Some of our favorite heroes come from tragedy, as a hero confronts himself from the consequences of a terrible mistake. Kratos, from God of War, seeks vengeance against the Greek God of War, Aries, after tricking him into slaying his family. John Marston, from Red Dead Redemption, confronts his criminal past as he attempts to do what he can in a small Western town. Marcus Fenix, from Gears of War, finds a means to redeem himself, as he saved his father at the price of fellow soldiers. When it comes to anime, many are familiar with the tales of Guts, The Black Swordsman, as he fights endlessly in the classic anime series, Berserk.
Berserk follows Guts in a world of monsters, demons, and kingdoms constantly in a state of brutal war. Berserk first appeared in manga form, beginning in 1998. Following the strong success, an anime series was created that ran from 1997-1998. Over the past decade, the manga has continued, with a very strong and dedicated following, which is still ongoing presently. This sparked the creation of an animated film and a brand new anime series, which began airing last year, picking up where the original 1997 anime series left off. In a world filled with monsters, demons, and kingdoms constantly in a state a violent war, this sets the stage for the video game Berserk: Band Of The Hawk for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Microsoft Windows.
Berserk: Band Of The Hawk is a “musou” game, which is the Japanese verb for action. Players will enter the large battlefield and hack away at literally hundreds upon hundreds of enemies. The game was developed by W-Force, a team that is very notable as they are responsible for making the Dynasty Warriors franchise. The team has also landed remarkable success in recent spin-off games, such as Attack On Titan, The Legend Of Zelda; Hyrule Warriors, and Dragon Quest: Heroes. While each game is thematically different, the common trend has been an over-the-top action game that moves extremely swiftly across massive battlefields. In games such as this, one sword strike can cut through about 20 enemies instantly.
In Berserk: Band Of The Hawk, players take the role of Guts, the lone mercenary who has known nothing but war and bloodshed his entire life. As a mercenary, he travels across the land, carrying his massive sword, and searching for the next big fight to engage in. Following his last big battle, Guts is ambushed by a skilled Mercenary group known as The Band Of The Hawk. He is forced to join, having lost to its leader Griffith. From there, Guts embarks on a massive series of battles, in a story woven with camaraderie, rage, betrayal, tragedy, darkness, and a glimpse of hope.
The game allows players to play through 46 missions as Guts, and later, as a wide assortment of characters belonging to the band. Each character has their own special abilities and weapons to be employed in combat. Players will be forced to star as Guts, as Guts is the primary protagonist of series. However, once all 46 missions are cleared, players can play as any character they want. Before each battle, players can outfit special items to give them an edge in combat that will assist in defense, offense, and health. Players can also purchase new warhorses for battle, as well as upgrade their equipped items. Choosing the right items, which range from rings to flags, could mean a huge difference on the battlefield. Later on, players will have access to sub-weapons and be able to amalgamate their items by combining them with other items, making them more powerful.
As previously mentioned, Berserk is an action hack-and-slash game. Once the mission begins, players are thrust into the heat of the battlefield, and are permitted to come out swinging right away! Within moments, players are embroiled in a bloody battle, facing hundreds of enemies. Every swing of Guts’ sword slays dozens in a single swipe, and soon, the fields are soaked in blood with your enemies being gorily slain. The experience is quite intense.
Over time, players will build a frenzy meter. Once that meter is filled, players will be able to initiate a frenzied attack. In this state, the attacks are overwhelmingly powerful. Damage taken is extremely reduced, and every attack literally obliterates enemies. Players will see decapitations and gory explosions with each swing of the sword. Pulling of incredibly damaging combos and charged attacks will cause even more destruction to the enemy. In the thick of combat, the game can be incredibly intense, filled with crunching sounds and savage imagery.
As powerful as the player is, Berserk and the Band Of The Hawk is certainly no pushover. If players increase the difficulty, they are in for quite a challenging fight. In addition to regular grunt soldiers, players will face more heavily armed opponents, as well as formidable soldiers. There are one-on-one boss fights that occur throughout the campaign as well, requiring their own strategy and sheer will of the player to defeat. Each enemy encountered looks and feels different, but can be taken down with a combination of sword swings, blocking, and dodging.
When everything comes together, Berserk is an engaging action experience! Being able to jump into the missions right away paves the way for an incredible medieval battle experience. Monsters roar with fury, only to be slain by your dragon sword. Many soldiers oppose you but are dispatched in agony with every strike. Explosions, clashes, and yells echo throughout the battlefield and every bone-crunching snap crumbles through your speakers. It is quite the feeling spending twenty minutes on any particular mission and having felled well over one-thousand enemy soldiers.
As for the story, the game actually intersperses clips from the anime into the main game, immersing players into the overall anime experience. This makes the game great for both fans of the series, and newcomers to the show. The story is told through these clips, as well as pre-rendered CGI cutscenes. Be prepared to read subtitles, as the game is spoken in Japanese with English translation. Additionally, brace yourselves for dark, disturbing imagery as the game does go into sheer rage, great despair, and dark, evil dimensions. Visually the game is stunning, but some of this imagery is quite dark.
The action does come with a setback though, and that is the repetitive nature of the game. Players will be using Guts throughout the campaign, which can last between 15 and 20 hours. As previously mentioned, players can switch to other characters, but only after they complete the mission as Guts. Just about every mission involves obliterating the enemy, with only a few variations to break up expectations. Expect to see the same moves and battles quite often throughout the experience.
However, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does have an Endless Eclipse Mode. In this mode, players select a mission and embark on a quest to make it through the dark, dangerous land of the Endless Eclipse. Players will have to rely on sheer wits and skill as they ascend over 100 levels to defeat the toughest foes. This does break up the monotony of the single player and provides a significant amount more depth for players looking quick, easy battles.
Berserk and The Band of the Hawk also has a PlayStation Vita version. While the game does take a hit with the presentation, the core gameplay is still there. The Controls on the handheld feel nice and responsive, and the game still holds up well in its presentation. I didn’t encounter any technical problems. Both the PlayStation Vita and PS4 versions of the game feature cross-save functionality, so you can save your progress, upload it, and bring it with you anywhere. The feature works very well.
While Berserk and The Band of the Hawk does not introduce anything new to action video games, its engaging combat, solid presentation, and depth make the game a solid action experience for anyone with a taste for straight, medieval hack-and-slash action. As a bonus, the game is a solid adaptation of the anime and is definitely worth checking out for fans and newcomers alike. Berserk: Band of the Hawk is an action-packed treat.