Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, known in Japan as Berserk Musou, is a 2017 hack & slash Musou game developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Microsoft Windows. This isn’t the first time Berserk has seen a video game adaptation, with Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage in 1999, and Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Sho in 2004, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is the only game to receive an official translation into English.

Taking on the role of the legendary Guts, you hew and lacerate your way through some of the most prolific battles torn from the pages of the manga, from “The Golden Age Arc” to “The Hawk of the Millennium Arc”. Moreover, the game expands upon these chapters, with more scenes, events, and mid-mission conversations to further elaborate the goings-on inside the band of the hawk and its followers. This includes an impressive 2+ hours of footage from the film reboots.

As is common with Musou games, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk delivers a ruthlessly cathartic experience as the player takes on the role of Guts and decimate hundreds of enemies per level. Although these enemies are low-quality cannon fodder with limited animation or AI, this captures the true power of Guts–able to dismiss the hordes as if they were mere annoyance rather than an actual threat.

In contrast, the game’s bosses suffer from an immense difficulty spike, even on normal difficulty. These challenges offer a welcome shift in comparison to hordes that often allow the player to brute force their way to victory. Instead, studying the enemy’s attack patterns, ala a Soulsborne, is the only way to complete these particular objectives, dissimilar to anything else faced in-game.

Unfortunately, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk suffers from similar problems to its Dynasty Warriors predecessors as gameplay becomes progressively less interesting the further a player progresses in the game. Being boiled down to its most basic elements, the player is left mashing either the light or heavy attack repetitively to do damage. Although new combos and sub-weapons are unlocked through an RPG-style leveling system, it does little to alleviate the repetitive nature of combat. The only respite is the attack animations performed by Guts, these moves feel satisfying in their execution, delivering a gratifying feeling of power as you tear through dozens of enemies at once.

Furthermore, in an effort to add a change of pace to gameplay, players have access to a horse to engage in mounted combat. Unfortunately, this aspect, too, becomes disinteresting at a breakneck pace. Usually, the preferred way to traverse a game’s expansive levels, the implementation of incredibly sensitive controls and awkward hit-detection soon cause this aspect to become an annoyance in the best of scenarios. Ultimately, it is much easier to remain on foot throughout.

Further adding to the frustration of the repetitive gameplay, the implementation of a static mini map creates some disorientation when exploring levels. On multiple occasions, I couldn’t help myself spinning in a circle trying to ascertain my bearings to traverse to the next objective, retreading the same areas in a vain attempt to progress to the next scripted event. Although this can hardly be classed as a serious problem, this aspect has greatly increased the level of frustration felt whilst playing.

Another serious problem the game suffers from is an excessive volume of lengthy load times throughout, often taking minutes to load up from a standard HDD. With these loading screens occurring both before and after cutscenes and FMVs greatly impact the overall flow of the progression of the game. Thankfully, these load screens are absent during actual gameplay, lacking any transition once a level has begun and instead only affects the player’s navigation from one level to the next.

Regardless, a 5-year-old game being run on a modern gaming pc should not warrant the lengthy time spend looking at a black screen and would suggest the game itself is poorly optimised. The developers even included some interactivity in these load screens, suggesting they were fully aware that a player will be spending some time not actually playing the game.

Although Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has been available since 2017, the game still charges a hefty price at around $50 on steam and on PlayStation. Now, even as a big fan of the manga and anime, it’s incredibly hard to warrant spending that much on a nearly 6-year-old game. Whilst being a fine representation of the story, the derivative gameplay may turn some off the long game and may be best purchased whilst on sale.

Mindlessly repetitive in nature, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is still an entertaining experience and a fantastic representation of the dark fantasy story, staying true to the style and ferocity of Miura’s original ideas. Although, the game offers little replayability to draw multiple playthroughs. Essentially, the game will only be of interest to hardcore fans of the original source material, like myself, as well as fans of Musou-style games. 

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