I thought I was prepared for anything Berserk and the Band of the Hawk threw at me after the tutorial. In a hellish landscape of severed heads, I waded through demonic creatures as a muscular man with a gigantic sword. Each hit caused red splashes to arch across the screen, unapologetically bathing everything in blood. I had no idea how much more twisted things were going to become.
Kentaro Miura’s dark Berserk manga provided the perfect backdrop for a Musou-style game. I followed Guts’ story, from the Golden Age Arc through to The Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc. The basic plot showed how he joined The Band of the Hawk after losing a fight to their leader, Griffith. Yet, welcoming these new companions into his heart seals Guts’ fate. As Guts becomes a cog in accomplishing Griffith’s dream, everyone is tipped into a world of monsters, madness, and death.
Not knowing the plot beforehand actually worked in my favor. Desperate to know what would happen next, I happily plowed through Berserk and the Band of the Hawk‘s Story Mode. A lot of that was thanks to the first arc including wonderfully atmospheric cutscenes from the anime adaptation. Unfortunately, later scenes had to make do with the in-game models, though. It made for a sudden loss of detail, which jarred with me quite a bit, ultimately resulting in a less engaging second half.
Gameplay is a pretty standard Dynasty Warriors experience of running around small maps and killing everything in sight. For the combat, I simply had to learn some basic light and heavy attack combos, then occasionally dodge enemy blows. There was a big focus on allowing me to feel as overpowered as possible. This was particularly clear with how filling the frenzy gauge would reward me with an extended period of extra damage. There was then an additional Death Blow gauge during frenzy mode, allowing me to perform an all-out attack. While a lot of fun, this did have the side effect of making Berserk and the Band of the Hawk relatively easy – so more experienced players may want to begin in Hard or Berserk Mode.
Despite a very small cast of playable characters, I really appreciated how different each one was to control. Fighting styles perfectly matched their personalities, from Guts’ powerful swings, to Griffith’s flamboyance and Judeau’s rather overwhelming speed.
Each character not only had their main weapon, but a choice of side sub-weapons. These had limited uses, but would all recharge over time. I have to admit that I often ignored these to focus on pure swordplay. Yet I still found the range of abilities fun to experiment with, from throwing daggers to summoning golems. Certain characters were even given changes of costume or level upgrades that included additional sub-weapons.
Any upgrades given to Guts were always particularly welcome. With only 6 of the 46 Story Mode missions allowing me to play as anyone else, I have to say that his play style started to grate on me. To be fair, though, it did encourage a decent amount of time to be spent replaying missions in Free Mode, from how much I enjoyed all of the additional characters.
When I was after an even bigger change of pace, I headed over to Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’s Endless Eclipse Mode. This was essentially a multi-layered continuous dungeon that tested how far I could get with a specific character before dying. I really enjoyed the challenge this provided and appreciated how my rewards in outfits, horses, money and experience all carried across to the main game.
I will say that Berserk and the Band of the Hawk had me doing a weird balancing act. The longer I played the more badass I felt, thanks to unlocking more things and just generally having fun cutting down enemies. On the flip side, everything became painfully repetitive. It was hard not to notice when maps and environments got recycled and, of course, a lot of the grunt enemies both looked and acted in the same ways. Even the huge boss fights lost their charm after I realized that they had identical attacks, and could be beaten with the exact same strategy.
On a more personal note, I was disappointed by the lack of local multiplayer. Apparently, it was a purposeful decision by the developers, who wanted the focus to stay on Guts and his lonely journey. I can, of course, appreciate how the single player experience forced me to connect with Guts on a more personal level. Yet that still didn’t stop me from wishing I’d at least had the opportunity to be double the badass with a friend.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk manages to stay enjoyable, despite issues, thanks to the care that has gone into giving the game its unique Berserk flavoring. Fans of the series will welcome the opportunity to fight in battles as their favorite characters, while newcomers are lucky enough to experience the story for the first time.
This review is based off a PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Despite repetition issues, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk combines its memorable story with Musou-style gameplay to produce a fun package for both fans and newcomers to the series.