By Dave Hill
What if I told you that somewhere out there is a story that incorporates the slaughtering of demons in epically awesome ways, while also giving you the depth of a person experiencing existential crisis? Would you believe me? Berserk is probably not the only series to encapsulate these themes, it is the one that I am the most familiar with. “Berserk and the Band of the Hawk” is certainly not the first entry in video games for the franchise, but it might be the best yet.
For those not familiar with the series. Berserk follows the story of a man named Guts. Starting off as a mercenary, Guts ends up being taken in by the charismatic leader of a mercenary band called the Band of the Hawk. Their leader, Grifftith, has aspirations that extend well beyond just leading a band of hired soldiers – he wants to become royalty.
Through a series of events, Griffith just misses his goals and instead ends up decrepit. After a series of bizarre twists however, he surpasses his goal and becomes a god essentially. In doing so he betrays his mercenary band including his closest friend, Guts.
Guts, seeking justice (and revenge) hunts down the “Apostles” that have promised themselves to the demonic forces Griffith is now a part of. Ultimately, he wants to kill them all and face off against Griffith who has taken the name “Femto.”
Berserk is a series rich with characters that are all flawed, broken and just trying to make their way through life. Many events in the story are driven by the characters and not simply events that the characters react to. This rich tapestry is balanced with a heavy dose of action, gore, and the slaughtering of demons.
“Berserk and the Band of the Hawk” attempts to balance these two aspects of the series that often can be seen as disparate, even with all of this the series does a surprisingly fantastic job of handling both. The game itself makes a noble effort as well.
As far as gameplay is concerned this game was developed by the same studio that made Dynasty Warriors. Which means you can expect the same quality of mechanics and polish that you would from those games. Originally released October of 2016 in Japan, this game runs flawlessly on a Playstation 4. I was genuinely impressed with the graphics, which were not ground-breaking, but solid and crisp nonetheless. The load times didn’t leave me with enough time to get a drink from the kitchen (this is how I often measure load times).
Berserk, for those familiar with the series, will completely give you the feeling of being Guts. You traverse through the established story line of the manga, via a series of missions. During these missions, you can slaughter the enemy with unapologetically devastating blows with your giant sword and quick-to-learn combos that add just enough depth to the combat to keep it from being mechanically boring.
The standard fast and slow attack are used to create devastating blows that fling hordes of enemies before you. In an attempt to keep the missions from being monotonous, the game offers challenges in each mission whether they are timed goals or killing optional bosses, or even executing a particular scenario.
With that said, the missions do feel a bit repetitive at times. Battle after battle, you find yourself zoning out as your combat rhythm becomes muscle memory. Being entertained doesn’t stop, but I think that is in large part because I love the Berserk series in general. This monotony is broken gloriously with the boss fights, however sporadically placed and rooted in the story arcs. The true boss fights against the Apostles, are most challenging and fun. While you spend most of the game feeling like Sauron from the opening of the Lord of the Rings movies, batting squads of enemies in a single blow, battles against the Apostles are devastating. You quickly are shocked back into the feeling of being vulnerable. You dodge attacks with greater care and learn the enemy’s patterns so that you don’t die. While a hoard of armed knights is child’s play to you, Apostles are no joke and will crush you if you run in with the same reckless abandon you do with the other battles.
For those who love the story of Berserk, you will not be disappointed. Between battles, cut scenes from the anime move the story along. For a story that is so character-driven it can be difficult to fit in all of the little nuances. “Berserk and the Band of the Hawk” manages to do this with “Events” and cut scenes. Events are very quick conversations that just build little interactions between characters. Cut scenes as you might expect, are the major events in the game and are from the recent iteration of the anime.
Despite the redundancy of the battles, the game has significant replay value. Optional mission objectives, unlock original artwork piece-by-piece. The games challenge mode allows you to pick from several characters from the series and play a near-endless crawl through a hellish world, completing “Desires” and unlocking special gear. Gear is used to up your skills and attributes in the game, allowing you to do more damage, take more damage and defend better. The game’s simple but elegant crafting system where you create amalgamations of items also helps you to make more powerful gear, bringing your gear to an even higher level.
For fans of either Dynasty Warriors or Berserk, this game will not be a disappointment. It’s a delight to pick up and very satisfying to play. Crisp graphics and graceful mechanics are tinged only by the repetitive nature of the missions. But even then, there is something so satisfying about mowing through an army with massive amounts of fury. For hack and slash games, “Berserk and the Band of the Hawk” performs marvelously.
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– The GamingU Team
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