Take the Dynasty Warriors formula, dilute slightly with three drops of accessibility, add a heaped tablespoon of manga & anime license, stir in a generous dollop of storytelling, bake in a tortured and overlong cooking analogy for far too long, and leave to cool. Ta-da! You have, er, a Berserk and the Band of the Hawk... um... cake.
Storytelling in licensed games such as this tends to be clumsy at best, disconnected bits and pieces that fail to satisfy fans and succeed in confusing newcomers. BatBotH takes a surprisingly, and pleasingly, different tack. Although there are some to-be-expected changes and omissions, it's by and large a comprehensive telling of the manga's story. Only the bare minimum of this takes place during gameplay though, with the story almost exclusively told in pre and post level scenes. The first third or so of the game is stuffed full of surprisingly lengthy and well-chosen clips from the anime, with the rest of the story told with more traditional game engine or CG cutscenes.
Said story has a depth and breadth that its beginnings don't really hint at. What starts off as a historical drama (albeit one that isn't actually based on real history) soon turns into a supernatural horror. Love, betrayal, loyalty, regret, humour both intentional and unintentional, greed, demons, evil possessed horses... BatBotH has it all, really.
As for gameplay, it's basically about killing things. It's about killing a lot of things. The game's heart is that of Dynasty Warriors, in that almost every stage sees you go at it alone against a literal army of enemies, spilling enough blood to drown a herd of elephants on your way to the end. As you level up and progress through the story, you'll unlock new combos and abilities. The bottom line is though that basic attacks are limited to just two buttons (with a third operating a sub-weapon of limited use and often questionable value). Under the proverbial bells and whistles it's pretty basic stuff; but basic stuff that's oddly compelling.
The final element to BatBotH's limited combat repertoire is Frenzy mode. As you go through cheerily carving up swarms of monsters/men, you build up a gauge that allows you to temporarily enter a more powerful state. While in this state, you can build up another gauge that, once full, allows you to unleash a powerful area attack (or, for a few characters, transform into a super-powerful form). This feeds into a minor need for tactical thinking, as you don't want to get caught out against one or more powerful enemies with no chance of using your most powerful attacks.
You'll unlock a variety of characters (and a few extra costumes and abilities) by playing through the story, but almost every level must be completed by using protagonist Guts before it can be played using somebody else. Conversely, any unlocked character can be used immediately in the 'Endless Eclipse' mode. This mode doesn't tell any tales from the manga, instead functioning as an endurance/survival mode where you earn rewards for fighting through as many tiers as possible without quitting/dying. As each character is levelled up and equipped with items individually though, you might want to think carefully about who you use to progress and how much you want to rely on this mode to level up (I didn't use it at all to support my initial story playthrough).
You don't have any control over how your stats are increased each time you level up, but the items you equip to bestow passive stat buffs can – and should – be swapped and, when you're happy you've equipped the best, constantly upgraded. It's sometimes difficult to tell how much difference your items are making to play, but they do make a difference, and the level to which you can improve them reaches far beyond probably any other game you've played. You should jump at any help you can get against the tsunami of enemies, especially if you're brave/stupid enough to play on a high difficulty.
With a surprisingly dark and well-told story, and failure rarely down to being too slow running from one end of the battlefield to another, BatBotH welcomes both fans and newcomers.
You won't go Berserk with disappointment if you buy this.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk at CeX
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