Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review

First off, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a stupid title that makes no sense. There is no character, place or item in the story called Berserk, and in Japan it’s called Berserk Musou, marking it as an installment in the Dynasty Warriors series. Odd title aside, the game is a surprisingly faithful (with the exceptions of some cut arcs and characters) adaptation of a pretty massive chunk of the original manga draped over the framework of Dynasty Warriors, which is to say large, sparse environments filled with hordes of enemies that are easily cutdown by the literal hundreds. The story is told primarily through optional dialogue sections accessed between missions, dialogue thrown in over the top of fights and, for the duration of the Golden Age arc, scenes from the trilogy of film adaptations. Despite how this might sound, the game does a solid job of adapting the story of the manga; apart from the aforementioned cuts (characters not absolutely essential to Guts and his journey, and unfortunately the Lost Children Arc) it fits in a whole lot in surprising detail; the Golden Age, the Snake Baron and the Count, Mozgus, The Berserker armour among other things; even the Eclipse gets a level. The game has a fair bit of filler in the form of short levels populated entirely with non-description enemies but personally I think they work well for reasons I’ll elaborate on later, and there’s enough gold here to even it out. If you know the story this is a good adaptation of it, if you’re new to Berserk then there’s enough here told well enough for you to get something out of it, and hopefully make you read the manga. For those who haven’t; the story revolves around Guts, a young man who’s had a horrible life but adjusts to it by being the baddest man on the planet.

Gameplay wise it’s all murdering hordes all the time. Soldiers during the Golden Age, assorted monsters, spirits and apostles during every arc post-Golden Age. It’s your classic combination of light and heavy attacks- ending a series of lights with a heavy to make combos, a dodge move that’s only necessary for bosses, and an assortment of sub weapons. The canon and little hedgehog bombs are effective, the repeating crossbow has been severely nerfed in its transition from page to screen. There are other characters available, but the most effective ones are much of a muchness, and the most unique among them, Schierke, isn’t suited to mowing down hordes like the others are. Hordes is almost an understatement- you kill hundred and hundreds of enemies in every level, often breaching a thousand. Personally however, I never had a problem with it for two main reasons; firstly I always had fun playing as Guts, cutting people down with the Dragonslayer and secondly constantly having to swing your sword suits the tone of the story. During the Golden Age you’re the Hundred Man Slayer, wading into a Hundred Years War to mow people down. After the Eclipse you’re the Branded Black Swordsman, constantly hounded by insatiable spirits and demons; levels will often be interrupted by night descending and bringing monsters along with it. Things go a step further when you obtain the Berserker Armour, using “Frenzy Mode” (normally giving you increased strength, speed an a super move) to give yourself over to the Beast of Darkness and turning Guts into the world’s angriest, most lethal tornado. The only real complaint I have is that on normal difficulty the game is almost trivial in terms of actual difficulty. With the exception of the two levels dedicated to fighting Nosferatu Zodd every fight is a breeze; normal enemies can’t tough you, and a combination of frenzy mode, equippable gear that boosts stats and levelling up practically once every level mean that bosses are more of a speed bump than anything else. This wasn’t a problem for me, but I can see it maybe rubbing some people the wrong way; you can increase the difficulty, but I haven’t tried that yet. The game actually suggests you select easy right at the start, I can’t imagine what that’d be like.

There is one point with a co-ordinated increase in difficulty and decrease in quality however, and that’s a shoehorned in boss fight with Femto. Given the use of film scenes there’s really need for this fight to exist, and the actual battle is a frustrating slog in which Femto slows your movement and whenever you get close he knocks you back with hard to dodge tornadoes. It’s remarkable in how much worse than the rest of the game it is. Apart from that the game’s of a consistent level of quality, though that’s largely due to its one style of gameplay from which it never deviates.

Overall I had a really good time with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk: it’s a very simple, repetitive experience, but it commits to being an adaptation of a manga I adore, and let me spend hours playing as Guts, fighting monsters from the manga and reliving a large part of the story. Whether or not you’ll get a kick out of it depends on how much you like Berserk and/or the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay, but personally I enjoyed it a lot,mane I recommend it.

By James Lambert



Netflix Castlevania Season 1 Review

Castlevania seemed ripe for an anime adaptation, now I think about it. The games are basically an excuse to take all manner of cool, inventive monsters (some of them from other sources), stick them in an intricate castle owned by Dracula and have a lone hero turn up to kill them all. Stick a decent story into the pot and you’d get a decent adaptation, I’d say. Well Netflix did just that, and I’ve got a few thoughts on it. I’ve not got a whole lot of experience with the series- I’m a big Symphony of the Night fan (which fortunately had a lot of influence on this adaptation), I’ve played a fair bit of the original and bits of certain other games, but I really like the idea of the series as a whole.

This season is really short; four episodes at about twenty five minutes a piece, with eight more coming next. It’s written by Warren Ellis, an excellent writer known primarily for comics, his best work being Transmetropolitan (which I highly recommend to anyone who’s not read it). His work has a rather dark but quite silly, witty sense of humour with an emphasis on language and reactions, which is quite prevalent here. Anyway the season involves Dracula becoming enamoured with and marrying a human scientist named Lisa, then unleashing an army of demons on Walachia after a bishop burns Lisa at the stake as a witch. If this overlap seems overly brief, it’s actually moving at about the same pace as the show itself. Fortunately Trevor Belmont (here reimagined as a sort of alcoholic Joseph Joestar type reticent to get involved, to begin with) has wound up in the last town left standing, which also happens to contain a powerful sorceress named Sypha and Alucard; Dracula’s badass pretty boy son who’s determined to stop his father, as he was back when he was the protagonist of Symphony of the Night. That’s it, really. It’s very much an introduction to the events that will presumably be explored in season 2; here are the major players, the church is shit, let’s go batter Dracula. It’s a promise of things to come, almost like a proof of concept, though of much higher quality than that would imply. It looks bloody lovely, it’s well written for the most part (bits of it are somewhat awkward, not helped by how quickly the show moves) and it’s really violent and gory for some reason, to the point that it briefly reminded me of Berserk. The most interesting thing it does is showcase something rarely seen in the games; the effects felt by the towns and their people when Castlevania appears. You see them trying to get on with their lives, losing their friends and family and looking for anyone or anything to blame. A lot of time is spent showing the cost felt by everyone who isn’t a cool vampire hunter, and it works well.

The characters are all well introduced, though again it’s clear this is very much of an introduction; Trevor has an actual character arc to get him from apathetic drunk to badass, SIRRIASS monster hunter ready to eventually face Dracula. Everyone else just has the beginnings of an arc; Alucard, for example, only turns up for the last five minutes (though he leaves quite the mark. I particualrly like when he completely no-sells Trevor kneeing him in the bollocks and retorts “This isn’t a bar fight. Have some class”), and Sypha only becomes a main character at the start of the third act. As set-ups go, this is a good one, that makes me really want to see season 2, but as a stand-alone season it doesn’t hold up so well. It’s not bad, it’s just in such a rush and clearly wants to establish things that’ll be important later that it can make things seem a bit sparse; the first episode in particular is just “Drac loves, Drac’s mad, people die, here’s Trev”. There’s not much else to say really, without picking apart the entire hundred minutes currently available, but I can’t deny that I did enjoy it. It does need to deliver on its promises though; the only variety in the monsters comes with one energy-beam shooting cyclops (everything else is just a demon, and their one bigger demon mate); Dracula’s Castle needs to have some variety when the protagonists breach its doors. With more room to breathe I think this could be really good; what’s on show here is good, it’s just that its primary function is being a promise of things to come.

By James Lambert


Mass Effect Andromeda Review

I feel like I never really mention it (both on here and in my personal life), but I love Mass Effect. I’m generally not into sci-fi, but Mass Effect’s formula of taking interesting Alien Races with their own cultures, quirks and striking appearances, sticking them together on a space ship with a badass create-a-character and chucking said spaceship at a do-or-die space adventure really works for me. I also really like its moral choice system, which instead of a black and white “Good or Evil” approach breaks things down into “Nice, pleasant and noble or direct, aggressive but still generally doing something beneficial” choices. “Andromeda” is a genuinely quite smart attempt by Bioware to have their cake and eat it; it’s more Mass Effect, but in a whole new galaxy and with an entirely new cast of characters- a sequel, but also not a sequel at the same time. So far the game’s taken a fair bit of flack, largely for its facial expressions, which weren’t a problem at all for me, though apparently the game has been patched multiple times since its release. Anyway I finally bought it in a sale and now I’m going to talk about it, alright? ALRIGHT? Ahem.

Unlike the more direct “Stop-the-bad-people” missions in the original trilogy, Andromeda’s story is, for the most part at least, a lot larger in scope and more general. You are one of a pair of twins surnamed “Ryder”, who after the death of the previous person to hold the position becomes the Human Pathfinder; one person per species tasked with leading their people to designated “Golden Worlds” in this new galaxy they’ve travelled to. It’s a one way trip from the Milky Way to Andromeda and it goes as wrong as it can, essentially; the Human ark is the only one that turns up, but with a new, inexperienced Pathfinder, there was a mutiny on the new version of the Citadel, the Golden Worlds are a bust and there’s a hostile alien race that’s really into growing their ranks by physically converting other species. All of this is basically just a set-up for Ryder and her (I picked the sister) crew to fly around going on cool space adventures and shooting wave-after-wave of the aforementioned hostile alien race, called The Kett. The USP this time around is terraforming planets to establish outposts, which is easily the weakest part of the game, but I’ll get to that shortly, as it’s more of a gameplay issue. The story itself works quite well; the idea that Ryder is the most important person in the game is largely down to a series of unfortunate events (not that one) beyond anyone’s control- it makes sense in the setting. The over-arching narrative of finding a new home is a hopeful one, and finds a solid anchor when the other new alien race are introduced: The Angara. The Angara have been fighting the Kett for a long time, and smartly, the Andromeda Initiative’s primary interaction with them is peaceful contact and a mutually beneficial relationship. They’re quite interesting; somewhat spiritual, heavily dependent on resistance fighters and, as a rule, open with all their emotions. Ryder and her crew are the stand-out characters, and I genuinely love them to the point that, while I can’t say with any certainty that they’re better than the cast of the Normandy, I certainly like them equally. Of particular note are Peebee- an Asari expert on Remnant Tech (a race of robots fought a lot throughout the game) who’s bubbly and up for a laugh but also awkward and vulnerable, Drack- a 1500 year old Krogan who realises the mistakes made by his people and acts as a surprisingly caring team Dad, and Vetra, who is the best. Vetra’s the team Turian, who instead of receiving the stiff, military upbringing standard for Turians grew up rough looking after her younger sister and lived as a smuggler before the events of the game. She’s crafty and good in a scrap, and also caring, personable and has a very pleasant demeanour and sense of humour, which is all conveyed wonderfully by her voice actor Danielle Rayne. Ryder herself bares similarities to Commander Shepard, though lacks her edge to an extent, and is more prone to taking an emotional, softer approach. The writing and tone are generally lighter with a lot more humour, and in my opinion at least, it really works.

The gameplay, however, is where the problems arise. Mass Effect has always had its gameplay sections be a whole lot of cover based shooting, and Andromeda is no exception. There are new additions like a jet pack that lets you dodge and jump really high, but for the most part it’s blowing away Kett and Remnant. The biggest issues (despite it being very samey and a tad boring) are bad checkpoints and the design of certain fights, namely tank-y enemies like massive armoured alien beasts and mech suits. The worst though, is a certain rank within the Kett forces equipped with a small orb that hovers and circles him, generating an impenetrable shield. The orb has more health than most enemies, and once you’ve destroyed it you have seconds to damage its owner as much as you can before it regenerates. This is not fun, and every time they appear marks the point the fight you’re in becomes a slog. Terraforming planets involves doing Sudoku (but with symbols instead of numbers), which gets harder as it goes on by throwing in new rules, before sending you into the same dungeons to kill the same enemies and then run away from a purple death cloud. Sudoku was shit when it was a thing, it’s shit now, and it has no place in a game about exciting space adventures. The latter steps are less irritating but still a problem: I never had fun activating monoliths and vaults to terraform planets. I still haven’t terraformed them all, because the sudoku minigame is that bad. The best part of the game is still the dialogue and relationships with other characters, particualrly your crew, but things have been tweaked there. Each dialogue option now has an emotional state linked to it, but in practice that doesn’t matter because you can tell what you’re going to say at least reasonably accurately by reading the brief preview accompanying each choice. There are no Paragon and Renegade options now, but the game still has a few cutscene interrupts now and then. These are no longer linked to any broad emotional state or “moral” choice, and are more like the game wanting a physical option in dialogue, like how Telltale games work, but wouldn’t include one. Personally I don’t think the lack of a Paragon and Renegade system makes much of a difference, but it does lessen the drama in conversations somewhat; you can’t shut people down like Shepard could.

Overall I had a good time with Mass Effect Andromeda. The gameplay can be a slog sometimes but for the most part it’s solid, the story held my interest and Ryder and her crew are a cast of characters I really like and won’t forget. Having the new Mass Effect be completely separate to Shepard’s story was a smart move, and I’d love to see a sequel explore this new galaxy further, should Bioware get around to it. Here’s hoping.

By James Lambert