Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review

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Game Title: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Developer: Omega Force, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.8 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Popular anime franchises being turned into action games isn’t all that new at this point (just look at Naruto and Dragon Ball Z’s multitude of fighting games that look and feel more like action games), but them being turned into Musou action games is.  This first happened last year when Omega Force took the first season of Attack on Titan and converted it into a Musou-like formula (though it did feel different since there were no “hordes” in the game).

They’ve tried again with the long-running Berserk series.  First titled simply “Berserk Musou” in Japan, it has come West and has had my interest for nearly a week now as I’ve been trekking through the many arcs of the Berserk storyline that game crammed into itself.  But now the release day is here and I’m ready to review it!

So, here’s my review of the Vita/PSTV version of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk!

Story

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Berserk has been around for 27 years at this point and a lot has happened with the story.  The game starts us off right at the beginning.  In a medieval setting, you play as a lone mercenary named Guts who wields a large great-sword.  Guts drifts from place to place until he comes under attack and is forced to join an infamous group of mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawk.  And the story goes from there with how Guts grows attached to this group and his relationship and rivalry with their leader, Griffith.  And that’s all I can say to avoid spoilers.

Now there’s one thing to know about Berserk.  The storyline is very violent, dark, and gruesome.  Once you get past the first arc or two, the true storyline will start to showcase itself and will go from a semi-realistic group of mercenaries fighting for one side of a war to a Dark Fantasy filled with omens, demons, and more  I’m really walking the spoiler line with this, but just note that the story gets very dark.

The game showcases a lot of Berserk’s storyline.  If you recall, the original 1997 anime series only covered one part of it, the Golden Age arc.  Then the 2016 anime series covered the Conviction Arc and the 2017 Anime series is going to cover the Falcon of the Millennium Empire arc.  The game covers more than that.  Across the game is the 3-part Golden Age Arc, the Black Swordsman arc (that takes place before Conviction), the Conviction Arc, and the Falcon of the Millennium Empire arc.  It covers the entire Berserk storyline aside from the Fantasia Arc, which is still in the middle of being made in the Manga.

So, basically, you’re getting a huge amount of story that not even the anime has caught up with yet.  Makes you wonder how the Attack on Titan game got away with a whole game around only 1 season.

Gameplay

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Berserk is an action musou game, much like the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors franchises.  While each stage in Berserk will not be around the whole Conquest gameplay that DW is known for, you will be doing missions by traveling through large maps and taking on large hordes of enemies while the storyline of each stage pushed you further towards your next objectives.  Despite not being the cliché Conquest gameplay, it is still very much a musou game.

When you boot up the game, you’ll have 3 game modes to go in: Story Mode, Free Mode, and Endless Eclipse Mode.  Story Mode is the only available option at first, while Free Mode unlocks later and Endless Eclipse will gradually unlock as you play through the story.  To be simple, Story Mode lets you pay the story, Free Mode lets you replay Story Mode scenarios with any playable character, and Endless Eclipse Mode lets you run through a gauntlet of stages with various tasks in each level you climb up in.

If you’re curious about the playable characters, there are a little over half a dozen.  While you will mostly be playing as Guts, there will be the occasional stage where you have multiple characters to choose from.  The playable roster is as follows: Guts, Griffith, Casca, Judeau, Serpico, Schierke, and Nosferatsu Zodd.  Not a huge roster, but considering the storyline, it makes sense why those characters were chosen to be playable.

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When you’re trekking through Story Mode, you basically go between Stages and Events.  Conquering each stage in story mode will unlock events between various characters that give you insight into more of the overall storyline, and can sometimes foreshadow future story stages that haven’t happened yet.

Next, when you’re inside a stage, you’re in a large 3D environment with the ability to freely roam around any area that isn’t locked.  You will have various objectives popping up to be able to progress to the next stage of the battle.  This is where the game has variety and tries to stray from the repetitive nature of the musou genre.  You will nearly-always have different objectives in each mission.  One mission may be to protect and lead NPCs out of a warzone, while the next may be to hunt down and take out key bosses to scare away an army attacking the nearby kingdom.

It’s enough to make you forget sometimes that Berserk is actually a Musou game, but there is one type of objective that really hits the repetitive nerve hard.  When you are trapped and have to defeat a certain number of enemies, things can really feel repetitive.  The first few times you only have to take down a hundred or two, but when you get to the missions that say “Slay 600 enemies” or even 1,000, it really just drags and drags and drags and you just want the objective to be over so you can get some more story.

Now the combat is pretty in tune with Musou formula.  You have light and heavy attacks you can combo together in different ways depending on what sort of enemies and groups you’re fighting.  But Berserk does have a few features that feel a little unique.  As you fight, you can fill up a “Frenzy Gauge” and once it is full, you can temporarily increase your stats and ability to stagger enemies and fill up another gauge in that mode called the “Deathblow” gauge.  Filling that up lets you either perform an ultimate attack and much later in the game, do a special transformation.

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These combos are more important for bosses, though, than hordes.  While some bosses will be with hordes, some of the bosses are very large.  When you are fighting Giant Bosses, you will have to use very intricate combos in order to break their guard and be able to do much damage (and likely also have to build up your Frenzy and Deathblow Gauges before said boss fight takes place).  Giant Bosses can easily break your guard and send you flying across the arena, so they require much more skill to fight against.

Once you complete the objective of your mission, the stage ends with some story cutscenes and then you gain experience to level and learn new combos as well as gaining materials and equipment so you can equip, enhance, and combine items to increase your stats for your next mission.  This continues on for the rest of the game.

For length, each battle stage should take you an average of 15-20 minutes a piece on the Normal Difficulty.  Across 46 Story Missions, 59 Events, and the story scenes for each mission, don’t expect to beat the game until you’ve thrown at least 15-20 hours into the game.

Controls

As always, Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have made Berserk compatible with the PlayStation TV and with special controls to boot.  On the Vita, activating certain features that I can’t say because of story spoilers, along with locking onto bosses are done on the touch screen and those controls are sent to the L2/R2 and L3/R3 buttons on the PSTV.

The rest of the controls are simple enough.  Left Analog Stick to move, Right Analog Stick to move the camera.  The D-Pad allows you to cycle through your available items and sub-weapons (and R to use said item or sub-weapon).  The L button allows you to guard and block incoming attacks.  Then the rest are for combat.  Square is for light attacks and Triangle for heavy attacks.  X lets you dodge and Circle will activate your Frenzy Mode or Deathblow attack.

Presentation

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Visually, the game is good and lackluster at the same time.  All of the character models and enemy models are done well.  There are a lot of features and details, down to little pieces on the characters’ armor.  Environments are where the game took a hit, which I think was deliberate.  The environments are much less detailed than character models.  There aren’t that many details and they really seem out of place.  But I’ll explain why they did that later in this section.

The music isn’t taken straight from the anime soundtrack (aside from the anime scenes in the game taken from the Golden Age movies), but it’s pretty intense music that really takes the feel of Berserk as you play.

Performance is actually really good.  Most battles only take around 2-3 seconds to load before you can dive in, and the frame-rate rarely strays from around 30 fps.  The only time I ever saw the fps drop was during the ultimate attack when Guts is wearing a particularly-spoiler-heavy costume.  Outside of that, it plays extremely well and smooth, unlike most Vita musou games.

Summary

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is an action game packed with Berserk story, characters, and content.  While some missions have objectives that feel repetitive and the environment graphics are really toned down to bring up the game’s performance, it’s one of the best musou games I’ve played in recent years and has made a Berserk fan out of me.  For fans of the series or musou, it’s definitely something you should pick up. 

8/10

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