It’s difficult to think of an anime and manga property more suited to join Omega Force’s Warriors meta-series than Berserk. Franchise protagonist Guts lives and breathes hack-and-slashing, enough that he, at first glance, can be mistaken for a one-dimensional mercenary obsessed with killing. Unfortunately, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’s simplistic gameplay does little to demystify this shallow perception. It’s an inadequate introduction to the Warriors games although the abundance of anime and CG cinematics makes it a fitting gateway to the Berserk series even if it doesn’t do its main character any favors.
For a manga series that has lasted over 27 years, spanning myriad story arcs, it was wise of Omega Force to focus on Berserk’s most well known events, namely the narratives that have been adapted into various anime productions. The result is a comprehensive Story Mode that chronicles Guts’ evolution from a raging teenage mercenary with no life goals to a homicidal adult seeking retribution. Band of the Hawk isn’t a sufficient substitute for the anime since it glosses over many supporting characters’ storylines. Furthermore, the best action scenes, from The Golden Age film trilogy in particular, have been omitted as you get to reenact those same battles instead. Unfortunately, these playable scenes fail to elevate its presentation to match the show.
Berserk is representative of Warriors games at their most simple and straightforward which, when compared to their recent achievements with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, is all the more disappointing. Assignments are limited to three types: destroy, rescue, and kill. The game of region dominance–a hallmark of Dynasty Warriors campaigns–is barely utilized and would have added depth to Berserk’s 46 story chapters.
Even with Guts’ propensity for killing, there’s no substantial or long term incentive to slaughter everyone that crosses his sword. At its best moments, amassing a body count of over 1,000 while completing goals in a single mission feels cathartic but there’s never the compulsion to wipe an entire map clean of enemies. To do so would add monotony to an already tedious campaign, when the drive to tick off objectives and reach the next cutscene becomes more appealing than staying on the battlefield.
Despite the multiple objectives, the occasional mid-mission plot twists, and all the running around, the majority of chapters can take less than 10 minutes to complete. What results are missions that are shorter than the cinematics that frame each sortie. The intermissions in the first third of the story mode wisely reprises scenes from Berserk’s Golden Age film trilogy while players are spared from footage from the divisive new TV show in favor of new CG scenes. It’s plot-heavy by Warriors standards but works in the context of Guts’ epic road to revenge.
Guts’ brutal and offensive-minded repertoire is expressed through the simple combos that make up much of his move set. It all comes down to how many quick and strong attacks you string together. After every hundred or so kills, Guts can unleash a finishing move that wipes out every nearby foe. Such carnage is fitting for him though it’s easy to see how a sense of routine can set in quickly and often. Without a greater variety of objectives, Omega Force’s brand of unrefined hack and slashing becomes all the more magnified as you labor through this lengthy campaign.
The novel appeal of playing someone other than Guts loses its allure quickly since Free Mode only features previously beaten story missions.
This reliance on the Warriors formula extends to the playable areas outside the story. Free Mode, a staple of the meta-series, serves as an outlet to try out Berserk’s supporting cast. They all control with the same quick attack/strong attack simplicity of Guts, each with their own brutal flourishes, where two dozen troops can be vanquished with a single sword stroke. The androgynous Griffin kills with the lethal grace of a fencer while the skilled Casca moves with the agility of a ninja. The novel appeal of playing someone other than Guts loses its allure quickly since Free Mode only features previously beaten story missions.
Berserk’s repetitiveness is all the more pronounced in Endless Eclipse, the game’s endurance mode. Despite its seemingly intimidating 100-round design, this mode lacks character as it’s neither a tower dungeon nor is it a hectic wave-based survival mode. Instead, it mimics the Story Mode’s prioritization on completing objectives with no penalty for running past all the lesser enemies in each round. Endless Eclipse also underscores Berserk’s lack of replay incentives, despite the character-building rewards it bestows when completing missions. In Endless Eclipse, boredom is as much an obstacle as anything this mode throws at you.
Given how well Guts’ bloodlust and battle experience are well-suited to the crowd fighting and mass slaughter of Warriors games, it’s disappointing that this tie-in lacks the engagement and nuance of Omega Force’s more imaginative efforts with other franchises. Its saving feature is the expansiveness of the campaign narratives, which serve as a hearty sampling of the Berserk franchise’s multiple story arcs. If not for these insightful cutscenes, the developer’s penchant for adequate but unengaging hack and slash combat would perpetuate the image of Guts as a one-note protagonist. And even if you’re a Warriors fan who knows not to expect a Dark Souls level of gratifying melee combat, Band of the Hawk still deprives you of the juicy sights and sounds that one associates with Guts’ savagery; the splashes of red that result from every kill hardly counts as “gore”.