Games based on obscure Japanese franchises definitely have a niche market in the west. Berserk has been around as a manga series since the late '80s so let's see how it holds up as a Dynasty Warriors style adventure.
Believe it or not, this is actually the third Berserk game. Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage for Dreamcast was the first and it actually came out in the west. It was a decent hack and slash game that many gamers overlooked. Years later, a PlayStation 2 sequel arrived yet it was only ever released in Japan. Now, Omega Force got their hands on the series and you know what that means: it's time for Guts and his accompanying cast of characters to slice and dice their way through hundreds of nearly defenceless monsters. Thankfully, the orchestral music, fantastic Japanese voice cast, satisfying sound effects, and gritty and detailed visuals help bring the manga to life. At times, the action is set in medieval castles while other scenarios are more grotesque and organic. Berserk takes place in quite an unconventional world to say the least yet this interpretation of the franchise captures it beautifully.
Unfortunately, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels like your average Dynasty Warriors clone with very few elements that set it apart in such a crowded genre. You'll find yourself mindlessly hacking away while unleashing a fury of light and heavy attacks and dodging to avoid oncoming blows. Additionally, you can enter Frenzy Mode whenever its meter is full and perform a Death Blow move if it's fully charged, too. You'll ride a horse, fire sub-weapons, use items, and even transform as certain characters. However, it's all extremely basic stuff that you've seen dozens of times before. If the core gameplay wasn't so monotonous then this lack of innovation would be more forgivable. As it is, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has uninspired gameplay that simply doesn't live up to the iconic franchise.
On the plus side, the main story mode is impressively lengthy. You'll play missions from The Golden Age Arc all the way through to The Hawk of the Millennium Arc. Watching Guts evolve throughout the campaign adds tons of depth to character development and the gameplay even alters slightly to accommodate his newfound abilities (and disabilities), too. There are a variety of cinematic 3D scenes, dialogue sequences, and anime cutscenes to tell the story which I found made the plot quite layered in its presentation. The anime clips especially add authenticity to the plot. Although the gameplay has been done to death, the story is definitely a memorable one.
Besides the main campaign, Endless Eclipse mode will test your mettle as you work through 100 layers of chaotic battles. As you progress, you'll fulfill quests for certain characters and take on plenty of familiar bosses, too. It's definitely a welcome inclusion as it has the potential to add hours of gameplay on top of the already substantial story mode but it doesn't do much to change up the gameplay. That being said, if you simply want to play more then you can spend a lot of time battling through the Endless Eclipse.
It may be disappointing but that's basically all Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has to offer. Once you master the story mode and Endless Eclipse, the only content left is free mode and the gallery. Free mode is basically the same as story mode except you can play through stages with different characters and costumes while the gallery is where you browse unlocked content such as a character viewer, story events, and music. Perfectionists and hardcore Berserk fanatics might enjoy completing the gallery but I imagine everyone else would be satisfied merely finishing the story mode as there's little incentive to keep playing afterwards.
In the end, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk offers plenty of content for fans of the franchise in an impressively presented package. However, its gameplay falls flat as it fails to pull itself from Musou mediocrity.
- + Well-done visuals and audio help flesh out the unconventional world of Berserk
- + Lengthy campaign with cool anime clips
- + Endless Eclipse is a welcome inclusion
- - Has almost no unique qualities to set itself apart in the genre
- - Lackluster and tedious gameplay
- - Very little additional content