Koei Tecmo’s brawlers have thrived through three console generations—well, technically four if you count the original Dynasty Warriors on the PS1, a more traditional one-on-one fighter. This is a remarkable feat, and I commend the publisher for sticking with their fanbase for so many years. Dynasty Warriors 2 on Playstation 2 was a turning point for Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force developer, and it was the first title that made me fall in love with the franchise and its spinoffs.
As a veteran fan, I’ve witnessed Koei Tecmo fluctuate through numerous ups and downs, and while most releases have reached notable success (especially within the genre) there’s no shortage of hits and misses among the publisher’s vast library. Such is the case with the latest Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. It’s one of Omega Force’s weakest entries in years, and it’s difficult to recommend even to diehard Berserk and Dynasty Warriors fans. From the incredibly disappointing visuals and repetitive gameplay to a surprising lack of content, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels more like a haphazard mod than a complete game.
"From the incredibly disappointing visuals and repetitive gameplay to a surprising lack of content, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels more like a haphazard mod than a complete game."
After the successful Hyrule Warriors, Dragon Quest Heroes and Attack on Titan releases, I was excited when Koei Tecmo announced their plan to explore the extremely popular Berserk anime. Berserk’s over-the-top violence and unique aesthetic would have been a perfect fit for Omega Force’s brawler-style action, but unfortunately, the end result strays far from pretty much everything that makes the source material so exceptional.
The first major disappointment unfolds as soon as the game launches. Beside the authentic anime cutscenes, the game’s art direction does not complement the anime or manga whatsoever. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk shares graphical similarities with older Dynasty Warriors releases on the Playstation 3, but it’s been stripped of color and detail—let me rephrase that, it’s been entirely stripped of everything that gave Dynasty Warriors visual charm and personality. You won’t find exciting historical costumes here, nor will you find all the cool and varied weapons. Instead, the game tries to force a more linear, story-driven path that restricts players to mostly Guts (the game’s protagonist), who isn’t particularly fun to control.
"Personally, I think Tecmo Koei should’ve handled this title like Platinum’s MadWorld on Nintendo’s Wii. Taking some creative risks would have done wonders for Berserk."
This brings me to the second issue, and most likely the game’s biggest detriment. Story missions are terribly paced and lack variety. SInce you’re forced to play Guts during the majority of the campaign, you’ll find yourself rotating between a handful of moves for the entirety of the game. Even after expanding the character’s combos and skills, Guts (and this applies to every other playable character) plays no differently towards the end of the game than he did in the beginning. Sadly, the other characters fare no differently.
During certain missions, you can choose other playable characters, but frankly, they’re equally static and lack variety. Cacsa, the female key protagonist, is actually the most enjoyable character due to her agility and fast-paced combos. Sadly, she’s only playable for a few missions, and even though all characters become playable in Free Play mode after campaign completion, there’s little reason to revisit the drab scenery just to play the same levels as another character.
If you’re expecting deviation from the Dynasty Warriors formula, you’re not going to find it here. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is mostly a carbon copy of every past Koei Tecmo brawler. The controls are identical, the map layouts are fundamentally no different, skill progression works in the same linear fashion, and weapon upgrades seem to have minimal effect when in actual combat. In a way, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels like a massive step back for the developer, and it’s especially disappointing after so many recent spin off successes. Personally, I think Tecmo Koei should’ve handled this title like Platinum’s MadWorld on Nintendo’s Wii. Taking some creative risks would have done wonders for Berserk. Even as someone who absolutely adores Dynasty Warriors, I feel somewhat betrayed as a longtime fan and customer.
"Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high after enjoying so many hours with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a major disappointment."
Despite its setbacks, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is still very enjoyable in small bursts, and some of the special attacks make an exciting first impression. Slicing down hordes of enemies with buckets of blood gushing across the screen is both comical and entertaining when you’re having a bad day at work, just don’t expect much beyond that.
Conclusion: Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high after enjoying so many hours with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a major disappointment. For a company that normally offers excellent value in their games, Berserks comes off as a severely watered down cash grab. If this had been a budget release, we would be having a very different conversation, but at a full sixty bucks, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk just doesn’t cut it.