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Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review - Guts Cleaves his way into the Warriors Series

As a massive fan of Berserk, both the original Animé and ongoing Manga series has always captivated me, but as most of us know, not every series translates well into the gaming space. So, is Koei/Tecmo's latest Musou title, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, one of those games or does it live up to the hype and more importantly - our very hopes, dreams and expectations?

There have been multiple Berserk titles in the past - One for PS2 and the other for Dreamcast, none of which stayed true to the original Manga and although Kenji Saito, the Director of Metal Gear Rising at Platinum Games, expressed his desire to direct a Berserk game himself, Koei/Tecmo got there first in what they've dubbed their bloodiest Musou title yet!

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk covers a lot more of the series than any game that came before it and begins at the start of the Golden Age arc, which many of us are familiar with from watching the original Animé series of 1997. It then moves into the Black Swordsman Arc, the Conviction Arc and more or less ends at the end of the Millennium Falcon Arc. This is a lot of content and the game is quite long, but does it cover as much as fans had hoped it would?

The short answer is not quite. While valiant in their efforts, due to the mature content of the dark, gritty and violent world of Berserk, the developers at Koei/Tecmo had to hold back somewhat on that front. Scenes like Casca at The Sacrifice have been included, but carefully censored. This isn't inherently bad however, because most of the scenes we're familiar with are still featured and/or heavily implied. The way they've gotten around it is by using simple ways to cover up the naked bodies of those within the series. For example, Casca's naughty bits are hidden under the tentacles of the Apostle holding her, Farnese' boobs are covered by her hair and concealed with camera angles that feature a lot of side boob, while Slan's naked body is covered by her intestinal dreadlocks during THAT partial revival scene.

Here we have the best girl. Slan is such a grotesque babe.

This had me wondering as to whether or not we'd get the Farnese horse scene and perhaps more importantly, the whole of the Lost Children arc. What we actually got was a pretty tame horse scene with Farnese (if but a little weird) while Misty Valley, Jill, Rosine and everything else within the Lost Children arc (bar the appearance of the Wolf Demon residing within Guts) was nowhere to be seen. For me, this was a little disappointing, but also to be expected.

One thing I feel you should all know is that I'm not really a fan of the Musou/Dynasty Warriors style, so many games Koei/Tecmo put out just simply aren't my type of game. This is purely because I see Musou titles as simple button mashers. Having played (and loved) titles like Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and God of War, I love the challenge a game has to offer. I love the fact that in these games just one enemy is often strong enough to take you out and so when multiple enemies appear on screen, you know you've got your work cut out for you and a solid challenge ahead. This isn't the case with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk however.

Berserk is in some way like any other Musou title where thousands of enemies are just waiting to be abused and executed. They don't pose much of a threat. They're just simply there to be hacked apart as you make your way from point A to point B, C and however many other objectives are given to you in any mission. As a Musou title, fans of that type of gameplay will be right at home, but as someone who's more a fan of methodical, often unfairly difficult titles, Berserk offered almost no challenge for me. Though, I'll make it known now that I still had a lot of fun with this.

As Griffith's ambitions crumbled, all Guts could say was sorry.

There aren't a huge amount of combo's within this title, but the further you progress and the higher your level, the more extensions to your basic combos you unlock. Some of these attacks can be charged, while others work by repeatedly bashing triangle (the strong attack button). There are around 8 in total. Two of which can be performed by pressing nothing but square or triangle. While this isn't as fulfilling for someone who prefers deep combat, it does have its perks. Namely it allows you to easily remember which combo does what, so if there's a specific crowd clearing combo you want to use, it's easy to remember and pull off. I regularly found myself pressing square, square, square and following up with triangle three times, finding the three square combo to be the most useful with its three stage whirlwind attack which would clear hundreds of enemies from the screen. Holding and charging triangle was also a good one for dashing in to far off enemies.

I guess one thing I should touch upon is the amount of enemies on screen. When I said there were hundreds of enemies on screen, I wasn't exaggerating and when you've successfully hacked through them, more enemies return in waves. There is a limit and you can clear the whole entire level of enemies, but it depends on how much you want to focus on attacking or if you're prioritising time over death count. A good example of this are the requirements for obtaining Behelits within your mission.

Why would you want Behelits? Good question! You can acquire Behelits on certain missions for extra unlockable content. By completing bonus objectives under the Behelit tab (located at the mission select screen, as well as the pause screen mid-level), you unlock Behelits. Some levels only have one or two to unlock while others can have five or so. Collecting these unlock semi-3D backgrounds that you can pan around slightly, along with currency and materials you can use to upgrade your gear. It's nothing major, but it is a nice touch for fans of the series to appreciate. I've included the first one I unlocked below.

At a more playful time, while Griffith still had his humanity.

The upgrade system is one of the few RPG elements of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. Aside from leveling up and changing horses to ride on the battlefield, much like KT's previous game (Attack on Titan), you can upgrade your gear in the form of accessories, which includes items such as a necklace of Vitality or a Strong Cuff Ring, which usually increases you attack power. You can then use gems/materials to make these stronger, eventually combining multiple abilities into one item and then later using your better items in the creation of even more potent accessories to further maximise your damage output, increasing your HP total, defensive capabilities and even the length of time enemies remain stunned.

With so many enemies on screen, it's a wonder the game doesn't suffer slowdown from a decreased frame rate, or does it? For the most part the engine has no issues holding up with the amount of devastation on screen, but the further you get into the game, the more you'll realise it does begin to struggle. Though not enough to ruin my experience, there was one section towards the end of the game where I did have to endure some slowdown. This was very noticeable as the game dropped to around 15fps, but it only happened this badly once, so may have just been a glitch within the games code. This happened once more during the final level, but it was largely down to the fact there was so much happening on screen with a good variation of enemies. This time however, the game only slowed down to around 20-25fps, so it wasn't a huge problem and thankfully didn't last long.

During combat you have a considerable amount of ways to dispatch your enemies, just not to the level you'd expect to find within say Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. Your character model changes as you progress in the story, starting with young Guts and eventually working your way up to Guts in his Berserker Armour. His weapons also change and remain true to the series during this time, so expect to eventually make regular use of Guts' canon blasting prosthetic arm, his explosive sticky bombs, his arm-mounted auto-crossbow, his Dragon Slayer sword and even some abilities Puck has, such as the ability to heal with Fairy Dust and his ultimate signature move - Puck Spark, which stuns all enemies within range.

Guts facing off against the mighty Nosferatu Zodd in his transformed state.

The more you fight, the more your Frenzy gauge builds up. There are some problems with hit detection, but this is usually only noticeable against the Apostle Boss fights such as Zodd at the Hill of Swords (which you'll see for yourself in the video towards the end of this article). In combat, there are items to boost the speed of Frenzy gauge build-up, items that boost attack and defense up for 60 seconds, as well as your typical healing items, though due to the relatively low difficulty of the default difficulty settings, these are mostly unnecessary unless you plan to play on the harder difficulty settings. In some instances you will need healing items for some of the Boss fights as a few of them can prove a little challenging, though this is mainly down to the power of The Snake Baron, known as The Thief Lord in this game.

Once your Frenzy gauge is full you can press circle to activate it, adding a crimson hue to the screen to represent Guts' rage while you slice and dice through everything as easily as a hot knife melts butter. Once you've killed enough, provided your Frenzy meter is still active, your Deathblow gauge at the side will fill up, allowing you to unleash your Deathblow finisher. This finishing move can be used multiple times, but each time you have to build it up again from nothing and it only builds up while you have Frenzy mode activated, encouraging you to be as brutal as possible as often as you can.

An interesting aspect of the Deathblow feature is that your Deathblow finisher seemingly changes depending on the character model you play as. Your Frenzy gauge also increases in number until you eventually have a maximum of five bars. The first four are numbered while the fifth is simply titled "Max", meaning you've reached your limit. Later on, once you've maxed your Frenzy gauge out, certain characters will have access to the "Transform" ability, allowing them to morph into faster, harder hitting and more devastating versions of their former selves. You can only transform with an activated Frenzy at max and with a full Deathblow meter, but it's worth it because this allows for Guts to activate his Berserker Armour, Zodd to assume his intimidating, flying Minotaur form and Griffith to turn into Femto.

Check out my fight as Berserker Guts vs Grunbeld below:

In total there are seven different playable characters and while you can alternate between some of these throughout the main story, if you're anything like me, you'll just want to play Guts the whole way through, because after all this is his story and his struggle to survive in a world that wants him and everyone around him dead. The characters I've so far played are Guts, Griffith and Zodd. Guts is as furious and angry as you'd imagine and if there wasn't already a Guts' Rage game out there, this would undoubtedly deserve the title. Griffith is very fast and all about those quick lunges and then there's Zodd who although slow in human form, has moves powerful enough to get the job done. Though I found Zodd staggers easily and his human form is a little unsatisfying due to the slow speed of his swings, once you transform he's an absolute beast and incredibly fun to play, just not quite as fun as Berserker Guts.

The full list of playable characters is Guts (multiple forms), Griffith (multiple forms), Judeau, Casca, Serpico, Zodd (multiple forms) and Wyald (multiple forms), though Wyald is only unlocked for play during the Endless Eclipse mode, which leads me onto the different modes of play Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has to offer.

Campaign - Campaign mode is quite naturally, the main story of the game. Playing through this from start to finish is the main objective and allows you on certain missions to play as different characters.

Free mode - This mode allows you to play through any mission freely with any of your unlocked characters. It's straight forward enough.

Endless Eclipse mode - This mode is likely the one you'll keep coming back to and aside from the collectable Behelits (mentioned above), will be your main reason to keep playing Berserk once you're done with the story. It supposedly has an endless amount of layers/floors, but with a set amount of missions. There are milestones to reach which unlock extras for combat and other purposes, but this is where you unlock the Apostle Wyald to play as, obtain more character models/skins and other such extras. For every 20 floors past the first you successfully fight through, you unlock a checkpoint. So after the first floor, if you battle your way to the 21st floor, you can continue from that floor and every 20 floors past that point (once reached in a single play session). This is good because you can't save during this mode, so it's good to have unlockable checkpoints. The Abyss also gets harder the further down you get.

Of note, whichever character or abilities you choose to go into the Abyss with, you'll have a limited supply of and must keep going until you eventually die or leave by choice. I didn't unlock Griffith's Femto form, but there is a costume for it here for when you finish the Eclipse missions 100%, so I'm thinking that's when you get it as the ultimate reward. The set missions you have here can have you fighting alongside or against both allies and enemies, though Skull Knight is usually the one guiding you through this hellish landscape in one of countless layers of the Abyss.

Would you make the sacrifice as Griffith did?
The gameplay is very satisfying and no matter how repetitive it may get, it still manages to somehow keep you glued to the screen. Once you pick this up, it's unlikely you'll want to put the controller back down. The finishers are all pretty stylish to watch and although unlikely to ever see QTE's (Quick Time Events) in a Musou title, I honestly feel they would have been a great addition here and would ultimately be the cherry on the cake.

What I never liked about Musou titles was how no matter where the story was headed, there would almost always be an unnecessary amount of enemies on screen. During the very early stage of the Golden Age arc, if you're a fan of the series you'll remember how it all went down when Corkus decided to jump Guts with other Band of the Hawk members for his gold. The first two attackers got wrecked, Corkus whined and Griffith sent Casca in to rescue him. Guts then overpowered Casca and so Griffith got involved. At this point there were only a handful of Hawk members outside of that and yet in this game, Casca, Corkus and others all seem to have their own team of over one hundred men. That again though, is why I prefer games like Devil May Cry over Musou titles. Action/Adventure games just make a lot more sense usually with their enemy placement and numbers. Musou titles just completely disregard that and this isn't any different. The only exception to the rule is when you're facing the Apostles themselves. Usually it's just a one on one fight, but in the Endless Eclipse mode, this isn't the case as you'll at times find yourself fighting the masses and Apostles at the same time.

The Count - Ugly inside and out. Guts must kill him to avenge Pippin!
Something else worth mentioning is that the story itself feels more like the films, whereby it feels as though it's a series of individual events, rather than an ongoing story. This is largely due to the direction of the game. All throughout the Golden Age, you'll be running through missions broken up with footage from the 2012/2013 animated movies by Studio 4°C. Though a nice touch, the story wouldn't make sense to those without prior knowledge of the series. This is because large chunks of the story are missing, with only the bare essentials being used to give a rough gist of what's going on.

Though a lot of the story dialogue is told through mission briefings, story events/talks and dialogue between characters, most of this isn't fully animated and so you end up with cutscenes found in Bayonetta where the characters themselves barely move, with the exception of facial and bodily movements while the characters usually remain standing on the spot. This is a shame, because I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of the story animated through full on cutscenes, but action cutscenes are few and far between, which is especially noticeable once you've finished the Golden Age arc, where everything switches to in-game animation and again, the actual fully animated cutscenes are few and far between.

Although the most recent Berserk Animé was pretty poorly animated and often jarring due to the constant switching between 2D and 3D animation along with terrible camera angles, I feel KT missed out on an opportunity here to add something more to the Conviction arc, as they could have used a lot of the animations from the Animé to better tell the story during this segment of the game. The biggest disappointment for me however was the fact that the artists had made such beautiful character models, incredibly true to the Manga and yet the lack of full on animated cutscenes meant that the assets weren't used to their full potential. This is a massive shame because the character models and textures are absolutely gorgeous. The characters are exact replicas of their 2D depictions and have been brought to life with their glorious 3D models. The game is truly a sight to behold and as a massive Berserk fan, I couldn't have asked for more on that front.

Check out my fight against Zodd at the Hill of Swords below:

My main point here however is that Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is pretty much fan service for the die hard fans of Berserk out there, but if you're picking this title up as a fan of the Dynasty Warriors series and other Musou titles, you're not likely to understand what's going on, so although this is in some ways a negative, it's also a good way to promote Berserk and introduce new fans into the series, because it's a good idea to read the Manga and watch the earlier 1997 Animé to immerse yourself in the world and grow a deeper understanding of the series before playing this. If for no other reason than to understand the story and fill in the gaps where specific plot points aren't covered.

Speaking of which, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk covers some of the more important aspects of the series, but characters that go beyond the game aren't mentioned at all, even when they should be present. For example, at the Tower of Conviction in St.Albion where Griffith is reborn into the world through the Egg/Behelit Apostle, there is no sign of Azan, Luca or her girls. It's pretty much just Guts' party and Mozgus. There was also no Baphomet Apostle Spawn during the Witch Hunt, no sign of Roderick or Farnese' brother Magnifico at Vritannis, nor was there any sign of Mule, Sonia or Irvine. The end level takes place in the Port Town of Vritannis and yet there is no boat trip at the end of it and so neither Bonebeard nor his crazy band of useless Pirates are present and the fight with Ganishka doesn't even take place at sea, though the animations here are more or less accurate to how Guts and Zodd took out the Eastern Apostle together. Still, during the battle with the Crocodile Pishaka, it would have been nice to have seen the Moonlit Child when he was meant to show up.

Things get real when Guts and Zodd join forces against a greater threat.

Everything you unlock can be found in the Gallery section of the main menu. This ranges from character bios and 3D Model viewing, to browsing artwork and listening to your favourite songs from the original soundtrack of the game. These are nice features but they don't really do a whole lot and the entire soundtrack is sadly, very much forgettable.

Overall Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a very fun game. It may not be the perfect Berserk title I was hoping for, but considering I'm not a fan of Musou titles it did well to hold my attention and even at the time of typing this review, I still find myself returning to the game to battle my way through the hordes of enemies found within the Endless Eclipse mode.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is definitely a game for the fans and with the amount of love that's gone into the production of this title, made apparent by the exceptional, perfectly recreated characters of the Manga, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a game I feel any fan of the series should play. The combat is incredibly satisfying, there's a great amount of replay value here and although it has its flaws, none are detrimental enough to ruin your overall experience and once you've unlocked the Berserker Armour I think you'll find it hard to let this one go.

Be sure to check out the remaining screenshots below, plus if you enjoyed this article and have something else you'd like to add, be sure to let us know in the comments below or hit me up on twitter @CaptainCortez.

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