‘Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’ Review (PlayStation 4)
Koei Tecmo’s mission to introduce new audiences to famous anime series continues with Berserk and The Band of the Hawk, chronicling the life of lone wolf mercenary Guts and his many battles. Berserk is a button masher’s dream, with hordes of enemies on-screen at one time and combo counters reaching into the thousands. For Koei Tecmo and developer Omega Force it’s unfortunately a step backward, as the innovation in movement that came with Attack on Titan has been replaced with the familiar scheme, which is a disappointment.
This game follows the same blueprint I’ve seen from Warriors games since the PlayStation 2 era: throw a bunch of enemies at players, make make them a few buttons as much as they can to eliminate them, move on to the next stage. You can still deploy a temporary boost to power and speed, culminating in a super attack that devastates the field. There are still objectives to capture on the battlefields; there are still beefed-up soldiers and boss characters to deal with; and there are still repetition at every turn. After Attack on Titan changed things around a little bit, I thought perhaps the Warriors template had turned a new leaf, but it seems that leaf has just rotated all the way around to its original position.
Luckily for Omega Force the story of Berserk fits that old formula perfectly. Guts is a super powerful warrior, accomplishing some incredible feats throughout the original Berserk anime and manga. Those events are played through here in great detail, including supporting characters like Griffith and Casca in its storylines. The game does gloss over Guts’s upbringing with the mercenary Gambino, but very little screen time is given to that arc for better or worse.
The story arcs are good enough that they can carry this game on their own, but even the most interesting parts of the tale are turned into slow-paced slogs due to the dated combat mechanics. As with Fist of the North Star and even Hyrule Warriors, this is a game I’ve played before just in a new setting with new characters. If I wasn’t approaching this game under the mindset of being able to experience Berserk, instead perhaps wanting to see what the Warriors formula does now this time, I’d have an even more bitter taste in my mouth than I already do.
To its credit Omega Force does its best to break up the monotony via cutscenes taken straight from the full-length Berserk feature films. These are beautifully animated vignettes that move the story along and bridge the gap between each battle perfectly. Those with a background in Berserk, even those who may have even watched these exact scenes before, will still be enthralled by the other two hours of footage peppered through the main story. Including these scenes was a smart move by Omega Force, because without them Berserk would be even more monotonous.
There are a few other modes designed to make things more interesting than the standard Berserk story arcs, but both of them are simply more of the same gameplay with little addition or innovation. The first is Free Mode, which is simply playing the story missions with other characters than Guts unlocked through the story mode. Each character has his or her own style and move set, but there’s no major change to playing the game. The second is Endless Eclipse Mode, a mode set in the demonic underworld and dotted with “layers” or floors of a descending dungeon. While things are a little more interesting here, as story elements are added via learning the “desires” of various Berserk characters, this is again more hacking and slashing through hordes of enemies. These are demons as opposed to the human soldiers of the story, but they still serve as meaningless grunts just getting in my way.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk could have been more than a simple re-issuing of the same Warriors formula that Omega Force has perfected over the years, but instead this is merely a re-telling of the Berserk story with a lot of emphasis on the Square and Triangle buttons. The addition of two hours of anime footage breaking up the monotony is a nice touch, and the play modes outside of Story let me do more than just hear the Berserk narrative again, but ultimately none of these are enough to keep the game from feeling repetitive and droll. Building on the innovation of Attack on Titan would have taken guts, but instead Berserk falls back into Omega Force familiarity.
This review was completed with a digital copy of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.