Back in 2006, I started to watch anime at the recommendation of a friend at the time. Being that we were both new to the medium, the results of our misadventures had a spectrum of quality ranging from terrible to “OK.” One of the first animes I can recall that left a lasting impression on me, however, was the 1997 TV anime of a manga called “Berserk.” Penned by mangaka Kentaro Miura, Berserk is a dark fantasy series revolving around two drastically different characters: Guts, a fearless and headstrong mercenary, and Griffith, the charismatic leader of the Band of the Hawk. Up until recently, the core narrative focus of Berserk has always centred around the beginning of the story which is known as the “Golden Age Arc.” That work culminated in a 2012/13 trilogy of movies that introduced Berserk to a whole new generation of anime fans but ultimately maligned much of the original fan base due to the change of voice actors and the complete change of art style.
With the second series commencing in 2016, Berserk anime fans are watching an all new series which continues along the long path of manga that Miura and his team have penned in the preceding 20 years since the original TV show. As such, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk primarily acts as a compilation of all these efforts, beginning with the Golden Age Arc and continuing through to the Hawk of the Millennium Empire arc which is the focus of the 2nd series beginning in April of 2017. As someone who has casually read the earlier volumes of the manga and loves the original TV series, I honestly have found the narrative direction of Berserk after the Golden Age Arc to be incredibly lacklustre. The relationship between Guts and Griffith provides such a comprehensive backdrop through the supporting characters and obstacles they face as foe and friend, that once the original story is over it almost feels like sacrilege to continue it. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk only reinforced my opinions in this instance, and despite being curious about where the story would go, I knew that deep down I was always going to be disappointed. The inclusion of fairies/pixies being stupid aside, the rest of the story just seems to lack the narrative depth that the beginning of the story appears to capture so well.
Disappointingly, when it comes to playing the game, Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have continued their trend of “cutting/pasting” games with new IPs. I’d love to see them re-haul the entire Dynasty Warriors/Musou system and come out with something completely fresh because this franchise is in dire need of video game plastic surgery. Even with a franchise that lends itself to the hyperdrive combat of Dynasty Warriors so well such as Berserk, it still couldn’t save what has been a mostly mundane experience to grind through. Besides what’s on offer in Story Mode, you can also try your hand at “Infinite Eclipse” which is a survival wave mode where you’re able to play any character from Griffith to Zodd with the assistance of a CPU character to help you fend off enemies. After playing through the entire story mode, I’m void of any enthusiasm I might have had left for the rest of the game. If you’ve played any Dynasty Warriors or Musou based game before, you’ll know what you’re getting here.
It’s a shame because it also takes away the excitement of being able to sit down and play a game from a franchise that you love because you know you’re getting the same experience that you got with Attack on Titan and Hyrule Warriors (i.e. me). I find myself being horrified because even the maps are predictable, you know you’re going to get a handful of map objectives which you can complete to earn collectable items before eventually meeting a boss to finish off the level. After a while, the maps become a blur, and it’s easy to find yourself simply strolling along without paying attention to 80% of the level until it comes time to complete the boss fight. Again, it’s an issue of both the gameplay and design of this series being overused and outdated, and I can’t honestly see what Omega Force or Koei Tecmo would expect from mainstream critical reception as their games continue to get panned. The whole experience makes me feel like maybe pulling my hair out would both be more enjoyable and less futile than my current views on these games.
Probably the highest point of this series is the attention to detail they gave when adapting from the new anime series to the game. Using scenes from the new anime, it helped enrich the entire storytelling experience and offered a sense of credibility in employing the same voice actors from the new anime series to reprise their roles as the voices for the game as well. A small irk of mine was the number of spelling mistakes made in the subtitles, and while I can forgive a small amount over the course of a long game, there were innumerable made in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. Despite my grammatical irritation, the game has managed to do well in sticking to the dark atmosphere of Berserk, and the musical composition helped change the tone at the correct times to make you feel appropriately disturbed/anxious/disgusted depending on what happened. While I’m also not a huge fan of the new art style of Berserk due to the colour pallet being too colourful in opposition to the original TV series, it remains consistent with the new aesthetic for the series and provides a consistent experience for fans.
Honestly, I wanted to love this game because of its involvement with Berserk and how much love I still have for the series – but I just can’t. It’s the same game I’ve already reviewed twice before with a different set of skins, and there just feels like there’s not a lot to which I can sit here and praise to justify anyone spending money on something they may have already experienced elsewhere before. At this point, you buy these games because you’re a fan of the source material and not the actual game itself, which is a horrible cycle to be caught in. From now on, I’m calling Berserk and the Band of the Hawk as the last Dynasty Warriors/Musou game I ever review because I just can’t do this anymore. Somebody, please send help…