Koei Tecmo (formally Koei) and Omega Force (a division of Koei Tecmo), best known for the long-running Dynasty Warriors franchise, have been expanding their highly successful Musou formula across additional intellectual properties. Whether it's Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda or popular anime and manga such as Attack on Titan, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Fist of the North Star, or Berserk, fans have been cutting their way through countless foes.
The latest title, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, is based on the Berserk manga that has been around since the late '80s. Although a new anime series is being produced, Koei Tecmo has a wealth of content to utilize for the game due to the pre-existing anime series and movies. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk story follows the manga, specifically focusing on the Golden Age through Hawk of the Millennium Empire narrative arcs. It follows the oddly named character Guts, a beast of a man armed with a sword almost as large as himself. He somehow wields the thing like it's nothing, using it to cleave his way through humans and beasts alike. With him is the Band of the Hawk, a mercenary group Guts ends up joining, as they participate in the 100-year war between two warring countries. Set in a quasi-like medieval world, armored knights and cavalry charge across the battlefields, but of course, there's more to the world than just a simple war between humans.
While Berserk has enough varying qualities from the Warriors series, the game still follows the core experience of a Musou title. There are both standard and heavy attacks, and a rage meter that can activate super attacks. The battlefields are still populated with bases to capture and morale to maintain. You'll still be destroying as many enemies as possible with any of the characters you've unlocked. Case in point, I think I had over 1000 kills on the first stage alone. Overall, the combat feels slower than recent Warriors titles, but the levels are shorter, for the most part. Some fun new additions allow you to lock onto enemy officers and sub-weapons. Doing so causes your opponents to stagger, enabling you to follow through with quick attacks.
Stringing together a long series of combo attacks builds the rage meter, allowing you to enter an unstoppable rage mode once full. Rage is a powerful thing on the battlefield, letting Guts (or any other character) cut down enemies in single swipes, spraying blood across the battlefield. Each time your use a rage ability during a battle, it becomes stronger. This results in faster, and deadlier attacks on your opponents. When in rage mode, another gauge will fill with each bloody mess you make from your enemies, eventually allowing you to use a deathblow attack that decimates anyone nearby. While still reminiscent of the Warriors system, these changes make the game feel like a much different affair.
There are some additional game modes as well, such as a Free Mode letting you select previously completed stages and playing them with any unlocked character. Endless Eclipse acts like a never ending dungeon where the goal is to progress through as many stages as possible. Completing a certain number of stages unlocks things such as new horses, costumes, or other items. Additionally, there are also missions named "desires" which take place over a series of these levels. Desires form the actual backbone of this mode, as completing them provide unlockable bonuses. However, if you leave at any point, it automatically resets your progress back to the beginning. Since there's no way to stop and your damage carries over, it becomes a challenging prospect to complete all of the levels.
Being a fan of Musou games isn't a must to enjoy Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. The hack and slash gameplay is certainly repetitive, but there is a certain enjoyment from mindlessly slaughtering thousands of enemies in outlandish ways. What I truly enjoyed about Berserk was well how it incorporated elements of its source material. It maintains the bloody aesthetics, showing the brutish rage of Guts, and uses excellently crafted segments of the anime to convey the story.
Note: The Berserk and the Band of the Hawk review is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.