NOTE: This is a review of the PS Vita version, which holds many visual and technical differences from the console and PC versions.
Short Version: It’s pretty average. I mean, it’s fun, but the story and animated cutscenes completely emasculate the gameplay. If you have played a Musou game before, you have absolutely played this. Unfortunately, there is even less to experience if you’ve already seen the Berserk movies. This game is strictly for people that are either massive fans of Berserk or ones that don’t know anything and want a fun place to start.
Long Version: Before playing this game, I knew absolutely nothing about Berserk, other than the fact that it has an incredibly popular ongoing manga and that it’s so brutal that it’ll make adults lose their innocence a second time. That and knowing that it’s a Musou game, I was starting to wonder how this game would distinguish itself from the rest of the “press the square button a lot to win” crowd. In terms of the gameplay, it doesn’t, but it absolutely does in the story side of things. In the same way that Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness turned me into a fan of the series, the same thing happened when playing Berserk and Band of the Hawk.
Bigger The Sword, Smaller The Problem
As previously mentioned, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is based on the popular Berserk franchise, spanning over a long running manga, 3 movies, a 1997 anime and the newest 2016 series. Even though Omega Force, the developers of this game, had a lot to work with, they decided to go for inserting scenes from the films into the game, which was probably the best decision to make. Seeing how they weaved the movie scenes together with the gameplay reminded me a lot of the early PlayStation 1 days, in which you would usually find movie-licensed games containing scenes from the movies they were based on, in a similar fashion to how Berserk currently does it.
Regardless of what source material the game is based on, the story is still pretty simple to understand, though it starts to become bigger and much more involved over time. The world of Berserk focuses on the lone mercenary Guts, who gets roped into joining the Band of the Hawk, a group of other mercenaries lead by Griffith, a massive control freak that will stop at nothing to get the power he wants. Even though many people, and the game itself, tote Berserk as an action-packed, brutal pile of sword swinging, the narrative shines the brightest during its more quiet moments. Whenever the fights are over and the dust settles, seeing the complicated relationships that Guts has with various characters and the way that this medieval world changes is fascinating to see. Knowing that this game is essentially a very short and compressed version of the story, it makes me excited to get into things like the manga and anime series for the full experience. Unfortunately, this is where a few problems lie.
Old Tricks Through Fresh Eyes
Bear in mind that this entire opinion is coming from someone that knew nothing about the world of Berserk, so everything to me is brand new. If you’re a fan, you have very likely already seen what this game has to offer, especially if we’re talking about the game literally copy pasting scenes from the movies onto the levels. This wouldn’t be a problem if the gameplay was interesting enough to recommend, but it really isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; I thought the combat was fun like most Musou games, but if I didn’t know any better, they could’ve changed the name of the game to anything else and I would not have been able to tell the difference. If you observe other Musou games like One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 and Hyrule Warriors, they are immediately recognizable for their art style, incredibly distinguishable characters and different styles of combat, even though they all share the same overall structure. When it comes to Berserk, it’s mostly big dudes swinging swords; and sometimes, they ride horses through a very drab backdrop as they swing swords some more. There’s not a lot of variety in neither the combat nor characters that makes the levels feel very interesting. Most of the time, I wanted to just get all of the fighting over with so that I could continue watching the movie clips, which is why I think this might end up being worse for people who have already seen these films.
War is Ugly
There are some in-game dialogue scenes as well, but these aren’t exactly what I would consider of a satisfying quality. The console and PC versions are fine, running at 60 fps with very sharp visuals. However, the PS Vita version of the game that was provided for me for this review looks, sounds and feels like a rough draft of a PS2 game. The models for the main characters look decent, but then it gets strange and robotic whenever they are tasked with expressing emotion. It doesn’t help that when placing the dialogue on auto-play, it could potentially win an award for having the worst pacing in video game dialogue of all time. On top of that, the frame rate drops are all over the place, to the point that not even the text boxes scroll smoothly if there is one person too many on screen all at once. This isn’t getting into the horrible sound throughout, which sounds strangely muffled and low quality. This is most apparent when slashing down enemies that you can notice fading into existence a couple of inches in front of you.
All of these problems become a lot more noticeable when playing it on a PlayStation TV, in which you can blow out the image to TV size. This shows a few other problems, like the game’s touch controls not translating to a gamepad. In the game, you can do a variety of different things by touching the different corners of the screen like locking on, calling your horse among other things. When playing the game on a PSTV, you obviously can’t do any of that. The only way to do any of this would be to come to a complete stop in the middle of the action, bring up the integrated hand cursor on the PSTV, press the corner of the screen you need, take the cursor out, then start moving again. This is a massive hassle and can make the difference between winning and getting your ass kicked, especially during the later parts of the game. You eventually adjust to all of this, and the game is still fun, but these are all problems that the other versions, and other Musou games, don’t have.
In conclusion, I would say that if you are a person who is interested in getting into Berserk, but you don’t know where to start, I would recommend the console/PC version of this game, then bolting to go watch the full movies afterward. Even though I absolutely adore the PS Vita and find it impressive that it can run games of this level at all, I would not recommend this version of the game over any other. As for people who are already fans of Berserk, there is very little here that’s new, but maybe you’ll still have fun being able to play as your favorite characters from the franchise. This game is a great crash course for Berserk, but I don’t see people replaying this after the credits role, instead preferring everything else that this game is based on.
The copy of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk used for this review was provided to us by Koei Tecmo.