(Almost a year since I posted a c-blog... hope I still got it.)
"Berserk? What the hell is that? Wasnít that an 1980ís arcade game?"
No, that was Berzerk. Most people, who know about Berserk, probably watched the Japanese animated series from 1998. An incredibly dark and violent medieval world based in reality but filled with gruesome demons and evil power hungry humans ready to unleash massive armies of misery. While the animation may not have been the best, its strength, has always been in its story. You will not find hobbits or silly elves in this epic tale. No, what you'll find is a very adult oriented struggle with themes of friendship, betrayal, sex, war, politics, sacrifice, revenge and brutality. It has just about everything I want in a dark fantasy setting. No frills, just violence.
While the anime ends in, well... a shocking series of events, the Japanese graphic novel (manga) is where you turn to in an attempt to understand what the fuck just happened. (And trust me, you'll want to know.) Only then do you realize that the anime series glosses over key plot details and left out important characters in an attempt to animate only a third of the manga, leaving the anime at a cliff hanger ending with no sequel in the making. We can all dream of a new anime series, but itíll never happen. Get over it.
Oh well though, the story is still going strong thanks to Dark Horse who have been officially translating and releasing the manga volumes for quite some time. The artwork is astounding. The author/artist is Kentarou Miura who is basically a child prodigy who created his first manga when he was 10 in 1976. (When I was ten I once color penciled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my teachers told me it was the devils workÖ but Iím not bitter.)This man lives for manga, and it shows. Berserk is his grand opus, and I envy his work.
This is the main character, Guts, with his problem solver
And this is how he rolls >:-)
"WhoaÖ interesting. What about the games?"
There were two. One was translated to English and released for the Dreamcast while the other (far superior) was for the PS2 and sadly, never made it over seas.
The games are a delightfully violent experience, truly enjoyed by fans of the series and probably not by many others. If you haven't read any of the manga, or even seen one frame of the animation, you likely won't bother to find either of these games. That is, assuming you even have a Dreamcast or a modded PS2 that can play Japanese imports, which most people don't. Regardless, if you meet a fan who begins raving about the Berserk manga, chances are you could impress them with your knowledge of the games they probably never played or even knew existed. I have attained both games, and here is a glimpse in to what they have to offer.
Sword of Berserk: Guts' Rage (Dreamcast - 1999)
This one serves as a side story not in the manga, taking place between volumes 22 and volume 23. The anime series covers manga volumes 1 to 13 so you can see there is a gap of material there even if you did watch the anime. If not, well expect to be confused by just about anything that happens in the game even if it is in English.
I always envisioned this game as an arcade beat Ďem up. It feels and plays like one, but in 3D. You even get a ten second countdown and credits to continue with if you die. The game is hard but somehow fun while rocking ten year old graphics with no lock on aiming and no camera control. The 3D models don't look half bad actually thanks to the Dreamcast, which was a pretty decent system for its time. You'll run through various levels with enemies to eliminate or simply find a way around them to reach the exit. The quick-dash move is useful for that as you can scoot your way past enemies pretty well.
For the most part the game is pretty fun. The combo mechanics are decent. Normal attacks mixed in with strong attacks provide various results. Clanking your sword against walls when trying to hit an enemy right in front of you can get frustrating. The trick is to draw enemies out in to the open where you can use your sword more freely. There is a berserker rage meter fills up as you kill causing Guts to automatically go nuts on people once its full, which is the most fun you'll have out of the game as your sword doesn't clip walls when you rage. You become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, twice as fast and twice as deadly with new combo animations and an aura of red fire. Too bad it lasts for about 30 seconds. I have found no way to regain health, which is a real bummer as the game is hard and the save system is a bitch. There isnít a whole lot of dismemberment but thankfully it has plenty of blood flying about. I care about that sort of thing because Berserk without dismemberment is like Doom without a shotgun. It just doesnít feel right.
Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Sho (Playstation 2 - 2004)
The second of the two games covers volumes 22 to 27 of the manga. It is entirely in Japanese as it was never released to English gamers. It does add new side characters and a story arc not covered in the manga which can be frustrating as there is no translation to be found, anywhere. The best I've found is a guide which covers the basics so you can at least play the game. There are some nicely done translated videos of somebody playing through the game, but it only covers the first 4 hours or so of the game. After that youíll just stumble through the game splitting things in to glorious little pieces, all the while wishing you understood Japanese.
There is zero camera control in the game, once again... which is very strange as there is no use for the right thumb stick. Whatever though, this game is ten times what the Dreamcast one is. I wanted to obliterate groups of enemies with a very large sword, and shower in their blood. With this game, that is exactly what I get to do. You even gain experience from killing things, and who doesn't love doing that!? I don't even have to worry about my sword hitting walls in this one.
Another nice change is being able to aim Guts' seemingly wild swings in any direction with the left thumb stick as most of the enemies will surround you. As you upgrade your sword proficiency, combo level, and charge up attack Guts will get new moves along with different animations. The more kills made in rapid succession, the higher the reward in exp.
The motion capture work they did in order to create a realistic depiction of a black armored man ripping through hoards of evil creatures with a gigantic sword, is fantastic. Every angle of the sword attack discovers a new and satisfying way to slice and dice your enemies to bits. Seriously, body parts will be flying everywhere and blood will spray buckets of gore on everything. Guts' 3D model will even become covered in a nice shade of red/grey/green, depending on what's being mutilated. The combat is easily the best part about the game and you'll be doing a lot of it.
So much in fact, some would say it gets boring. Especially since the enemies will endlessly spawn in every direction around you as you move throughout the levels. You'll soon become good friends with the square button. It fits the story if you know the source material but you could spend hours just killing things in one place if you wanted to, not even kidding. Seems weird, I know, but in order to advance the game you have to practically run past enemies at some points. You could just cut your way through of course, but it will take some time to get from point A to B that way. The music is outstanding, but can get repetitive depending on how much time you spend on one level. For long treks across the map, I usually just play some music and zone out in a whirlwind of death much like a Dynasty Warriors game would operate.
You'd think the experience gained from killing never ending enemies would break the overall balance of the game, but surprisingly it doesn't. The only time enemies will start to thin out and not mug you at every turn is when you opt to replay a level you previously went through. Each level will have an enemy spawn percentage starting at 100% and eventually drop to zero the more you kill. Experience isn't the only reason you go back to previous levels either. A replay will unveil newly hidden power ups to find and increase your stats. Selectable ambush spots will spawn too, which basically boils down to optional mini games where tons of enemies get thrown at you in waves and help to whittle down the overall enemy percentage if you prove successful. Itís addicting as all hell but can be exhausting at the same time. Even more so once you realize your stats will carry over to new games on highly difficulty levels.
Boss fights are a lot of fun, if a bit on the easy side. I'm only about halfway through the game though. Cut scenes are great, key scenes are taken straight from the manga and help flesh out all the characters... in Japanese.
The intro movie pumps me up, every time. The music, my God, THE MUSIC!! It really inspires a person to want to pick up a sword and whack the first thing that moves. Of course, it helps to know what is actually going on as it assumes the player knows the story already.
There is a nice magic system that adds some fun as well. 4 spells representing each of the characters that travel with Guts providing the standard magical array of defense, offense, healing, and freezing. All of the secondary weapons are actually useful in this game too. Auto crossbow and throwing knifes are kind of silly but can kill smaller nuisances and help thin out a horde of enemies. You can target lock on to bosses with them as well, which can come in handy. Bombs are fun but not nearly as useful as the arm cannon. Thatís right, a mother fucking medieval mechanical arm cannon! (Eat your heart out Sam Raimi.) When fired, the force of the blast pushes Guts backwards. Time a slash attack right afterwards and heíll turn with the momentum bringing his sword to swipe at enemies behind as he slides to a stop. I grin, every time. Another trick is to save up a good blast for the next time a boss to grabs you. Point blank cannon shot to the face, works like a charm every time. All of these abilities have limited timed usage though, but can be upgraded with experience.
The rage meter is handled much differently this time around as you can choose when to use it and for how long. It is, of course, fucking awesome. Everything you do is twice as fast and twice as deadly. Couple that with varying execution animations for different types of enemies, and you have one of the most addicting combat systems I've played in a long time.
"So... Berserk, huh?"
Yes, I highly recommend reading Berserk for anyone who has a stomach for a bit of the fantastical ultra violence. Personally, I crave this kind of thing but don't let all of the blood fool you. The story is intricate with lots of great character development once it picks up. The whole casualty vs Catholicism angle gets pretty interesting too as the church in this world reflects the same we all know and love... during the Spanish inquisitions. (Yes, it goes there.) There is a lot to be explained yet as the series is still on going. Events need to be expounded upon. Mysterious character motives revealed. Many evil doers have yet to meet their fate, but they will. Itís going to be epic when this series finally finishes because the art is so good he takes a loooong time to put out new volumes. I'll probably be 60 years old when the series wraps up, but it'll be worth it. The pay off is going to be big. Plus, after you become a fan of the manga, there is definite fun to be had by tracking down either of these games and a system you can play them on. Every character and detail are correctly handled and taken straight from the manga. So much so that it feels like the manga was based off of these games, instead of the other way around.
[i] -- (There we go. C-bloggin' again and I only said 'fuck' three times! Not bad ^_^ ) [/i]