I have a love/hate relationship with the Dynasty Warriors/Musou series. I first discovered it at a friend’s house, he had a copy of Dynasty Warriors 3 and we played it for hours. I was amazed by the amount of enemies on screen and it was a blast hacking through them in co-op. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had less patience with the series; it’s improvements have been so minutely incremental in the mainline series that the latest version at any given moment might as well just be an HD upgrade of the game I played so long ago.
On the other hand, I’ve found myself enjoying some of their licensed titles. In the early 360 days, I put quite a bit of time into Dynasty Warriors: Gundam and more recently Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes were great synergies between their respective series. Dragon Quest Heroes especially elevated it beyond the basic hack and slash nature of a regular Musou and made it more of a light action RPG by adding a magic system, weapon and armor upgrades, level up mechanics, and the ability to switch between four characters during battle. I’d compare it to 3D version of the classic Dungeons and Dragons beat-em-up, Chronicles of Mystara.
So when Tecmo Koei announced a new Musou game that would take place in the Berserk universe, I was excited. I didn’t know much about Berserk but I’d heard that the long running manga and anime series was gloriously violent and I felt that would be a good mix with Dynasty Warriors. Berserk was a huge inspiration for From Software’s Souls series and I enjoyed those, so seeing where that all came from was exciting.
That was a mistake.
Slapping the Berserk name on the Musou chassis adds nothing to the action. Unlike Dragon Quest Heroes, it somehow subtracts some features. In the mainline Dynasty Warriors games there’s a small crafting system that adds improvements to your weapons and equipment. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk doesn’t have this, with each character only having their main weapon and a few crappy sub-weapons.
Berserk does have equippable accessories to put on your character that increase your stats, but they never felt as though they did anything. You eventually get the ability to increase the stats on those accessories but again, I just watched numbers go up without feeling like I was actually doing more damage or attacking faster. There’s a stat simply called “Equine,” and I couldn’t tell you what did. Did it make my horse faster or its attacks stronger? Who knows! All I know is that the number went up.
Control wise, it’s exactly like a basic Dynasty Warriors game but eschews some crucial elements. The game doesn’t even have a jump button, replacing it with a dash that is supposed to be used for dodging enemies. The only enemies you’d need to dodge are bosses, though, and even then it didn’t do much. I could count at least five times when I’d be fighting a boss, trying to dodge out of the way, only to still be hit and trapped in a corner. And not only the corner but against walls, because the camera is a tougher foe than most enemies, what with a lock-on feature that never properly worked.
The mission structure is also stripped down. Yes, in every Musou game, your objective is to kill a copious amount of enemies on every map, but in other games you’re allowed to pick which mission you’re going to do. Berserk is extremely linear, but I can forgive that because it’s just following the manga/anime timeline. What I can’t forgive is the lack of diverse goals over its boring surplus of levels. It’s a textbook case of quantity of quality. There’s really only three mission types across 40+ levels: kill all the enemies, kill the boss, and escort the NPC. What makes the repetition even worse is that for most levels you’ll be playing the same character, even though the game eventually gives you seven other characters to play as.
I originally started playing the game on Normal but that felt far too easy so I bumped the difficulty up to Hard. Still that felt too easy so I cranked it up another notch to the Berserk difficulty but all that did was give the enemies a bigger health pool and make them hit harder. In a game like this, where you can get hit out of nowhere, that was no fun at all. So I dropped it back down to hard and continued on that way for a good 90% of the game until the last few levels because by that point it just felt like a slog.
As I stated before, I did not know much about Berserk before playing this game. After completing the game, I still don’t know almost anything about Berserk. It does a poor job of communicating the story even though the cutscenes from the first half of the game are literally just chunks of the CGI animated movies from a few years back. A lot of the plot is relayed to you in the middle of battle, and you better know Japanese because outside of the text, all the dialogue is in its native language. And I wouldn’t have a problem with that but once again, it’s relayed to you while you’re in the middle of wading through vast seas of enemies, so the game expects you to read what’s happening while facing off against these dangerous hordes. Even when you get a chance to read it, the text is so poorly translated and full of spelling errors that it’s almost not worth it.
If this is the story I’ve heard such good things about, I’m fine with never actually reading the manga or watching any of its adaptations. Its filled to the brim with boring anime and fantasy tropes and cardboard characters that gave me no reason to keep paying attention. Guts, the main character, was born into a world of violence and is conflicted about fighting but is also extremely angry all the time. He’s the definition of ludonarrative dissonance. Griffith is the pretty boy that is overly ambitious and destined by fate to be the ruler of the land. And Casca is the woman. Actually, Casca is the Strong Female Character who loves to fight but will cry at the drop of a hat and is just looking for the acceptance of Griffith at first but then Guts later.
It gets worse from there. There’s more than one instance of sexual assault to different characters with one woman being assaulted by a demon possessed horse, other women characters just want to sleep with Guts or are just damsels in distress, and there’s a graphic scene of child murder. Maybe in the manga it’s delivered with even an iota of gravitas but the cutscenes are so poorly done and the characters are so stiff that it comes off as an unintended joke.
That’s true of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk overall—it’s a supremely disappointing mess. It still feels like a Musou game, for what that’s worth, but at a $60 price point I couldn’t suggest it to even the hardest of hardcore fans. It adds nothing to the story, adds nothing to the Musou series, and you’d be better served by playing any other Dynasty Warriors game.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk was developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Vita and PC.
Terence Wiggins is the co-host of the podcast Whatever We Call It, the creator of the videogame online zine We <3 Video Games, the cookie wizard behind The Black Nerd’s Baked Goods, and the Internet’s best friend. He’s on Twitter @TheBlackNerd.