We’ve seen plenty of games in the Musou, or Warriors, style lately, touching on various settings and franchises. We’ve got games based on the Fate series, the Zelda series, historic China, historic Japan, the list goes on and on. Even acclaimed multimedia series like The Heroic Legend of Arslan and Fist of the North Star have gotten their own Musou games.
With all that in mind, the release of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, a Musou game based on Kentaro Miura’s titular series which is all about the slaughteriffic action that defines this subgenre, shouldn’t have come as any surprise to fans…but how does the melding work out in practice?
Band of the Hawk follows the plot of Berserk, naturally, and that’s the story of Guts, a mercenary who wields a giant sword and kills a bunch of dudes. He’s real good at it, so everyone wants him to ply that particular trade for their side, but Guts ends up signing on with the Band of the Hawk and their idealistic leader Griffith instead. With a name like Berserk you can guess that this isn’t a happy story, so suffice to say the partnership isn’t all sunshine and roses, as fans know full well.
They also know full well that Berserk really loves its giant-sword-swinging enemy-bisecting action, and that’s what you get here…well, sort of. You do swing the giant sword around a bunch, that’s for sure. Whacking dudes will let you activate a powered-up state, at which point you can add in that enemy-bisecting and even unleash powerful finishing moves. The issue is that it never feels all that great; the action is floaty and Guts’ mighty sword lacks the kind of bone-crushing impact you’d expect. It’s especially awkward in one-on-one fights, which aren’t well-suited to Guts’ massive swings.
Unlike many recent Musou-style games, it also lacks the kind of variety that it would take to keep from feeling repetitive, since you play as Guts throughout nearly the entirety of the game’s campaign. Other characters are available in the Free Mode and endurance-style Endless Eclipse Mode, but the meat of the game is the Story Mode and that’s nearly all Guts, all the time. While unlockable subweapons and customizable gear represent an attempt at spicing things up, suffice to say you’re going to get really well acquainted with Guts’ basic attacks and combos over the course of the campaign. The rhythmic SWOOSHing of our hero’s sword might be engraved in my memory for the rest of my days.
It’s not a terrible-looking game, at least; the style’s on par with the gritty fantasy presented in the Berserk manga and films, and (on PS4 Pro, at least) the action feels smooth. Sound and music are what you’d expect, and so far as I can tell the voice acting is solid. There are only Japanese voices available, with no English option in sight, so it’s impossible for me to say if it’s bad or not!
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk isn’t a terrible game, and it’s certainly got plenty to offer Berserk fans and newcomers alike. As a Musou title, though, it’s not on par with superior titles like Fate/Extella or Hyrule Warriors. That means my recommendation here is going to be a little different than usual: if you like the source material or you’re interested in learning more about Berserk, then Band of the Hawk is a good call. If you’re just after some army-smashing action, hwoever, you may be better off checking out other games in the Warriors series.