Berserk fits the Dynasty Warriors mold well, but it’s still repetitive.
If there was ever an anime or manga that was ripe for a Dynasty Warriors game treatment, it’s Berserk. The legendary 100-Man-Slayer’s gruesome story translates well to an action game about hack-and-slash murder sprees, and wielding his giant hunk of iron in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk felt powerful and satisfying… until it got a little too simple and repetitive.
After I got over Band of the Hawk’s inexplicable lack of co-op (nearly every other Warriors-style game includes it), I jumped into the lonely single-player action gameplay. Like the rest of Dynasty Warriors’ many spinoffs, it’s easy to grasp and superficially satisfying, especially when performing specials in the form of Death Blows to eradicate entire swarms of enemies in explosive displays of blood and guts.
Taking control of the Guts, the epitome of badassery, was a treat for me as a Berserk fan, and that basic loop of racing to fill the Frenzy meter and unleashing unstoppable fury upon foes took longer to get old than it had any right to. Enemies come in many shapes and sizes, from soldiers, to spirits, to bipedal crocodiles, and even weird possessed horses; and they’re all incredibly entertaining to watch fly about the screen. Some of them even get cut clean in half with a Death Blow, leaving torsos and heads briefly on the field.
The too-simple, two-button combo system left me wanting more.
But the too-simple, two-button combo system left me wanting more, especially when I discovered that the same simple strategy works just as well against most bosses as it does against hordes. You just kill a bunch of little things until you’re powered up, then you kill the big thing.
It’s aggravating because there are seven other playable characters that could have cut down the story mode’s repetitiveness drastically, but out of 46 Story Mode missions lasting a total of around 20 hours, only five let you choose a character besides Guts.
I would have loved to experiment more with other characters.
I would have loved to experiment more with Griffith’s impossibly quick sabre, Shierke’s hard-hitting AOE magic, or Casca’s martial-arts inspired swordplay, and these other characters also have access to entirely different sub-weapons, further enhancing their diverse fighting styles.
But alas, Guts is who you’ll have to smash through Story Mode with in order to even unlock these characters for use in other modes. His extra combo finishers and new sub-weapons are unlocked as you progress, and both offer a few brief moments of newness. Guts’ cannon is stand-out here, doing a considerable amount of damage and noticeable side-effects to enemies, stunning them or outright obliterating them in an AoE explosion.
You can also ride horses into battle, but mounted combat isn’t nearly as effective as attacking on foot and it gets old fast. It’s a funny sight and they are an excellent method of transportation, but when it comes down to it, it’s still easy to follow the same tactics against mobs over and over and over again.
That repetition is partly because the mechanics that’re here aren’t really used. You are capable of guarding and dodging, but I rarely needed to do either unless I was up against a formidable boss. But most of those are surrounded by minions, which made it much too easy to quickly fill the Frenzy and Death Blow gauges for massive damage.
These balanced boss fights were far and few between.
Nosferatu Zodd stood out as a challenge because he fights alone. Unable to rely on easily mowed down mobs to charge insta-win Death Blows, I needed to learn his attack patterns so I could strike when I had an opening and dodge away when he was about to unleash a guard-breaking blow. Smart use of attack-boosting items was also needed to completely deplete him of his HP before the time limit. It was challenging, in a fun way, but these balanced encounters were far and few between.
So I cranked up the difficulty, but even then Band of the Hawk barely put up a fight. And for some reason, even though it wasn’t significantly harder, it rewarded me with absolutely absurd amounts of experience as though I’d done something to earn it, basically power-leveling me and putting me even further above the competition.
So most of Band of the Hawk is a pushover, but there is one boss fight that spikes frustratingly hard in the other direction, even on normal mode. The boss is surrounded by tornadoes and throws gravity magic balls and blades at you if you’re able to bypass the whirlwinds of death. This is all to be done while your movement speed is cut in half, which can only be remedied – temporarily – by destroying a marker that sometimes also takes refuge within the barrage of tornadoes. It was so mind-numbingly absurd that I could only beat it by cheesing. Actually, I really can’t tell if I even was cheesing, or if my method was what Berserk and the Band of the Hawk intended. Yes, I’m still salty. But the point is this boss fight wasn’t good.
I spent a lot of time tinkering with the unexpectedly interesting accessory-customization system.
In between story missions, I spent a lot of time tinkering with the unexpectedly interesting accessory-customization system, which I thoroughly enjoyed. These customized accessories, like a Strong Cuff or a Midland Insignia, can be equipped with skills from a list of dozens ranging from Daunt Resistance (which makes it harder to get staggered by enemies), to Technique Up (which increases your movement speed and critical hit chance). It felt great to modify an item, level it up, and feel an immediate difference on the battlefield. With Daunt Resistance, Guts went from being thrown around like a ragdoll by Zodd if I failed to dodge an attack to standing his ground against all but the most devastating of blows. Accessories even made finishing story mode missions more fun, as the better I did, the more loot I got to experiment with.
There are no extra awesome new weapons or gear to be found in Story Mode.
These accessories can even be used in Free Mode and Endless Eclipse Mode, both of which allow you to freely choose any unlocked character and replay any mission you’ve already done. But that wasn’t enough to make me go back and replay very much – after all, it’s still not very challenging. Story mode missions are missing good incentives to do anything other than race to the finish line, so repeating them is very one-note. The collectibles, called Behelits, are found by completing mini-objectives within story mode missions, but all they unlock are panels of pictures in the Gallery. There are no extra awesome new weapons or gear to be found in Story Mode, almost completely removing any desire to go back and explore within them.
Endless Eclipse Mode, on the other hand, is where you’ll unlock more things of interest. There are Warhorses (such as Griffith’s White Hawk’s Warhorse) and outfits, some of which are pretty awesome aren’t found until deep into Endless Eclipse, and a special character, Wyald, one of the Apostles that shows up as a boss in the Story Mode, complete with a Transformation ability. The downside is that like most of the rest of Band of the Hawk it’s quite repetitive, but at least it’s difficult for a change because the enemies gain health and hit harder the deeper into the never-ending abyss you go, and you don’t regain health. Finally, a challenge! And, because rewards in Endless Eclipse Mode are unlocked on different levels, up to 100, and each playable character unlocks different things, there are a lot of hours of replayability in this mode.
As for the story, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk pulls directly from its acclaimed source material, and it’s actually not a bad way to start if you’ve never read or watched anything Berserk-related before. It’s primarily action oriented, but what makes the franchise shine is its sometimes hard-to-watch dark-fantasy story. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk starts with the Golden Age Arc, the beginning of Guts’ and Griffith’s story, and includes nearly two hours of anime footage.
It even expands on that arc extensively with more scenes, events, and mid-mission conversation—which is, unfortunately, all in Japanese with no English option other than subtitles. Reading a multitude of subtitles is difficult if not impossible when focused on slaying enemies; I wish I could re-read this dialogue somehow. Even so, I learned more about Guts’ world by playing this game than I did by re-watching the movies, for sure.
The second half of the story, which goes into The Black Swordsman Arc and beyond, drops the anime footage and speeds through plots covered by the anime and manga. In hindsight, I wish I’d finished the manga before playing because I feel main plot points are somewhat spoiled for me now, but it did pique my curiosity enough that I still want to read the full details on Guts’ story.
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