Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review
The Berserk manga series is no stranger to adaptations both animated and in video games. Running since 1989, the story follows protagonist Guts in his journey to first find himself, and then seek revenge.
But of course, if you're a fan of the series you already know this and also know it's a gross simplification. Berserk is dark, violent, and more "heavy" than the Western market sees in anime and manga as a whole. Koei Tecmo's own take on the series in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does its best to present the series to modern gaming, though it wears its Warriors roots on its sleeve.
Unlike many of Koei Tecmo's recent franchise Warriors games, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does not bring much new to the table. While fans of the manga and Warriors titles in general will probably get a kick out of seeing the story unfold and being able to play as Guts in the most serialized segments of the series, anyone not a fan of either formula will quickly get bored -- and even those tired of seeing the Golden Age and Black Swordsman played out may choose to put this one down.
In all of its 27 years of its manga running, Berserk has seen two anime adaptations and three connected movies. None of these adaptations go very far into Guts's journey but out of them all so far, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk goes the furthest for now. That's a definite plus if you're waiting for the next season of the CG anime.
One could go on and on about the series outside of this game adaptation, but you're here to find out if Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is worth your time. The answer to that question will really depend on whether you like Berserk or whether you like Warriors-style games. There really is no middle ground here.
Mash square and triangle for 10 minutes because this is a Warriors game
From a gameplay perspective Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a Warriors game through and through. That means simple combat that mostly utilizes three buttons, leagues of worthless peons to kill, and running around a map to fulfill objectives that push along the story.
While the game has eight playable characters, you spend the vast majority of your time in story mode playing solely as Guts. Guts moves with the weight you would expect him to -- not being exceptionally nimble thanks to being a pretty huge guy with a sword as big as his body.
It makes sense to play as Guts throughout most of the story so there are no complaints there, but the other characters are essentially useless unless you take the dive into the Endless Eclipse, the game's side mode akin to running a 100-stage gauntlet. You may be able to play them in a few missions in story mode, but it never gives you a chance to get a taste for their playstyle.
This is a bit of a double-sided complaint, because it does in fact make sense to almost solely play Guts throughout the story -- but it gets repetitive. By the time you're done with the 40+ mission story you've pretty much mastered all Guts has to offer and are hungry for another way to play.
The biggest gameplay complaint isn't that you primarily take control of Guts, but that the game is so easy. A complaint familiar to anyone into any Warriors title, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is very easy. Figure out your preferred button combo and spam it until you're finished with the game, easy peasy. That's the way I like my Warriors games, and I didn't expect much different here. That's what difficulty settings are for, though as always it simply makes enemies block more often and have more health.
This trend continues into the Endless Eclipse side mode, which does not press the player in any unique ways but does at least let you play as other characters and has a reasonable list of unlockables upon completion with each character.
Free mode, a staple of any of this style of game from Koei Tecmo, brings absolutely nothing new. If you want to get Behelits (rewards for completing specific objectives) you missed or want to throw down in the story missions with someone other than Guts, this is the way to go. But there are no unique missions in free mode.
The game also boasts an accessory and item equipping system, but the only real part you're going to be paying attention to is accessories.
Accessories are obtained in battle and in the shop, but the real meat of them is improving them via amalgamation -- feeding other accessories into your primary accessories for better stats. Improvements like being able to stun enemies for longer, increase your damage while in frenzy, or do even more damage with your death blow are very welcome, and the boosts provided via accessories are noticeable. It makes upgrading accessories a rewarding process.
The handling of Berserk
Both between missions and intertwined with them are a number of cutscenes taken from the recent Berserk: The Golden Age Arc movies and the recent TV CG anime series. At times these cutscenes are as long as the gameplay missions themselves.
The game's cutscenes are the binding that holds the game together, each one setting the tone for the beat down you're about to administer -- but not touching on the intricacies of the side characters nor the situations at hand. Regardless they serve as a powerful vehicle to keep the player pushing forward, and I'd be lying if I said part of my motivation to keep going was to see the cutscenes play out (as I skipped the recent movie trilogy).
While the amount and length of the game's cutscenes are certainly a cut above the other Warriors-type games, they do not do the story of Berserk justice. What's shown in Band of the Hawk is only the topmost layer of the events in the portions of the series it covers and gives just the tiniest glimpses into the motivations of the supporting characters or even Guts himself.
The story contents of the game, while hefty compared to other Koei Tecmo outings, are bare bones compared to the actual scope of the source material. As such I cannot recommend it as a worthwhile starting point for newcomers to Berserk and its story. Not just because you do not feel the full effects of what happens at a certain core event, but because the sheer brutality and cruelty depicted in the manga is entirely missing here.
One can understand having to censor Berserk for a game release -- there's more violence and sexual imagery in even the arcs covered in Band of the Hawk that a game would have to be rated AO to even touch half of it. But diehard fans should be aware that the game is essentially in the same censored state as it was in the Japanese release with little changes. If you wanted the real messy work as seen in Miura's manga, you'll have to look elsewhere.
These things all said, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a great bit of fanservice for fans wanting to take the story into their own hands and play it out, with a unique impact one can only get from a video game. Those unfamiliar with Berserk would do better to read the manga first and then take the dive into this title. If you don't care and just want another Warriors-style game, go for it. You could definitely do worse.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk doesn't do its source material's story justice but it holds up as a Warriors game, even if you are essentially stuck playing one character throughout the game's story. With boss fights (!) and admittedly more gore than other similar titles -- not to mention some very fitting music -- this one has its own charms, and Endless Eclipse mode grants plenty of mindless grinding opportunities after the game's 15 ~ 20 hour story has completed.
Disclosure: Writer was granted a review copy of this game by the publisher.