Growing up, I was fortunate to have the “cool older cousin;” that relative who is just a little older than you, so they had access to all the cool “older kid” stuff you knew you weren’t supposed to see, and unlike a sibling, they were outside the realm of responsibility, meaning they could get away with showing it to you. They are the reason I knew about stuff like Spawn, Heavy Metal and most notably Berserk.
Berserk was the first manga I ever got into, and thanks to my cool older cousin I was able to read far past where the series was in the West. At the time, my love for anime was blossoming, but I had only known of the few the mainstream animes that ran on cable TV. I was captivated by its perversely dark atmosphere, incredibly tragic storylines, and beautifully detailed artwork.
And while my love of the franchise ran deep, I unfortunately missed out on the series foray into the video game world. Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage released on the Dreamcast in 1999, ensuring very few actually played it, and Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō or Berserk Millennium Empire Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War released on PS2 in 2004 but only in Japan. It seemed as though I’d never be able to experience my favourite manga in my favourite medium, until Koei Tecmo announced Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, a perfect pairing of the brutal and bloody manga to their signature Warriors gameplay.
I am an unapologetic lover of the Warriors franchise. I love the simple yet nuanced combat, I love the ridiculous fun of hacking hundreds upon hundreds of enemies to bits, and I love how each game manages to feel different while essentially being the same. I think something like Berserk lends itself perfectly to this style of gameplay, being mostly centered around large scale wars and cutting through legions of demons. While players will spend the majority of the game as series protagonist Guts, characters such as Griffith, Judeau, Casca and even Zodd the Immortal can be unlocked and each feel distinctly different from each other with distinct attack styles and combos.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does an admirable job retelling the manga almost in it’s entirety, starting at the Golden Age Arc, and ending at the Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc through a combination of in-game events and cutscenes that blend clips from the 1997 anime, the 2016 OVA, and new cutscenes made specifically for the game. It’s a parsed version, and while newcomers may feel like certain pieces of the plot are missing, long-time fans are sure to appreciate the amount of effort put into telling the complete Berserk story.
While fans may worry that the series’ tone has been sacrificed for over-the-top nature of the Warriors franchise, rest assured it has been not. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is the bloodiest Warriors game to ever exist, with splashes of blood from enemies drenching the battlefield as well as characters; and while enemies don’t split in half with every sword swing, they do explode into bits from character’s frenzy attacks maintaining the perfect level of gore and silliness for a Berserk flavored Warriors game.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk looks amazing too. Characters are lovingly rendered in 3D, perfectly resembling their manga style in an excellent cel-shaded design. Special moves are framed in an almost perfect page-to-screen adaptation, and the blood is thick and red adding to the game’s anime style. The music is beautifully orchestrated with booming horns and intense strings to back the scope of the medieval warfare. And little touches add to the game’s overall quality too. As the game progresses, the background of the main menu will change to scenes from the manga like The Band of the Hawk talking together in the barracks to Gut’s sheltering Casca from the storm.
However, I find it odd how the series’ mature themes are oddly handled at times. Some of the more serious moments of the game like Gut’s accidental murder of a child, or the implied incest of Charlotte’s father are left intact, however any trace of nudity or intense gore— like Guts cutting his arm off— are tastefully edited out. While it’s not deal breaking in any way, it seems odd that the game doesn’t commit fully to the series’ darker tone and themes.
While Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a fantastic experience, it’s not a game without problems. Localization seems a bit lax with some of the translated text either missing words or incorrectly translated, and subtitle text can remain onscreen for a split second during cutscenes. And small technical glitches like characters on horseback running in circles, pushing enemies around making them impossible to hit do make it slightly annoying. However, for each little problem, the game makes up for it in spades with its dedication to the source material, and overall fun.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is amazing. It’s perfect for fans of series, it’s perfect for fans of the Warriors franchise, it’s perfect for gamers looking for a fun “mature” game that isn’t Call of Duty. It’s hard to imagine a manga that filled me with horror so many times, filling me with such joy as a game, but it does. Get this game, if only to open the door to a darker generation of Warriors games.