The curse of the Black Swordsman
Berserk has been a series plagued with the curse of poor adaptation. While there have been multiple attempts to bring the fantasy epic to new formats outside the manga, not a single one has managed to capture the passion and rage felt within the manga’s pages.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, the latest Musou game from Omega Force (the team behind Dynasty Warriors) looks to focus on capturing the series’ action and leave the emotion at the door. And while in some aspects the game succeeds, it’s clear that the Berserk curse is still in full effect.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk tells the tale of the mercenary named Guts. Born from death and knowing nothing but violence, Guts is nothing more than a killing machine for hire. That is, until he meets the leader of the Band of the Hawk, Griffith. After being forced to join the Hawk, Guts is roped into a battle that will change the world forever.
A lot of the joy of Berserk comes from its masterful storytelling and character development. Sadly, a lot of the series finer elements are lost in Band of the Hawk, choosing to use a combination of CGI cutscenes and even taking scenes straight out of the Golden Age arc films.
Berserk is notoriously difficult to adapt, and credit where credit is due, Band of the Hawk does its best to tell a cohesive version of the story that still manages to keep the player flowing from battle to battle. Plus, the game tells the story of Guts starting from the Golden Age arc all the way up to the Falcon of the Millennium Empire, making it the longest adaptation of Berserk to date, so it’s easy to see why it was chosen to trim some of the fat off the story to make it easier to digest.
But a perfect retelling this is not.
However, the gameplay side, things start to look a little better. By now it seems that Omega Force have found the perfect recipe for success with their hack ‘n’ slack games, giving the player the feeling of absolute power as they mow down thousands of enemies that dare stand in their way. Berserk sticks relatively close to the formula, but shakes it up in a few ways.
Gone are territory captures, and in their wake are more streamlined and story driven missions. Now some missions will involve progressing through a linear level, meanwhile some might involve protecting civilians or destroying enemy artillery. It adds some great verity to the standard routine of having square bases that need to be captured.
Guts is also a brilliant character to play as. Due to his preference for wielding a massive sword, the wave damage he does is incredible, easily allowing him to mow down hundreds of foes without hesitation. There are a few other playable characters, such as Griffith, Zodd and Serpico, each with their own move sets and skills, but all of them pale in comparison to Guts and his behemoth sword and unstoppable rage.
Sadly, there are a few caveats. The games makes the player take part in every battle from the start of the series, meaning every conflict Guts goes through is a mission. This doesn’t seem too bad at first, but soon it becomes apparent that quite a few stages in the game are little more than filler stages made to make the game look longer. Fights that may only last a panel or are only simply hinted at in the manga are now full stages.
This becomes painfully obvious after the eclipse and you have to play every single one of the nights Guts had to fend off vengeful spirits.
It’s a perfect example of how padding a game out with content can hinder it rather than help it.
And it’s a shame that there’s so much padding in the early parts of the game, as due to the Golden Age arc being a primary story driven arc, it ends up being the most boring part of Band of the Hawk. All of the enemies are the same few soldiers that never really spark much imagination or engagement to fight. And a lot of the time you can get by with a simple mash of the square button.
But once the eclipse happens, the game gets wildly more engaging. Now all the enemies pose slightly more threat than before, and items slowly become more of a necessity rather than an option. This is when the game also introduces its massive boss fights. These allow the player to make good use of Guts’ arsenal of weaponry and make you really feel like the black swordsman of legend.
It ironic, everything in Band of the Hawk gets much better after the eclipse, the worst moment in Guts life.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a pretty solid attempt at adapting and condensing the Berserk epic into a playable form. While it falls short on a few fronts, once the game really gets going you’ll be finding it hard to put the controller down. Fans of the series can easily find something to love here, just don’t go in expecting the ultimate Berserk experience.
The Berserk curse continues….