Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review: Hundred Thousand Man Slayer

Koei Tecmo
Koei Tecmo /

Guiding players through the three central arcs, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk tells an amazing story through mindless gameplay.

Developer: Omega Force

Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Platforms: PS4 (Version Reviewed), PS Vita, PC, PS3 (Japan Only)

Release Dates: October 27, 2016 (PS3, PS4 – Japan), February 21, 2017 (North America)

There has always been something appealing about diving into a genre, or medium, of art that you’re fairly unfamiliar with, especially when it comes to a critical review. I had few preconceived notions about Berserk and the Band of the Hawk going into my time playing the game, allowing an honest look at a well-revered manga series through a new lens. I can honestly say that I left wanting more Berserk, even if it meant getting the hell away from this game.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a musou hack-and-slash game akin to the Dynasty Warriors series (or Hyrule Warriors, for those who have only experienced it through Nintendo). Resembling what can only be described as a demonic adventure that explores the philosophy of wants over needs, you play as Guts, a mercenary who knows only the life of death and freedom.

That is, until a dashing young man named Griffith rolls up, demanding his gratitude after destroying him in a duel. Guts must make peace with his life as a member of the Band of the Hawk; a group of mercenaries fighting to make a name for themselves. With the guidance of Casca and other members of the group, they take on all challengers as Griffith searches for a higher purpose.

Beserk and the Band of the Hawk screenshot review
Koei Tecmo /

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk covers the chronological branch of the Berserk narrative through the Golden Age, Dark Swordsman, Conviction, and Falcon of the Millennium Empire Arcs. As this covers a story that branches decades’ worth of content, gameplay focuses on the key battles that Guts faces throughout the years in a 20+ hour video game package.

…I was completely flabbergasted by the sheer brilliance of the story.

Combat is painfully simple; you have a light attack and a strong attack. Guts is your main character, but early on, many levels can be completed by the main members of the Band of the Hawk, including Griffith. Waves of weak enemies, often standing around you in slack-jawed awe, are often dealt with in a few quick swings. You can spam the light attack as lazily as the day is long, but the strong attacks help break the guard of the commander units that often swing back.

The strengths and weaknesses of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk represent the polar opposites of what a brainless hack-and-slash game should embody. In a genre defined by its gameplay and rudimentary story as justification for a 1 vs. 1,000 campaign, the source Berserk manga material fuels its allure.

Having never experienced the anime in any shape or form outside of second-hand recollections by gaming podcasters and the overt influence upon the Dark SoulsDemon’s Souls and Bloodborne series of From Software games, I was completely flabbergasted by the sheer brilliance of the story.

Berserk Golden Age Arc
Studio 4°C /

With animation seemingly ripped straight from the recent Golden Arc trio of animated films, the Golden Arc cutscenes weaved a beautiful tale of Guts, Griffith, Casca, and what loving friendship truly means to different people. Complete with an enigmatic cast of characters, you can’t help but feel immersed in a world where honor and respect are acquired by those willing to do anything to earn it.

These tenets permeate throughout your playthrough of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, holding up a paper-thin gameplay system. Attack combos consist of spamming one button repeatedly, finishing up with the other button as a heavy finisher. Enemies offer no challenge whatsoever, and the rare boss battles (just you and the boss, without hundreds of minion adds) represent the few moments where you have to actively care about dodging.

After you kill dozens of enemies, you can enter Frenzy Mode, doing extra damage to the already weakened opponents. From there, you can perform a finisher Death Blow attack that wipes most enemies from the screen. Additionally, you can slot items to regenerate lost health and boost defenses, as well as equipment that give stat increases.

These RPG elements may prove useful on a harder difficulty, but on Normal, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a remarkably easy game that makes battle preparation pointless. I found myself rushing through levels (held in maps that all looked like either the same type of castle town, forest, rocky battlefield, or a mountain pass) just so I could further my understanding and appreciation for the frank, depressing, but surreal story that laid before me.

Beserk and the Band of the Hawk screenshot review
Koei Tecmo /

…almost every gameplay moment between cutscenes operates as repetitive busywork…

The Berserk name carries this game, as the gameplay itself even serves as a detriment to the overlying story. When Guts, Griffith, Casca, and others are fighting nobly for a freedom they all seek, backing each other as part of the Band of the Hawk, it’s hard to stay immersed when you’re mowing down literally thousands of eventual bloody carcasses each level.

How am I supposed to understand the growth of Guts’ recognition as the “Hundred Man Slayer” where the level in which I earned that title for him saw me slay almost 900 additional people in that same scene? How am I expected to remain entertained when almost every gameplay moment between cutscenes operates as repetitive busywork?

For fanatics of the series, there are bonus gameplay modes that put you in the shoes of your favorite characters. There is a Free Mode that lets you play any completed level as any of the Berserk and the Band of the Hawk playable characters. An additional Endless Eclipse Mode brings you to the demonic epicenter of the series, working as a dungeon crawler that offers substantial gear and material rewards for your campaign.

It is here, though, where the technical deficiencies of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk show their weakness. With dozens of character models (plenty of which are moderately detailed) on screen, the framerate often dips below its 30 FPS cap into what is perceived as the low 20s. It is in this gameplay mode that the game’s mostly inoffensive orchestral score starts to become a bit annoying.

Beserk and the Band of the Hawk screenshot review
Koei Tecmo /

There are plenty of ways to fault the direction, level design, and general gameplay production for Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. However, as always, it comes down to how much you love the story. I became enamored to the point where I am seeking out additional materials in this franchise to peruse on my own time.

It’s turned a person genuinely disinterested in anime into a keen fan, just through its cutscenes.

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It is with that understanding that I recommend Berserk and the Band of the Hawk as a gateway into a greater universe with a wealth of content at your fingertips. It’s an easily digestible medium, with gameplay difficulty that is serviceable for those between eight and eighty years old. If you want to switch your brain off and beat hundreds and thousands of enemy scarecrow equivalents into the ground, there is no better story involved in a musou game out there.

Of course, it comes with the burden of a forgettable, unexceptional gameplay experience that does little to separate itself from the medium. Much like Hyrule Warriors, Koei Tecmo can get away with this formula purely on the back of the source material, as dedicated fans of the series will buy it for its name. That’s a shame; this series could use a much better video game vessel if the gameplay mechanics were that of a technical action game.

6. There is no doubting the majesty of the Berserk anime. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does an amicable job of selling an established story to new fans through its wonderfully animated cutscenes and computer-generated tableaus. However, it’s by-the-numbers, cookie-cutter hack-and-slash nature makes for a boring gameplay experience barely enjoyed better in its predecessors. I implore you to buy the manga and read it for yourself, or buy the anime and enjoy Berserk for its story on its own. Here, all it does is keep a middling title afloat in relevancy.. Omega Force. . Berserk and the Band of the Hawk

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.