[Review] BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk – More than a Dynasty re-Skin?
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS Vita
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: KOEI TECMO
Release: 24th February 2017
Price: 39.99 (Vita) 59.99 (PS4,PC)
Review Key provided by KOEI TECMO
After more than a decade Berserk finally got another Video game, by no other than the Dynasty Warriors developers Omega Force. Can it live up to the expectations and deliver the game Berserk deserves or is it just another “name seller”?
Besides the well known Golden Age Arc BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk also accompanies Guts’ story till the Hawk of the Millennium Arc during its 13 hour long campaign. It´s a tale of a man who got betrayed by his only friend, with only hatred left, Guts begins his journey for revenge, will he be able to stay human? Honestly, if your interested in this game you probably already know what´s gonna happen, especially since its “the” Berserk story, so let´s talk about the storytelling.
During the Golden Age Arc BERSERK tells his story through snippets of the three anime movies mixed with some occasional ingame cutscenes if certain events were not covered by them. While these anime scenes work as story tellers and add a certain dynamic to the battles, they drag down the story telling nearly as much as well. The anime movies were never really good in the first place, due to horrible CGI sequences and extensive shortening. The result is the main problem of BERSERK´s narration, it doesn´t know what it wants to be.
On one hand it gives a more detailed insight of certain relationships or events, the movies had missed out but on the other hand removes some characters completely or doesn´t thematise other important events. For example, before the battle of Doldrey the game tells you about the relationship between Griffith and the Commander of Doldrey but skips the part how they actually capture Doldrey, during the battle, even tho the movie showed it. As the game progresses it also skips more and more core parts, especially in the Conviction and Black Swordsman Arc. In contrast to the rather detailed Golden Age Arc it becomes clear that Omega Force just didn´t know what BERSERK should tell or focus on. The game often skips too much story after its first hours to tell a comprehensible summary for newcomers but due to the long and detailed Golden Age Arc it just becomes boring for people who already know everything of the Arc and watched the movies.
Since no Berserk adaptation could tell its story with a lot flaws and compromises that was to be expected, so let´s come to something maybe more unexpected. BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk is a Dynasty Warriors game in its heart, which surprisingly fits very well if you think about it. Guts always slays hundreds of men, due to his hatred and brute force, making it quite the ideal choice.
However Omega Force changed quite a bit at the concept to work with Berserk´s story. Instead of capturing square bases and taking over the map with your army the game now gives you tasks to complete, like killing certain officers etc., while removing the base capture mechanic completely. After the Golden Age Arc you will also be without an army, leading to a “lone wolf mission based” experience, built on the Dynasty Warrior basic gameplay.
Unfortunately it had to copy and amplify Dynasty Warriors’ biggest weak point as well, the repetition. The main reason are the combos and general combat, since you´re only given ~8 full combos, which you unlock from leveling up and some sub weapons like Guts’ cannon. As soon as you unlocked them all, which will likely happen after the first half, there´s nothing new to come anymore, leading to an endless repetition. The equipment system, known from Dynasty Warriors won´t help, due to the fact that you can only boost stats and can´t equip other weapons, giving you no real response to your level and equipment power.
Omega Force tried to address the repetition problem by adding more playable characters, like Casca or Griffith with their own moves and specialities, surprisingly they locked them behind the “Free Mode” and only lets you play as them if the story allows it. Sure it makes sense but by locking them away in most of the missions the tiny moveset and repetition just gets amplified, even if it wouldn´t have made sense story-wise it would have helped the gameplay so much more. If you have to do one thing over and over again in a game it has to be interesting and stay interesting for a long time, a thing BERSERK can´t achieve. Even tho the moves, the sub weapons and especially the Berserker Armor look and feel absolutely fantastic, it lacks weapon and character variety. In my opinion the main reason for BERSERK´s issues can be summarized like this: Story before Gameplay.
Some Characters and special skins are also locked behind the Eclipse mode, which is basically an endless mode, where you progress through different layers and be rewarded with new skins or even characters. Might seem reasonable but considering the importance of the characters I would have loved to see some more skins as rewards, that offer you new special abilities. The Free mode, as mentioned earlier lets you play any mission as any character you like.
Additionally the levels suffer from the same problem, they´re just too repetitive. Everything just stays the same, during the whole game you will complete the same missions in very similar levels. Due to the mission based style of BERSERK that´s even worse, especially since a lot missions are just fillers, they offer no story or value, just exist to lengthen the playtime. The missions just aren´t interesting and there´s nothing to add some spice to them … well, okay, there´s something … the bosses.
Besides the repetitive mission Omega Force added Boss stages to the game, in which you have to fight foes like Zodd or other Demons, in short, they don´t really work. On one hand the combat is just not designed for only one enemy, you will miss certain attacks and make little amounts of damage with a single attack etc. making the boss fights lengthy and boring. On the other hand the hitboxes and AI are just bad, you won´t be able to hit the boss after he attacks since he looses his hitbox during the transition between the modes other boss will sometimes just stand there and doing nothing. The bosses are a great idea and could have been so awesome, unfortunately the combat system isn´t made for only one enemy. They end up living off the atmosphere and feeling of the player, who didn´t want to fight Zodd himself, now you finally have the chance, I guess.
If you didn´t already see, BERSERK isn´t a really beautiful game, environments are mushy, facial animations are sometimes way off and the view distance is horrible. As expected the game can´t shine with its technical presentation, neither lighting effect nor textures or a certain unique artstyle lets the environment stand out from the rest. It looks like a Dynasty Warriors game and I honestly expected more from it, Berserk has such an unique atmosphere and dark presentation that this game could represent, instead it just offers the known mediocre Dynasty Warriors graphics. And let´s not talk about the facial animations in normal conversations … oh, hello Mass Effect Andromeda!
Luckily the game nails one thing: character models. Every model, be it an enemy or character, is very detailed, offers some high-res textures and simply works. You can see the love put into them, especially at Guts, Griffiths and the other main characters, the different outfits are so detailed and near to the original that they truly stand out from the rest and can easily surpass the CGI models of the 2016 anime, in my eyes. Combined with the pure brutality of the game, bathing Guts in blood and body limbs after every hit, BERSERK offers a representation of Berserk that no one really had the guts to do till now.
PC Port: Since I could review it on PC let´s quickly talk about the Port, which may not be perfect but certainly not a problem. BERSERK offers a huge array of graphical options, like shadows and texture quality and has a reasonable hardware hunger, even tho it could certainly be lower for its graphics and it doesn´t offer a drawing distance slider, which I honestly can´t understand. Additionally I didn´t experience any bugs or crashed, making it a good Japanese port and one of the best I´ve seen from KOEI TECMO till now!
BERSERK is certainly not a perfect game, it suffers from confusing and struggling story-telling, repetitive gameplay and not working design concepts. Omega Force tried to squeeze the Berserk franchise in the Dynasty Warriors concept, removing a lot things that make it work and adding some new, not nearly as good things to it. However BERSERK nails one thing: Being Berserk. During the first ~6-7 hours BERSERK´s gameplay works well, due to unlockable combos, leading to a very enjoyable experience, combined with the brutal and fitting presentation.
Honestly, I wouldn´t recommend BERSERK to someone who´s new to the franchise, it just can´t tell the story properly in order to understand what makes it so great and is just to “niche” to be enjoyable over its playtime. However, for Berserk fans like me this game fills a hole, the wish to finally play these amazing battles himself, to slaughter thousand of enemies himself and to experience this story himself.
BERSERK may not be as good as Dynasty Warriors but it didn´t fail at fulfilling my expectations, even if it couldn´t surpass them. If you imagine what Berserk with simple Dynasty Warriors Gameplay would look like, you know what to expect from this game.