Genre: Hack and Slash
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Feb 21, 2017
BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk is a hack and slash game set in a dark medieval fantasy world, in the style of the long running Koei Tecmo Warriors series. Much like Kentaro Miura’s manga and anime that it is based on, graphic violence and sexual themes make this one for mature gamers that aren’t adverse to this type of content.
The world of BERSERK is well presented in a dark anime style, with dark also being an apt word for describing the tone. Not only is the game gory, with copious amounts of blood, the themes covered within the story can be uncomfortable to sit through. For the first arc, this is presented well with actual anime cutscenes progressing the storyline; however, later on these become completely absent, instead using in game graphics. While this could be because of budget, I feel it would have been better to just stick with the in game graphics for the entire game for consistency. The inclusion of the anime cutscenes, while a nice addition, feels like they were just put in because they were available to use, making the switch to the in game models more jarring when they start to get used. Overall, though the bleak world of BERSERK is well presented, and should appeal to those that enjoy both anime and dark fantasy settings.
Gameplay revolves around meeting certain victory conditions within each map, with optional missions popping up which can be completed to gain behelits, which unlock panels of pictures within the gallery. These can range from killing a certain amount of enemies, taking out certain enemies which appear, defending a point, or merely making your way to marked objectives. How these objectives are completed, however, comes down to a basic gameplay loop of cutting through the small insignificant minion enemies to build your frenzy gauge, which can be used to quickly take down the tougher named enemies. This is where the Musou series generally attracts the most negativity, with some seeing this loop as highly repetitive, and has earned it a reputation of ‘if you played one you played them all’. Those who like this style of game will find a lot to like here, with the small changes to the mechanics, as well as the weighty visceral feel to combat providing hours of digital blood filled bubble wrap popping fun.
Controls in BERSERK follow the basics of square for light attack, triangle for strong and charge attacks, with different combinations being unlocked as the player character levels up. As the player ploughs through the slew of enemies a bar fills at the bottom, and on this filling, pressing circle activates a frenzy mode. While in this mode attack power is increased, and while the player can still be stunned or knocked back, they don’t take damage to their vitality gauge while this is active. Killing enemies or dealing damage while in this mode allows the filling of a second bar, which when full pressing circle again unleashes a powerful death blow attack. These area of effect attacks are particularly powerful, and are best used for felling the larger names enemies and bosses. L1 is used for blocking, R1 for using equipment or accessories which are selected by the d-pad. These come in the form of sub weapons and consumables, with weapons being reusable after cooldowns and consumables being stock based. Holding L2 calls the player’s horse, which along with the X button for dashing gives decent options for moving through the battlefield.
Rounding out the controls are R3 for locking onto named enemies within range, with the right stick also serving to cycle once locked on, with R2 not being used until much later in the game once an ability to enter a superpowered state at the cost of a full death blow gauge when in Frenzy Mode. All of these buttons can be totally remapped, so if using the shoulder buttons for attacks is more comfortable these can be set within the options menu.
BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk’s story mode will take around 12 hours to get through. This is depending on the difficulty selected, player skill, how well the player optimises their equipment, and how much time is spent on each mission completing the special objectives which pop up. There are 46 missions in total covering four Arcs, with the first of these Arcs being split into three.
All of the missions become unlocked for Free Mode as they are completed, allowing the ability to replay them with any of the eight different characters which are unlocked throughout the story. Mostly it will only be Guts that is playable in the majority of story missions, and while a few do allow the use of other characters with spending gold to bring them up to the same level as Guts, it’s best to just stick with him through the Story instead using the gold to upgrade your accessories.
After playing through the Story, the Endless Eclipse is what will make players want to continue playing, aside from replaying missions in Free Mode. In this mode vitality and equipped items are not restored, with the abyss being reset on a player being killed. This mode can be seen as functioning as a survival mode, to see how far you can reach in the abyss. It is possible to save progress, though this can only be resumed from the start of the current layer which is reset, or by restarting fresh. When a quicksave is present for the Endless Eclipse only this mode can be played, as attempting to go back into Story or Free Modes will require the quicksave to be discarded and as such any progress reset.
When making your way through the Eclipse various characters ‘desires’ will be revealed. Depending on the desire chosen, different missions will be presented, with an overview of rewards listed. For example, some may only give a bounty, but others may reward materials, bonus reward money, or accessories. Satisfying these desires leads to moving onto a deeper layer of the eclipse. Fulfilling these desires for the first time increases desire progress, with rewards at certain points. Every five layers, you are able to go back to camp to choose new desires to make your way through the depths of the eclipse. In this camp, while not able to change equipped items, accessories can be changed and upgraded/amalgamated. Progress is shared between all characters, but the layers on which desires appear are different for each character. The mode is cleared once you reach the deepest reachable layer, which increases as the story mode is progressed. Clearing certain layers also leads to rewards which are specific for each character.
The previously mentioned behelits can be earned by defeating stray demons, which again unlock extra objectives. While resources are not restored, they can be earned within the eclipse through activities such as helping allies that may appear transport goods to a target destination or by destroying enemy transport units,
The options menu within BERSERK provides the ability to toggle various settings, from setting the difficulty (which there are four of, Easy/Normal/Hard/Berserk), to allowing the player to customize specific game settings.
These include on/off toggles for the display, vitality gauge, subtitles, and gore. Controls can also be completely rebound here, with camera settings also having good options available, with vertical and horizontal default and inverted options. Camera speed can be adjusted in increments via slider from 1 – 15, as can audio levels with independant sliders for BGM, sound effect, voice and movie volumes.
Data management rounds out the options menu with the ability to save and load, with a data sharing option available for uploading and downloading for cross play with the vita version. The Save data shows play time in hours and minutes, with percentage completion of the gallery, episodes cleared, and endless eclipse layers cleared.
As a package, BERSERK has a decent length story mode, and a fun survival style mode giving some longevity to the title. It is one of the more enjoyable anime games, with no prior knowledge of the series required, being simple enough for anyone to jump in, yet having enough differences to warrant veterans of the musou genre to give it a look. However, much like other games in the genre, enjoyment is very subjective, and while gameplay has a great feel to it repetition and ‘more of the same’ feelings may cause player fatigue long before the story wraps. As such, while I would recommend it at full price for those that know what they are getting into, those who aren’t sure would be better off waiting for a sale.
- Good use of source material
- Plenty of content
- Great visceral feel to the combat makes slaying enemies satisfying
- Small roster of playable characters
- Can be repetitive
- Use of anime cutscenes for only the start of the story makes the rest feel cheaper
Bravezerker gives BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk a Drastik Measure 7.5 out of 10 (75).