Release Date: October 27th, 2016 (Japan only)
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed) PS3, PS Vita
If you’re aware of Miura Kentaro’s famous manga series, Berserk, you probably know that the series has the perfect world and style that would make for great action video games, yet even as the series is approaching nearly 30 years since it’s debut, we’ve only seen two games thus far, and one of them was never even released outside of Japan. This has finally been seemingly rectified in 2016 with the recent release of Berserk Musou, which had been claimed by the developers to feature almost all of the story from the manga in one game, making up for lost time, in a sense.
Berserk Musou takes the world of Berserk and combines it with the world of the Musou series (or Warriors outside of Japan, i.e. Dynasty Warriors/Samurai Warriors) which seems to be a perfect fit, given that the Musou series has always been about one character taking down entire armies of enemies, much like Guts in Berserk. I suppose you could even argue that Berserk was probably one of the biggest inspirations for the Musou series, since Berserk preceded Musou by almost a decade.
Could this pairing be the “perfect match” that it seems to be at first glance? Let’s take a look to see if these two worlds merge together in harmony or in chaos.
For those unfamiliar with the Warriors/Musou games, the gameplay consists of hack and slash style 3rd-person gameplay with your character taking on entire armies of your enemies while seeking total control of the battlefield. As you destroy more enemy commanders, you take over sections of the map until you’ve taken over the entire map or fulfilled another unique objective to end the battle. Berserk does nothing to change this formula, so if you’ve ever played a Musou game, you’ll probably have a good idea of what to expect here.
This has always been one of the most polarizing aspects of the Musou series, in that battles can often go on for upwards of 20 or 30 minutes each, repeating nearly the same actions the whole time, often starting to feel tedious and unfulfilling. The same stands with Berserk Musou, as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, but that’s not to say the game doesn’t have other aspects that make it stand out.
The visuals and gameplay are quite impressive for a Musou game, with the textures and polygons being of high detail, but there is also a cel-shading filter overlayed on the models, which is a little off-putting for those who prefer it to look a little more realistic. Besides that small gripe, the visuals do a great job of bringing the Berserk world to life and also boasts some of the highest on-screen enemy counts in the Musou series so far, where I’ve had nearly 150 or more of them attacking me at once.
The character roster in Berserk Musou is very small compared to most games in the series, which could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. The Musou games tend to have upwards of 30 or 40 playable characters in some of the recent installments, but Berserk keeps it at a humble eight playable characters. The plus side is that the characters are all quite different from each other and have very different styles and move lists, whereas many of the characters in the main Musou games tend to be different skins of each other with very little difference in how they fight.
Each character also has various costumes that reflect them at different points in the manga’s story, but each costume usually comes with some added abilities or techniques that the others don’t have, which was a nice way of implementing some extra variance in the characters instead of treating it as if it was a brand new character. The characters’ uniqueness comes through in how they attack, their speed, and their range, and they all have their own way of feeling very powerful to use, with the hits generally feeling very satisfying when you finish off a combo, even for the smaller characters who don’t have eight-foot long swords.
One major plus point for the game is how well it follows the story of the manga, which just happens to be one of the most interesting and robust stories ever told in the world of seinen manga. While there are some smaller events or characters cut out, the game does a good job of including nearly everything in the first 30 volumes of the manga in pretty great detail, often down to a word-for-word adaptation of most scenes. This makes for a quite long story mode that will take you around 20 hours or more to complete, and while the manga is still the definitive way to take in the story, this is a pretty interesting way of retelling it.
One down side of the story mode is that many of the scenes in the story mode aren’t fully animated and often consist of two characters standing next to each other and talking with basically no movement or animation, but it’s a major compliment that every line of text in the story is fully voiced, making for a ton of newly-recorded voice acting for the game. Some other scenes are animated with in-game CGI and full motion capture, and the result is quite nice, but that also brings me to another low point for story mode.
The majority of story scenes from the Golden Age arc of the manga are presented by just copying and pasting scenes from the 2012 Berserk feature films into the game. The animation in these movies isn’t too impressive and it feels a little lazy to just throw in something that most fans have already seen instead of taking a little more effort to animate these events with the in-game engine. This probably wouldn’t have felt so bad if the Golden Age story didn’t take up more than half of the game’s story mode, but again, it’s a fairly minor gripe, and you can skip those scenes anyway.
Outside of the Story Mode, there’s also Eclipse Mode, which features hundreds of new mini-missions that don’t follow the canon storyline of Berserk, but test your skills and endurance to try to complete up to 100 missions in a row as a type of Survival Mode where your health rarely gets replenished. This provides a lot of extra challenge and gameplay for after you complete the story and also has lots of bonus unlocks like costumes, a new playable character, and items you can’t get anywhere else.
There are no co-op or online modes (as there often aren’t in Musou games) so the Story Mode, Free Mode, and Eclipse Mode make up the entirety of the gameplay, but there’s plenty of hours of content between these modes to last you well over 100 hours if you’re trying to get 100% completion.
At the end of the day, Berserk Musou still suffers from the pitfalls that almost all Musou games suffer from, like repetitive gameplay, lack of unique features/content, or sometimes lackluster storytelling, but it has some features here and there to make it a little more worthwhile than the others, and also has the great story and world of Berserk to fall back on.
For fans of Berserk, this is a pretty great experience, but it may leave you a little wanting in terms of gameplay or accuracy to the story due to some small cuts from the manga, even if the representation of the Berserk world is well done, since it still pales in comparison to Miura’s original manga. For Musou fans, this is one of the higher quality spin-off entries of the series that doesn’t have the mountains of filler material that plagues many of the series’ entries, so you’ll probably want to check this out as well.
For more general game fans who enjoy hack and slash gameplay, this is definitely worth playing, as this game excels at high-volume, violent, fast-paced action like no other, and stands above most other Musou games in offering a unique experience, second to only the recent Dragon Quest Heroes titles.
The game is set to release in the US and Europe in late February of 2017, so you can pick it up locally and translated at that point, but for those who are comfortable with non-translated imports, the game is available now through Japanese PSN and import sites like Play-Asia or CDJapan.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Berserk Musou (PS4)
Berserk Musou (PS VITA)