Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review – Bloody Madness

When I learned Koei Tecmo was handling a game adaptation for Kentaro Miura’s legendary Berserk franchise, I was definitely intrigued. I’ve played or enjoyed the majority of the offerings from the franchise, so you could say I’m a fan. Does this musou-styled adaptation stay true to the dark, blood-drenched tale of betrayal, revenge, and madness?

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 21, 2017
Players: 1
Price: $59.99

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a pretty game, considering the majority of what you’ll be seeing is blood and limbs flying everywhere at all times. Omega Force really nailed the look of a cel-shaded 3D game adaptation of Miura’s dark fantasy world, providing an equally grim 3D world to explore.

Environments, while sometimes using recycled layouts (particularly in battlefields), are nice to look at and generally do their purpose – providing you a playground to murder thousands and thousands of your enemies.

Sometimes you can have your entire screen filled with enemies, and the game chugs along nicely. Overall the game’s performance is solid, I rarely saw the framerate drop and when it did, there was a considerable number of particle effects and/or enemies.

Overall the game is quite nice to look at in motion and everything is quite crisp looking, while retaining that nice cel-shaded look that feels like a proper 3D adaptation of what is predominantly a 2D franchise (to the fans, at least).

The game is a musou-styled experience, meaning fans of Dynasty Warriors or Sengoku Basara will feel right at home murdering countless foes. The vast majority of the game involves killing thousands of enemies across large battlefields, with boss battles smattered in between.

As you level up Guts or other characters, they gain more abilities you can unleash through different attack combos. There’s also your sub-weapons and alternate forms you can switch out or unlock when in battle, ranging from Guts’ berserker form or Zodd’s full apostle form.

Overall you can roll through levels mercilessly destroying everyone and anything in your path, that is if you play on normal as Guts. The characters play differently and naturally the game is more unforgiving on higher difficulties.

There are some enemies, however, that literally have the ability to juggle you repeatedly – even through your block. I also had some issues with the camera, which can be unwieldy at times, especially with enemies that plow you into a corner.

I had a few moments when I was literally trapped in a corner with the camera shoved up Guts’ ass. There is a good number of enemies that have abilities that just break through your combos, and there are bosses that require a bit more tact and less mindless hacky slashy combos.

The voice actors from the CG anime all reprise their roles in the game, and they really do a good job with the oftentimes twisted and crazy themes. Various bits of dialogue are voiced and full dialogue scenes in between levels are as well.

Since this is a musou game, you should expect lots of grunting and screaming as well – the main focus of the game is entirely on big open arenas where you murder thousands of people or monsters. Throughout battles you’ll hear friends and foes alike yell things or issue out commands, and it all fits together nicely.

The music in the game is mostly serviceable and fits the adventurous, dark, or downright depressing themes. There isn’t a track that will really stand out or get stuck in your head, however the included tracks are well done. Some of my favorites are actually tunes you hear at camp, and the eerie stuff playing during the Eclipse.

Anyone familiar with Berserk knows the story is a tragic and disturbing one – filled with bloodshed, war, as well as themes of sacrifice, despair, insanity, selfishness, and so on. It’s hard to talk about lots of the story without spoilers.

The game begins in the beginning of Guts’ story, in the Golden Age Arc and ends roughly in the Falcon of the Millennium Empire Arc, after Guts and his companions get onto that infamous boat. You know – that boat.

For complete newcomers, you play as the series protagonist, Guts, a mercenary born an orphan to a lynched mother – and that’s probably the least messed up part of his life. He wanders as a sword for hire, surviving as he sees fit, until he’s forced to join The Band of the Hawk under its leader, Griffith.

From there you travel and fight more as a soldier under Griffith, laying waste to thousands, hundreds of thousands of enemies across a multitude of battlefields. Overall the game does a nice job of squeezing in little moments of camaraderie, while also naturally focusing on the twists and the betrayals.

I’d say this game is the first adaptation to cover a pretty comprehensive swath of the source, the manga. While there have been various anime and game adaptations before, this is the most ambitious work to cover basically the majority of the story released thus far.

There are certain scenes or bits of scenes that are shown in the manga or anime that aren’t shown in the game, and this is mostly due to simply how batshit insane and or gratuitously bloody or disturbing they are. There’s also the bit with Griffith and the bucket not really shown, but that’s disturbing in its own way. If you’ve never read the manga or watched any of the anime, you’ll be able to follow along fine.

It’s worth pointing out the actual in-game cutscenes are taken directly from the CG anime adaptation, and while some fans weren’t happy with that anime in and of itself, it fits in the game. To someone just going into the game blind, I think you’ll be satisfied with the transition between the game and the cutscenes, as well as the balance with the two.

I really enjoyed my time with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. I went in not knowing what to expect considering the game is a musou, especially with how it was released with little to no fanfare from its publisher. If you’re not into musou games, this is an unadulterated musou with some quirks – so steer clear.

Perhaps the source material is too dark and violent to really tout this game, however, if you’re a fan of the series you should absolutely consider picking it up. Some minor performance or gameplay issues don’t really ruin the experience – which is to say Berserk is one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a review copy received from Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8

The Good:

  • Probably the most faithful game adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk franchise/masterpiece
  • Solid, crisp visuals and performance even with tons of enemies on screen
  • Fun musou gameplay with some quirks for power-ups and such

The Bad:

  • Random difficulty spikes
  • Odd or wonky camera issues
  • Some content from manga/anime not shown in game
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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry.

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