Anybody could be forgiven for thinking a videogame of a TV show / manga / movie could turn out to be not so great. After all, over the years, we’ve been subjected to one cheap movie cash in after the next. It’s not really fair to say Berserk And The Band of The Hawk is anything like that. For starters it is undeniably fun. Gameplay segments are set between important cutscenes edited from the anime source material, covering all volumes of lore… Except The Lost Children arc. Which may be a tad controversial for hardcore fans.
At this juncture, this writer should be honest and explain that he is not one of those hardcore fans. To my shame I was unaware of all things Berserk until it finally ended up on my games radar. After playing the game, it’s pretty safe to say I have become a fan.
Omega Force Is Back To Doing What They Do Best
Omega Force’s last game, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, had its issues and I was a little concerned to see them trying to sneak in this time around for Berserk. However, the content of this one man army smash ‘em up is a lot closer to their more prolific work – Dynasty Warriors. As a result, Berserk And The Band of The Hawk is far less crippling in its design ambitions. In the end we have a game that is very functional and addictive to boot. Not only that, but gosh darn, it’s a long game. Fan or not, you’ll get great value for money due to the length alone.
You’ll Be Slicing, Dicing, Skewering And Squealing
From the outset, Berserk makes sure players understand what kind of mental battlefield slaughtering they’re in for. A single swing of our hero, Gut’s sword can easily slice through 15 men, sending flying away in spectacular body part fireworks. Then there’s the combos. While these are limited in so far as pressing square so many times, followed by a triangle or two, each combination serves a purpose. Do you learn the combo that is more frontal focussed for tougher enemies? Or perhaps you’ll opt for more devastating sweeping motions that clear out smaller units like a windscreen wiper on rain!
Further in, more variations of these timed triangle presses become available. Before the end of the first arc, The Golden Age, you’ll have plenty to mess about with. Suffice it to say, I was happy for some time before things started unlocking. In the first few minutes I unwittingly skewered a victim. Oh but that’s not enough for our angry friend, Guts, no. Once he’s done the skewering, he’ll then raise his human popsicle above his head, slamming them back down for an area effect. Yes, it’s silly. But it has tactical purpose and made me squeal like a schoolgirl learning she’d just won tickets to a Justin Beiber show.
Berserk And The Band Of The Combo Counters
Just when this was at risk of becoming samey and repetitive, the campaign suddenly threw optional new characters at me to play as. They each handle very differently on the battlefield and specialise in different areas. Some, I had a desire to play as more than others. Yet each of the characters hold up with enough screen presence thanks to their source material backing. Sometimes, it does feel a little odd that, one minute you’ll see an an androgynous, friendly fellow (I didn’t know Griffith was a man until Guts asked him if he was gay) in a cutscene and the next you’re playing as them, carving up victims at a rate of bloody knots.
Berserk And The Band Of The Hawk Delivers An Authentic Anime Censored Experience
Speaking of cutscenes, the ones infused into the Berserk And The Band of The Hawk are a delight to watch. As an uninitiated anime fan, it was great to be introduced to some footage that is obviously second to none in the anime animation industry. Although this may have been a bit of a bore for fans who have already watched it all, due to the fact that cutscenes never really tie into their following levels save for boss fights. Fans may also be a little frustrated by the blatant censorship found in Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. Certain body parts on the ladies either have rigid long hair over them in gameplay renders. Alternatively, you may experience what’s called Barbie Doll character building where nipples are just removed altogether. For anime edits, they’re just blacked out by a mysterious FCC possessed shadow.
This can appear clever in scenes where the nudity in question is near the bottom or top of the screen. But blatant full on nudity, centre screen, ends up looking a bit odd when fuzzy black circles get involved.
Let’s not pretend I’m sat here demanding nipples in my video games. The point here is my confusion over it. We’ve had them before in games. God of War for instance. Alas, my understanding of censorship rules in Japan is extremely limited so I won’t pour into this minor niggle any further.
That Good Old Japanese Feel
While this censorship may be quintessential Japanese, so too is the presentation of Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. All dialogue in the game is still Japanese. So if you’re a gamer who’s not a fan of reading subtitles, perhaps this won’t be for you. Odds are players who pick this game up will, like me, be big anime fans. If that’s the case, dialogue authenticity is important. Especially when Guts goes into rage mode, angrily screaming Japanese at his foes. It sounds great! This is an area of the Berserk And The Band of The Hawk that adds an appreciated touch of cinematic flare. As seen in the image below, an extended attack in this mode, while brief, is epic!
Keeping It Fresh…Sometimes
As previously mentioned, there are little issues from Wings of Freedom’s design choices that pervade through Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. Repetitive gameplay can still be an issue. Once again, Omega Force have done their best to dampen this as best they can. Their methods for keeping things fresh include different playable characters, upgradeable accessories and buffs, usable items for further buffs and my favourite, the boss fights.
Player Initiated Showdowns
These get a special mention as gameplay changes entirely. Sure the same combos are here. But movement changes from freeform to a strafing lock on and dodge system. This was a smart design choice as wildly swinging suits the battlefield boundy count ‘em up levels fine. But it would be clunky as all hell when focusing on a singular target. Players can also engage this mode for mini bosses on the battlefield. Again, we could have had problems with having too many units pelting you for this kind of focused attacking.
However, engage this mode and the mini boss’s minions (of which there are an impressively ginormous amount) will gather around you both to watch the epic showdown. Again, this was a welcome design choice, giving the player space to focus on a single target… And it looks pretty cool. If there’s one thing Omega Force is achieving where other developers are not, it’s experimenting with swarm A.I behaviours which, in my humble opinion has massively unexplored potential.
One Battlefield After The Next
But not all is peachy in the overall experience of Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. Yes, typical Dynasty Warriors formula is here. Rush over there to save an ally. Get this done in time to achieve a bonus. Kill this guy to slow enemy spawning etc etc. Yet, the structure of each and every level in the game is basically identical. Again, save for the boss fights. This is of course, due to the over-arching format of what Berserk is – a hack and slash body counter. With this admittedly fun but singular format, it may start to feel like you’re stepping over thousands of bodies just to see the next cutscene.
Invasion Of The Overlays
Some classic Omega Force problems persist and are usually found on the battlefield. The mini map is an outdated insistence that needs to be rectified soon. Sure, it’s important to have that overlay as an indication of where to go to achieve rushed objectives. Yet Omega could take a leaf out of other developers’ methods on this. A rotating map around a fixed arrow for your position is something I yearned for in Wings of Freedom and now again in Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. The arrow that indicates your position is already too big on a mini map that is trying not to be invasive. When in a crowded area, trying to get the correct angle to see your objective target is needlessly difficult as usually, no matter which way your arrow is facing, it is covering that nearby objective on the map. This had me feeling disoriented countless times. Thankfully, the addictive combo and kill counter carried me through each instance until I closed the gap.
Lastly, tutorial screens abound in Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. I don’t mind learning how to play the game at the start. However, having my game paused time and again just to tell me something I figured out on my own an hour ago, is undeniably immersion breaking. Perhaps Omega Force should have a little more faith that their player base will simply figure things out for themselves.
A Winning Formula Or A Need For Something New?
Sticking to what they already know best, Omega Force is sadly limiting their creative avenues in game development. This is sadly growing more and more apparent as the rest of the games industry powers on to new graphical and mechanical highs. Is it time for Omega Force to go back to the drawing board and create a game they can both afford and that will be a smash hit, allowing them to reach the similar highs in the rest of the industry? Or should they stick where are they, creating games for a niche area of gamers who just appreciate old school style, switch-yer-brain-off nonsensical fun? Let us know in the comments below.
Berserk And The Band of The Hawk may have its typical Omega Force drawbacks. Yet it more than serves its purpose as an entertainment product. The combat is oddly varied and repetitive at the same time. I can’t deny at the start of every level, I hurriedly pushed up on the joystick, keen to get stuck into blood and guts all over again. Unlike Wings of Freedom before it, it was easy to spend hours at a time on Berserk And The Band of The Hawk. That’s ultimately where your hard earned pennies count when purchasing the game. If you’re an anime fan and need a good outlet for combos and satisfying body count scores, Berserk And The Band of The Hawk is the place to be.