Publisher Koei Tecmo and developer Omega Force have been making Musou (Warriors) games based on anime and manga franchises for a while now. They've looked at series like Gundam, Fist of the North Star, Arslan, One Piece, and most recently Attack on Titan. Now Koei Tecmo has developed a Musou-style game based on the beloved dark fantasy anime and manga, Berserk. Has Omega Force done the revered anime and manga series justice? They sure did. They went positively berserk with this one.
Berserk is known for its mature story and graphic violence, and both are present and accounted for here. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk's story starts off in the Golden Age Arc, and runs through to the Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc. Omega Force has put a lot of effort into the story and it's one of the game's biggest and best features. It follows the manga closely, something that fans will appreciate, and is what you'd expect: well written and one that fans will want to relive. Because the game starts from the very beginning and goes through to the latest completed Arc, it's also a great starting point for people who haven't yet explored the series. The game has two kinds of cutscenes too, those being in-engine and anime style, both of which are well executed.
The story mode takes around 15-20 hours to complete, but there are side objectives that you can go back and tackle. By completing these objectives you will get a Behelit that will unlock a picture panel which reveals a background, one of the game's awards. The game does have two other modes, both of which are unlocked after completing the first few missions of the story mode: Free Mode and Endless Eclipse. Free Mode is effectively what you get in other Musou titles, where you can select any stage you have completed and play through it again with any characters that you've unlocked. Endless Eclipse is something entirely different, however.
Much like a survival mode, Endless Eclipse plays out similarly to Devil May Cry's Bloody Palace. In this you have to select a desire, and essentially these are quests that have to complete in order to obtain the reward and move onto the deeper layers of the Endless Eclipse. It'll test you to the limit and if you quit or lose then you have to start from the beginning. It's a lot of fun and we spent several hours delving through its many layers, and we can see players sinking in a lot of time in order to get all the progress rewards and Behelits available.
The gameplay is your usual Musou fare, but with a few additions to the formula that makes the game stand out. One of the additions are sub-weapons that some characters have, and they vary, including throwing daggers, a crossbow, and main character Guts' arm cannon, to name a few. The sub-weapons give you more ways to defeat your enemies on the battlefield and Guts' arm cannon is particularly devastating. Once a sub-weapon has been used, it will have a cooldown period until you can use it again. You can also take items out onto the battlefield with you, and this is a great addition as it saves running around the map to find a health item if you're running low. One of the best gameplay elements, however, is the lock-on system, which can be used to target named enemies and bosses. Whilst this may not seem like a big deal to some, it makes fights look cool and gives off a duel vibe. The lock-on system also gives bosses a Dark Souls-lite feel (although it's not as challenging).
Your character has three gauges; Health, Frenzy, and Death Blow. The Health gauge is self-explanatory. You fill up the Frenzy meter by attacking enemies, and bigger combos fill up the meter faster. Once the gauge is full, you can activate Frenzy mode, where you do more damage and your level goes up each time you fill it up. Also whilst in Frenzy mode "Obliteration" occurs. Obliteration is represented by sending enemies flying or cutting them in half. The final gauge is called Death Blow and can only be filled up when you are in Frenzy mode. The Death Blow meter is similar to the Musou bar in Dynasty Warriors, in that once the Death Blow meter is completely filled you can execute a Death Blow attack which will decimate your enemies and deal significant damage.
Each character that you play as feels unique too. Now, this isn't something new to any of the Musou games, but it is worth mentioning. Guts is an all-rounder, as his attacks carry power and there is weight behind them; Griffith is fast and uses a sabre to cut through the enemy; and Judeau wields two blades and has ranged attacks. On top of this you can equip accessories to impact your character's stats as well. Your equipment can be enhanced to further increase the benefits of the equipped gear. You can also amalgamate items which improves the stats of your accessories by using up equipment that you no longer need.
Boss fights in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk are a lot of fun, and they flesh out the gameplay and provided a break from the usual grind. Some bosses can just be attacked until they're defeated, whereas some will require you to be patient and evade their attacks and learn their patterns. The bosses generally aren't that difficult thanks in part to the fact that you can take items with you into battle.
From a technical perspective, this is a nice looking game with a fantastic art style. Whilst the graphics aren't on Uncharted levels, this is one of the best, if not the best looking, Musou game to date. That said, we still feel that it lacks a little in terms of visuals. The game was originally released in Japan on PS Vita, PS3, and PS4 and even though it's only launching on PS4, PS Vita and PC here in the West, it stands to reason that the PS3 version (and the Vita version for that matter) held it back a little.
Whilst there are a lot of positive things about Berserk, it does come with a couple of negatives. The game's biggest flaw is the camera. When fighting larger enemies the camera sometimes has trouble tracking the enemy, even with the lock-on system activated. Also, if you're up against a wall and a large enemy is right in front of you, the screen will mostly be taken up by your opponent. Musou games have always had problems with frame-rate, but thankfully Berserk doesn't suffer from this problem as much as some others. The only times we encountered a drop was when we executed a Death Blow and the move killed over a hundred enemies, and even then it didn't drop every time we did it. When it happens it is noticeable, though.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk will please both Berserk and Musou (Warriors) fans alike. A well made story mode and a faithful interpretation of the manga will satisfy fans of the series, but it's also a good starting point for people who have yet to enjoy Berserk. Endless Eclipse is a fun mode that can easily end up being a time sink, and overall the gameplay is very good, suiting the action and brutality of Berserk. Despite some flaws, such as the awkward camera and the slight frame-rate problems, this is one of Omega Force's best anime adaptations of the Musou formula to date.
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