Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review

When developers Omega Force get control of a franchise, there is only one way it’s going to go. Known for their Dynasty Warriors series which has become highly acclaimed and well respected, they seem to make every game along the same route. Popular franchises such as Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda and, more recently, Attack on Titan have all underwent the Omega Force treatment, some being better than others, but all of them having pretty much the same blood running through their veins; open battlefields, a ridiculously high body count and crushing combos big enough to take out 20 guys all at once, oh, and mundane repetition.

Berserk is a Manga series that, judging from its brutal dark-fantasy setting and plot, is perfect for a Warriors makeover. The series is known for its mature themes and adult orientated plotlines which gives Omega Force quite a healthy amount to work with from the Golden Age story arc to the Falcon of the Millennium Empire. Protagonist Guts is a lone mercenary who wanders the battlefields looking for the next fight, and it’s not long before leader of mercenary group The Band of the Hawk, Griffith, takes him under his wing. Griffith is a mysterious but strong leader who strikes fear among any who cross him but is highly respected by his subordinates. Guts reluctantly follows him, eventually growing to respect him, but things soon go awry when Griffith betrays his band and Guts which, consequently, makes Guts miffed and lustful for revenge. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk takes this key time in the anime plot and fleshes it out with playable battles, excellently made 2D and 3D cutscenes and brief text but fully voiced conversations between characters. The dark-fantasy aesthetic of the Berserk anime TV and film series are translated brilliantly, making this game one of the darkest Warriors games ever made. Gone is the fancy armor of feudal Japan and, in its place, medieval grit. There’s nothing flashy about it, that is until you get to the game itself.

After a preparation screen which allows you to kit out Guts, or any of the other characters you have unlocked, with accessories and pickups earned or found during your last mission, it’s onto the battlefield. Warriors game fans will be instantly familiar with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk from the start. Guts is controlled from a third-person perspective as hordes of enemies litter the open playing field and are basically fodder for you to slay. The minion enemies are terrible fighters, even on higher difficulty settings, ripe for you to link together normal and strong attacks to create unique combos that can clear out a large amount of them in one go. Unfortunately, Guts’ repertoire is limited. Pressing the attack buttons almost subconsciously is all you’ll be doing from mission start to mission end, but thankfully Guts’ attacks are satisfyingly brutal due to his oversized Zweihander, with which enemies can be made into a bloody mess but soon become a subject of tedious repetition. Over and over again, you’ll be pressing the attack buttons, which not only takes away the fun quickly but hurts your thumb pretty soon. The saving grace is racking up that kill count, which can easily exceed one thousand, and filling up a special gauge which, once full, activates Guts’ powered up state. During this every kill then contributes towards a “Death-Blow” gauge. Death-Blows are the strongest and most powerful moves in all characters’ arsenals, unleashing some serious bloodshed. Accompanied by a flashy animation, these moves can decimate every enemy in Guts’ immediate vicinity.

Unlocked characters control the same way as Guts but attack differently. Griffith wields a rapier enabling him to deliver a flurry of stabbing and swiping fencing techniques. His Death-Blow attack turns him into an ultra-fast blur, whipping left and right similar to Spider-Man’s Super combo in his Marvel Vs Capcom appearances, whilst Casca uses ninja-style acrobatics before ordering a few Band of the Hawk members forth in a stampede of death. Using different characters may feel different combat-wise, but the irritating familiarity soon sets in as you find yourself doing nothing different to what you were doing with Guts. There is no strategy involved in the gameplay and little variety of mission types which never deviate from destroying objects, killing enemies or taking out bosses.

Speaking of bosses, these battles are the only time Berserk and the Band of the Hawk felt slightly strategic. Fighting the plethora of boss characters requires a certain degree of thought but not much. Some bosses such as Nosferatu Zodd require you to use your character’s dodging ability smartly to avoid his incoming attacks and exploit his openings. Zodd was one of the very few clear-cut highlights, but the majority of the bosses go down without much effort, even being accompanied by a personal army of grunts for you to use your Death-Blow fail-safe move.

Outside of the 46 story missions, you can try your blade at Endless Eclipse Mode which is a 100 floor battle of survival. Each floor consists of numerous forms of demons for you to slaughter as you battle your way to the top with completion granting a wealth of upgrades and items for the character you used, even rewards such as powerful alternative forms. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk captures the soul of the series perfectly with traditional 2D anime cutscenes and 3D scenes, both of which are excellently designed and animated. Guts’ moody personality is felt throughout the story mode with his mannerisms and expressions all present.

The Warriors formula feels perfect for the Berserk anime; however, the overall experience, in comparison, feels very bare and simplified. Missions are nothing more than going from one position to another with the help of your warhorse then tapping the attack buttons until the mission is complete. I often found myself rushing from one objective to the next so I could watch the next cutscene, as these had more of a lasting effect than the game itself. A perfect subject for a Warriors game, but its repetition can’t be avoided.

Developer: Omega Force

Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PSVita, PS3, PC

Release Date: 24th February 2017

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