Demons have had a bit of a rough time in fiction over the years. I mean, just because you’ve been offered up as a sacrifice to them and they want to eat you doesn’t mean you should chop them into pieces, right? They’re entitled to their free speech and should be heard. Not that the oddly named Guts cares. Dude’s on a mission to eliminate them all after they killed all his comrades.
The story of Berserk is a bit different from the regular fantasy tale of slaying monsters, fans of Kentaru Miura’s series love it for its glorious hyper-violence and the way it showcases humanity’s dark side in the most horrifying of ways. It’s a story of monsters (both literal and hypothetical), rape, sodomy, and violence – much of which is lost in this videogame adaption. And while you can understand this on the rape side of things due to issues of taste and decency, it’s harder to understand why the violence has been watered down so much.
Omega Force is known for producing musou titles – such as Samurai and Dynasty Warriors – where you control a single person on the battlefield and are tasked with cutting down hundreds and thousands of foes to win the battle. In Guts this type of game has the perfect protagonist as he’s a one man wrecking machine cutting a swathe through the throng of enemies in his path. It’s this sheer number of units on screen that’s solely responsible for the toned-down violence, as the game seems to struggle with the volume of enemies on screen as it is (if the pop in is anything to go by at least), having them all being dismembered and butchered would probably push the engine to breaking point. The thing is, with violence being Berserk’s primary hook the idea of reducing the number of enemies and upping the gore would have probably been the better idea.
Despite the Berserk theme this is a musou title through and through. Once you’re through the rather boring tutorial level you’ll be thrown into a series of battlegrounds with oodles of identical looking enemy units you’ll need to dispatch on your way to the main objectives of capturing points on the map and the eradication of stronger enemies – which look just like the regular ones, just a little bigger and with a name above their heads. Aside from the occasional boss battle this formula doesn’t change and can grow rather repetitive, especially before the Eclipse where you find yourself killing armies of men over and over. Once he’s got his hands on the Dragonslayer, Guts becomes much more fun to control, but the formula unfortunately remains unchanged.
Through the course of Berserk you’ll watch anime cut-scenes that set the stage for upcoming events, but these are jarring compared to the in-game scenes that are rendered in a style more like the manga. These in-game scenes are nice because they give you a chance to appreciate the detail, but the animation work in them is incredibly wooden and laughable, considering the range of movement in the combat it feels bizarre. This lack of attention to detail carries through to other elements of the game as well; certain sections of the translation job are poorly spelt or grammatically incorrect, and later on in the game Guts loses his left hand (there’s no way I’m considering that a spoiler, nerds), but his attack animations don’t change, so he’s still using a sword two-handed without a second hand, it looks really odd. And then there’s the camera. In open areas it’s fine, but in locations with scene dressing like the cities, mountains or woods any time it gets near an object it can become impossible to see your character, and when you’re dealing with a two-storey tall beast that hits like a truck you can end up backing yourself into a corner and struggling to get back out.
Free mode at least goes some way to changing things up a touch with you able to take any of the unlocked characters into whatever scenario you like, although this doesn’t change the basic structure of the mission at hand. What is different, though, is Endless Eclipse – which is a kind of rogue-like mode. You select a character and then have to pick a mission from a set of ‘desires’ put to you. What follows is a battle through five floors to achieve the goal the requester made, after which you’re taken back and you can fulfill another request. The further you descend the harder the requests get and the better the rewards, but death or leaving the mode resets progress back to square one meaning you need to start again. It’s an interesting little diversion and any XP or rewards gained are carried over to the other modes, so if you find yourself struggling in the story you can use this to buff yourself up a bit.
What Berserk and the Band of the Hawk amounts to is like ordering a pint of your favourite beer and finding it’s been watered down to within an inch of its life. Fans will like the fact that many of the characters and scenarios that they know are included (albeit with some rather bizarre omissions and some terribly dull filler segments), while they won’t appreciate the fact it’s been neutered to the point where the violence amounts to little more than a splashing of claret. The main hook of the source material is gone and what’s left is a musou game that happens to be Berserk themed rather than a Berserk game in its own right.
Character renders are faithful to the source
Large roster of fan favourite characters
Too much in the way of filler