Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a Dynasty Warriors game set in the Berserk world released in 2017. The crazy and impressive thing about this is that Kentaro Miura’s famous series has been around since 1988. My interest with the series began with the Sega Dreamcast’s Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage. It was a clunker of a game, but the dark setting and compelling characters were new and exciting at the time. Similarly, the anime that covered the first arc of the story was gory and gruesome; always keeping you on the edge of your seat. Berserk’s influence continues to show in other forms entertainment. So, how does the tale of the Berserk do in a modern musou title?
Short answer? Great. Long answer? Let’s look at a few things. For those unfamiliar, Berserk centers on Guts, a mercenary that wanders from battle to battle with his massive sword. Raised by a group of mercenaries since birth, Guts has been in combat ever since he could walk. Guts is now a skilled swordsman that will take on any mission for the right price. The game opens with Guts finishing yet another battle for some coin. Little does he know that he’s being watched by Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawk. Griffith wants Guts to join his team. Guts joins the Hawks after some convincing, but there’s more to Griffith than meets the eye. Guts will learn that there’s more important things to fight for than money.
Anyone familiar with the story of Berserk will know what to expect with the game’s narrative. Personally, having watched the anime from the 90s and the more recent adaptations, I enjoyed getting to revisit everything in video game format because Berserk is an important piece of dark fantasy history. The storylines of the Golden Age, Conviction, the Black Swordsman and more translated well to the game. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of Berserk, then you’re in for a bloody and brutal adventure. The game draws out some of the story with filler missions, but the overall adventure from start to finish retains a solid level of momentum.
Bloody and brutal doesn’t even begin to describe the level of violence Guts and the others will face. Mutilations, decapitations, immolations, and much more await players. The game looks sharp and polished, and its violence is always at the forefront. Watching enemies, both human and fiend, getting butchered by the hundreds is a satisfying sight. Some footage from the modern anime is woven into the story to add extra bits of bloodlust. The game is entirely voiced in Japanese. The downside to this is that it can get distracting during a mission when there’s a conversation going on. If you’re trying to keep up with the reading, then you’ll likely be swarmed by enemies.
Swarms of enemies are the norm for anything Dynasty Warriors. That’s the case here. Nearly every mission will require you to head from one point on the map to another while cutting, slicing, kicking, blasting, and/or slashing your way through hordes of enemies. Prior to starting a mission, you can equip a variety of items and customizable accessories. As the game progresses, you’ll be able to transfer skills from one accessory to another. You can perform a weak attack, a strong attack, dodges, activate sub-weapon, use items, and guard. Combining weak and strong attacks will perform unique combos depending on your character. As the combat continues to heat up, you’ll build power in a bar underneath your character’s energy. Once full, you can press a button to enter a more powerful state where your attacks deal more damage and you move quicker. Continuing to slay your foes in this state builds up another meter. When this second meter is full, you can perform a super flashy and super deadly special attack of immeasurable power. Some missions have you facing a boss. These can be a challenge because they’re hit point sponges and will activate super armor to avoid flinching from hits.
Other than some finnicky issues with riding mounts and accessing certain areas in certain maps, Berserk plays smoothly. In fact, my biggest issue is the repetitiveness of Guts being the only selectable character to use. You can replay missions as any of the playable characters but playing through story missions usually requires Guts. He’s the star of this show but it can get redundant having to perform his same move set over and over. A minor issue is with Behelits: collectables that you get for fulfilling certain tasks. A lot of them have a time a limit, which kind of contradicts the, “Kill as many enemies as possible” theme. But, that’s a minor nitpick. Collecting Behelits unlocks special artwork so it’s fun to get as many as possible.
If you need a distraction from Guts’ story, then there’s a massive glossary covering all the Berserk facts to check out and a mode called Endless Eclipse where you must battle through a grueling 100 floors of terror. Otherwise, finishing Berserk will take a good 20 hours or so. Before it was even announced, I was chatting with some friends about other franchises that would do well in a Dynasty Warriors type of game. A lot of us said Berserk would be perfect for it. The game was announced a few months later. And, here we are. I’m sure that this game was in the works for a long time, but it’s amusing to think that we kind of willed it into existence. I think anyone who enjoys a good action game and doesn’t mind copious gore will enjoy Berserk and the Band of the Hawk no matter their familiarity with the world of Berserk. The story is great, the action is solid, and there’s enough content to last for hours.
Overall, 8/10: While repetitive at times, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a solid game that combines a familiar foundation and a legendary franchise.