of Berserk will no doubt eat up this Musou game wholeheartedly. With a great selection of missions and the ability to see past the Golden Age Arc via a different means (for once!), Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a strong and action-packed adaptation of one of the most beloved (albeit controversial) manga series of all-time. Arm yourself for battle, and charge on in with one of fiction's most brutal soldiers to ever grace a blood-splattered field.
Promotional consideration provided by Brian Lee of ONE PR Studio. Reviewed on the PS4.