Berserk and The Band Of The Hawk PS4 [REVIEW] #musoumay

Even if i reviewed (or re-reviewed, since i did already cover this one in 2017 on my older Italian blog) this one before of Miura’s passing, i would have told a tale of sadness, woe and disappointment.

But i won’t deny that with Kentaro Miura spiralling out of this mortail coil just over a year ago… there’s an extra serving of melancholy to the subject, which it’s ironically fitting in its own way.

As you would expect, there was some expectations at the time, even more since Koei Tecmo teased it and made a big deal about one this being one of more bloody and violent Warriors games ever…. and in hindsight it’s very telling, as they also did this lip service for Warriors Of Troy. Oh boy.

That aside, you would expect the Berserk musou to be pretty bloody and gory regardless, and it definitely delivered on that, can’t take it away from the game. I can though laugh at the fuckin localized english title they went with for this game, Berserk’s main character has a name, and a pretty not-generic one, you know?

He’s called Gatsu/Guts, just so you know.

Though that it’s not completely random, as the game starts from the Golden Age arc and covers up to the Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc, with them boarding the ship after fighting Ganisha serving as the closing chapter.

A deliberate choice to avoid depicting early events that clearly not even the highest age rating would allow (you can guess or probably already are aware of what i’m talking about), and also because the game uses almost 2 hours of footage taken from the animated Golden Arc Trilogy of Berserk movies, in a similar fashion to how Arslan: The Warriors Of Legend used clips from the 2015’s Heroic Legend Of Arslan TV anime of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga version of the story.

Except that here they clearly relied WAY too much on this, as there are plenty of stages depicting honestly not that pivotal scenes for the narrative… but they have the movie footage to use, while other parts of the story that would benefit or be worthy of a more in-depth exploration are glossed over and done in one single stage, two at max.

Yet, despite TK’s cheapassery on full display, this doesn’t really affect how the story of Berserk itself it’s a classic, even in this adaptation you will get why this series is still so influential and talked about to this day, with his dark fantasy tale of vengeance, death, primeval and pure violence and the quest for humanity in such a vile, diseased and cruel world of witch hunts, death cults, monsters and god-like specters of suffering.

In terms of gameplay, there’s really not much to go over if you have ever played any Warriors spin-off title in ever, but there are some differences, as in this one has equippable mounts (not always the case for crossover musou titles), doesn’t features an Empires style base capture system, but the bigger difference is in the way the game handles the musou attacks.

Instead of just acting as powerful special moves that make you unvulnerable during their execution, you need to have at least a “musou bar” filled so you can unleash a “frenzy mode”, which will give you extra power, range (and some extra attributes or abilities depending on the characters) then by attacking enemies and doing combos in this Frenzy Mode you’ll fill up a separate bar, then you can unleash a powerful musou attack, called Death Blow.

This process can be repeated to gradually level up the “Frenzy Bar”, and eventually to also make some of the playable character transform, like Guts donning the Berserker Armour, Zodd morphing in his Apostle giant form, Grifis becoming Phemto, which also grants them modified or brand new movesets, and transformation specific special attacks or subweapons.

Speaking of which, while some of the subweapons are shared, there are many that are unique to each character, like Caska’s arm grapple, Gatsu’s hand-cannon, and all come with either limited usage or cooldown time. Scherke it’s definitely the character loaded with more of these sub-weapons/specials, but it’s due to her being a magician and playing very distincly from the others.

And here we come to the first big problem of “Berserk Warriors”: the roster.

The tiny, puny roster.

The characters are fun to use, yes, and i would rather take a better, smaller roster than dozens of clones, but it’s absurd how small the roster is here, with the total of 8 playable characters.

The barest minimum for a musou, ever, and i’m NOT counting the transformations as separate characters, as you’ll need to grind a lot to unlock them on their own and often these forms have different but limited movesets. To make matters worse, many boss enemies do come with both human and monster form with different attacks, making more obvious that many characters could have easily be made playable, especially since they’re important or notable figures.

I mean, you’d think that the Berserk musou would have Bazuso playable, or even Mogzus, which clearly has an already near complete moveset and overall wouldn’t require much work to make playable, comparatively speaking. Heck, make play as the Skeleton Knight, come on!

The other big problem here is the map design. The first stage it’s deceptive, as there are very few maps structured in a more traditional Warriors fashion, with two or more forces having a grand battle but with a more old fashion Warriors take on the base capture, as you need to kill the officer in charge of the keep instead of the Empires style system many Warriors crossovers feature.

Many levels are more linear, straightforward and often small, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the truth is often you’ll get the feeling Omega Force didn’t had the slight clue of what to do with the levels they created, especially in terms of objectives.

Yes, there are some optional DW 7 style ausiliary bases you can “conquer”, but they’re not important even in the more traditional Warriors maps, they just let you access items in chests, and as i was saying, it eventually becomes clear Omega Force was somehow stumped in terms of objectives, structure and meaning for the levels, and decided to cheese it by just making you kill an even bigger numbers of peon enemies that you fight in waves in the same re-used locales.

Sure, from the Berserk musou i did want the ability to cleave my way through thousands of soldier and monsters with Gatsu’s Dragonslayer, and this game does get this feeling right, but it’s clear in many istances the developers just took the piss and used cheap tricks to make the campaign longer.

I mean, some stages don’t even try disguising it, one just says “ some thieves arrived on the mountains where Godo resides, serving as the perfect target for Guts to vent off”, and it’s all made frustrating because some stages do have effort put in them, and you can tell easily when you stumble upon those. Sigh.

A side-effect of this is you’ll have Guts way more overleveled then the others characters since the campaign has you using him most of the times for fairly obvious (and quite logical, to be fair) story reasons, but this is a nitpick.

In terms of enemies, the officers here can boost themselves up in evasion, defense or attack when near death, a nice touch, but even more than some Warriors titles, Berserk and The Band Of Mutual Aid has the issue of the stronger-named enemies barely flinching. This can be alleviated by some weapon abilities, but still, both officers and boss type enemies are even harder than usual to make them flinch from your blows, and some types of enemies (like the “rape horses”) are also able to recover a small percentage of health overtime, making them an hassle more than anything.

In terms of boss enemies, they do put more of a fight than usual, often due to them being very big, being able to go into Frenzy mode and transform as well, so they can offer a challenge, force you to pay attention at what they’re doing and can’t be totally cheesed in a cheap way. Though some have cheap moves and can be a pain in the ass more than it’s necessary, made worse by a camera that can too close for comfort and (any kind of view) while you lock onto the giant enemy bosses.

In terms of progression and shit, you can equip some accessories and items, you can enhance them with material or fuse them together to transfer abilities or sell them for cash, also used for levelling up a character if need be. Nothing groundbreaking, but works well, my main gripe is that the inventory for accessories is deceptively kinda small for how much stuff you will accrue over time, as you will notice in the post-game, but it’s more a personal pet peeve than a gripe.

Aside from the campaign and the Free Mode, the game offers the Endless Eclipse, aka this game version of the survival castle mode from Samurai Warriors 4-II.

You proceed though as many “layers” of the Eclipse as possible in a single run with the objective to reach level 100, the lowest depth of the abyss in this case, and if you die you lose all your loot and money. The minor twists to the formula is that the levels aren’t totally pre-arranged, and the game lets you choose between some randomizedly available missions that last 5 levels each, with an obligatory boss mission every 10 levels or so and the ability to start over from a certain floor.

Some missions appear only in a specific tier of the abyss, some are fixed, some can only be encountered while using a specific character. Yep, unlike the Survival Castle mode in SW 4-II (and older SW games, by extend), progress through the Endless Eclipse is character-specific, so you can’t reach level 40 with Gatsu and then resume from level 41 as Wyald, which it’s a cheap way to ensure you’re going to play this mode even more if you’re planning to complete the game or just unlock the few extra playable characters and transformation states.

Speaking of which, you have character specific rewards for each 20 levels/floor, including some useful items, and this mode is where you’ll need to go in order to obtain all the Behelit collectables needed to complete the big puzzle images, working as the equivalent of Hyrule Warriors’ Skulltullas. You’d think the Behelits could have been implemented into the actual gameplay of this Berserk videogame, but nope, they just unlock images recreating moments from the series.

While in story mode you obtain these by completing optional side objectives, in Endless Eclipse the re are stages containing 3 behelits, which must be obtained by killing the stray war demons located in some of the floors. I say located because the game outright tells you by displaying a pulsating icon on the map, so they’re neither hidden nor fun to get, as the lone war demons have an insane amount of health but aren’t stronger or more intelligent or deadly to be a menace on their own, so it becomes more of a slog than anything to hunt for them.

It’s basically a lite rogue-like variaton on the survival castle mode, but it shares the same issues of story mode in terms of objectives and variety. Sometimes it mixes things up by combining some sets of bosses or having enemies start map-wide bombardments, but it lacks the variety found in the side-modes of SW 4 or Hyrule Warriors, so no trivia quiz battle, no brand new DW style big maps battle fashioned for this sub-mode, or even challenge stuff like having to defeat bosses or hordes while poisoned, without using items or sub-weapons, or the “1 hit death” ones.

Also, the pool of missions isn’t as big as it first appears, so in the long run you will often find yourself redoing a lot of the same ones while searching for the “mission bundles” not yet triggered or stumbled upon. It’s not bad and it serves as a decent grind mode, gotta have that, but it just feels like a missed opportunity in both having a rogue like sub-mode and expanding there the stuff seen in the main story content, as better Warriors games did before and after.

As with most of the stuff in the game, you feel like Omega Force couldn’t be arsed to do better, even if they can, and they should, since it’s fuckin Berserk. Come on.

Seriously, this is the entire playable roster (plus Wyald which has to be unlocked).

The same applies for other features or lack there of, with the admittely expect lack of any english dub… or any multiplayer. Yep, single player only, like Warriors All Stars, because TK are cheap arseholes and can’t stop themselves even with a big prestige license like this one.

In terms of contents it’s not sparse, the story mode is 10/11 hours on Normal, then there’s the extra stuff and Eclipse Mode so there’s definitely replayability and enough content, alongside some DLCs for extra horses, costumes and battles, but nothing major or obscene in any way.

Also not much to say on the technical standpoint, it’s the usual deal, with quality of the textures and so sacrificed to have lots on enemies on screen (with some rare slowdowns), but the art direction it’s pretty good and does the source material justice, while also living up to the claim of this being the bloodiest Warriors game ever. Opposite of Warriors Of Troy (which they also marketed by leaning into the blood and gore) where enemies just hid lots of “tomato squibs” in their very muscles, here we have proper gore, with enemies limbs and head flying off.

It’s no Splatterhouse, but whateves, Berserk was never just blood and violence.

Overall, i don’t hate this one but it still strikes me as a huge missed opportunity for Koei and Omega Force, i mean, this isn’t the same case as the Gundam and One Piece crossovers, mostly likely this was gonna be a one-game deal between the parties involved to begin with, so it just feel like TK was handled the chance to work on a Berserk game and… kinda blew it by half-assing it.

It just feels like they decided it was a better deal to pay for the use of the footage from the Golden Age movie trilogy (instead of doing in-game cutscenes or original CG cutscenes), and that’s where most of the money went, with the actual game’s campaign way too dependant on how much they could milk the animated cutscenes for stages, with the story basically losing focus and almost entire arcs summarized in one or two levels because there’s no more movie footage to use as crutch.

The level/map design too is wildly uneven in quality, with a more linear stage design and very little emphasis on the standard campal Warriors battles between two or more factions (itself more old school DW, as it lacks the usual Empires style base capture system see in pretty much every crossover-licensed Warriors games), with some challenging boss fights but not much variety as a trade-off for the more straightforward approach to the levels.

On the upside the characters feel very powerful and distinct, especially ones like Gatsu and Zodd really feel like the monster brawler they are, thanks to a transformation gimmick enhacing the pretty standard – but still satisfying – Warriors gameplay. Even though the non-fodder enemies have the issue of being way too sturdy, so you don’t feel as effective as you are as they barely flinch.

The music is great, the presentation it’s good, there’s replayability and some content, but due to roster being the bare mininum ever (just 8 playable characters), the lack of an english dub and it being single player only, i wouldn’t pay full price for what feels like minimum effort and should instead have warranted a lot more effort, especially due to the prestigious license-IP available.

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