PLEASE NOTE. Berserk is world-renowned for it’s no-holds-barred take on violence, gore, taboo topics (Such as cultism, rape, torture and abuse), and somewhat disturbing imagery. If you’re sensitive to any of these themes, then you’re free to close down this article and go enjoy some of our other content.
Berserk: Band of the Hawk is the 3rd game based off of the fantasy-horror-inspired manga series by renowned mangaka Kentaro Miura; the precursors to Band of the Hawk being Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage on the Sega Dreamcast (Released 1999), and Berserk Millennium Empire Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War on the Sony PlayStation 2 (Released 2004); both released to somewhat ‘okay’ critical reception…Especially with the somewhat upsetting release of the Berserk 2016 3D ‘Anime’, is Berserk: Band of the Hawk finally the one love letter to fans and newcomers to the franchise…?
I would have to say, for fans, 100% – For newcomers however…It’s a bit of a difficult slope.
Berserk: Band of the Hawk starts off near the end point of Berserk’s thrilling Eclipse Arc, with the main protagonist, Guts, fighting through literal Hell itself to rescue a close companion of his, Casca, from being tortured, raped and made into a plaything by the devilish Femto – Hanging somewhat crucified and nude by tentacles, amidst a bleak environment of flesh, blood, humanoid-like structures made out of skulls and flesh…It’s certainly one way to open up a game.
After this, however, you’re soon dropped straight into the thick of things; you return to Guts’ early days as a mercenary, and his assault on a castle village in a bid to claim the village from a heavily armed and organised group of bandits; for any newcomer, this is a serious jump, and is extremely jarring for anyone without prior knowledge of Berserk. Given this, however, the story from there-on-out closely follows the original manga, running through every event between The Band of the Hawk, through the Eclipse, and ending at a somewhat…Infamous part of the manga.
The game is, thankfully, nearly-completely uncensored, with blood, nudity, and all cutscenes being fully uncensored; one thing to note, however, is that nude details (Nipples, gentialia, etc) and dismemberment is non-existant within the actual game – This I found to be a little bit silly with the gore (I understand removing nude details), especially given that being a Musou title holding the Berserk moniker, being able to slice’n’dice enemies in half and cut arms off is kind of expected…
The gameplay for Band of the Hawk is your standard-fare Musou-title fare, however one thing to note is that, at least compared to other Musou titles such as the ever-popular Dynasty Warriors franchise and One Piece Musou games, Berserk: Band of the Hawk is considerably more simplistic with it’s combo and special systems – Your primary attacking buttons that you’ll use for hours on end simply consist between Square and Triangle (Or respective buttons / keys), only using timing and number of times pressed to form special combo attacks.
Special moves can be triggered once your Rage gauge is filled a certain amount, with you being able to fill your special meter when in this bloodlust mode – The only difference, unfortunately, is that the Rage mode just changes the visuals of your standard attacks with a bloody red mist and electric energy, and increases your damage output by around 15% (Estimated). This is true of all characters in Berserk: Band of the Hawk, which is disappointing considering I would’ve loved to see Griffith use stabbing or charging attacks with a changeable direction, or Casca use more of her martial-arts-inspired swordplay in a beat-em-up sort of combo fashion. I feel that this, combined with the lack of gore that is staple in any Berserk adaptation, is what lets this title down the most.
Missions can be split into three forms as well; standard Missions which have a designated requirement and set of goals to achieve, such as escorting a character to a certain point, capturing a certain number of bases and so-on; Boss Missions, which pit you 1-V-1 against an extremely strong enemy, which is rather rare, but extremely challenging and satisfying in this title; and War Missions, which, being my personal favorite of the bunch, are free moving missions where you must capture bases, defeat generals, destroy enemy equipment, and employ tactical strategies to force your way to victory and dominance, usually culminating in a hectic boss fight and a lengthy, wondrous cutscene after.
Berserk: Band of the Hawk comes pre-packaged with three different gameplay modes – Story Mode follows Guts and the Band of the Hawk across a 40-something mission campaign, retelling the story of the original manga, alongside over 3+ hours of cutscenes straight from the Berserk: Golden Age Movie trilogy, and numerous challenges, bosses and more.
Free Mode, which is a staple in any Musou game, allows you to enter any battlefield of your choice, and play with any of your unlocked characters to level them up and test your skill with each – I found this mode to be, honestly, the least interesting of the 3, and only really used it to get a hang of new characters and mess around with equipment and costumes.
Finally, we have Endless Eclipse Mode; a mode that explores the desires and drives of each of your unlocked characters, seeing more of what motivates them to do the things they do, and generally exploring more of the background lore around them. The mode is split into 100 Floors, unlocked during parts of Story Mode, which you have to complete one by one; the catch? Each floor gradually gets harder, more brutal, unfair, up to the point where you’re fighting tooth-and-nail to clear each enemy. Through completing Endless Eclipse Mode, new characters, outfits, transformations, abilities and equipment can be unlocked for nearly every character.
Overall, Berserk: Band of the Hawk is probably the best adaptation of the manga’s story to date, and lives up to the chaos, havoc and authentic visual style of Berserk – Where it falls short, however, is when you start to compare it to other Musou titles, or if you try to jump in without ever seeing a single speck of the original story – My recommendation? Read the first 16-or-so chapters of the Berserk manga, to learn the underlying characters, story and premise, then move onto playing Band of the Hawk; that way the movie cutscenes and dialogue will fill in all blanks up until the end of the game, which stops short around an arc or two where the manga currently rests.
If you’ve played Musou games in the past, this title may seem extremely simplistic and a bit watered down, but for newcomers to this subgenre of war game, there really isn’t a better introduction, or a better time to get into them than right now.