If you have ever played a Warriors-style game from Koei Tecmo before, then you have played this game as well. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk offers the same hack and slash experience we’ve seen a dozen times over, though unfortunately this game struggles to match up to those other previous experiences at its best.
The basic premise of the game is that you take to the battlefield, fighting against hundreds of foes in order to complete objectives and ultimately win the battle. The objectives will vary from simply killing the commander, to escaping the battlefield, but ultimately – though the dressing may be different – all of these objectives are variations on killing people. Lots and lots of them.
The combat system makes up the entire game, and its simplicity lets it down; the lack of nuance forcing you to spend your time mashing square – a few triangles thrown in to keep it from getting too monotonous. Only in one-on-one style fights does the combat allude to something better, as it’s only then that dashing and sub weapons becoming a useful feature.
One battle required me to use my throwing knives to stun an opponent long enough so I could get some hits on an otherwise elusive foe. Whilst hardly a revolutionary concept, here even these moments stand out above the bland combat you’ll be drudging through.
It is a shame that the developers felt the need to follow the scale of battles featured in their other Warriors games, as here the enemies are merely bags of meat meant to pad out the length of a battle. Outside of the generals, no enemy will pose any threat on the regular difficulties, and they seem to exist simply to waste time. This repetition completely takes the shine off of any moments where the game might be rising above its simple roots.
In between battles you can purchase new equipment and level up characters to improve their stats, but to be honest there isn’t much in terms of depth to be found here. Most of the stat boosts you’ll get from items are negligible and are easy to ignore, so on the upside you won’t be bogged down with managing items. Yay?
On a more positive note, the story in this game is a real highlight that showcases the interesting world of Berserk. Between each battle, you’ll be treated to cut scenes and dialogue between characters telling the tale of the mercenary Guts and his journey with the Band of the Hawk. Where other Warriors games struggle with the huge cast and getting players invested in multiple story lines, Berserk focuses on only a few characters – allowing the player time to grow with the cast, and appreciate the tale all the more.
Without spoiling too much, the story offers plenty of twists and turns; and for those new to the world of Berserk (like myself), the narrative they’ve woven is certainly a good entry point. It is even perhaps the saving grace of this game.
Outside of the main story, there are several other modes for players to try. Free mode – for example – simply allows the players to replay battles using any character they wish. Though novel at first, taking characters who do not belong into battle will only get you so much satisfaction when the battle has already been won properly.
Endless Eclipse mode shows more promise however, and challenges players to take on increasingly difficult levels with various objectives. That said, it’s also a showcase of the very best and worst of the game. On the one hand, the random objectives help to keep the mode more free-form – and without healing in between battles this mode (in theory) is a good test of skill. On the other hand, the repetitive combat is at its worst here – and with no story to tell, you’re left to your devices with murdering the masses. This sort of gameplay very quickly loses its charm. Worst of all however, is that the increasing difficulty doesn’t even come from encounters challenging you in new ways. Regrettably, it instead comes from enemies with bigger health bars and greater attack power. Just to kick you while you’re down, the mode also takes place in the blandest environment the game has to offer. Ouch.
On the presentation front, the game offers dozens of forgettable enemies early on – possibly by nature of the story. Thankfully, later on the variety opens up and you fight some truly unique and interesting opponents. The playable cast have varying levels of interesting designs, but sticking to the looks from the anime and manga limits what can be done here. The environments are largely flat and plain looking – and though a few levels change up the scenery, it seems as though the limitations of the Vita may be holding the game back from having a more detailed world.
Berserk and The Band of the Hawk is not a great game, and dull repetitive combat takes the shine off of the parts that show even a little promise. Whilst the story is compelling and well told, it is hard to recommend this game on that alone – especially to those already familiar with the stories of Berserk. Fans of Warriors games have better options available, and fans of Berserk will likely be disappointed that this is the only way to experience the franchise in gaming form.