||Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage
Hacking and slashing and boredom, oh my. - Review By Dantes
There are two types of people who have seen "X-Files: The Movie," those who are fans of the show and those who are casual viewers. Fans generally liked the movie because they knew what was going on. Casual viewers detested the film because it left them clueless. The TV series had progressed to such a point that the movie's allusions to other characters, plot points, and events meant nothing to the uninitiated. Such a problem is raised by the latest Dreamcast release Sword of the Berserk, which is visually stunning but confusing and disappointing to those unfamiliar with the manga and anime on which it is based.
For those of you intending on buying the game, a little background is necessary, as the game itself provides very little background about its characters.
Sword of the Berserk is based on the Japanese manga series Kenpu Denki Berserk, which is drawn by Kentarou Miura and which was serialized by Young Animal Magazine. The comic also enjoyed popularity as an animated series on Japanese TV.
The background story revolves around the adventures of Guts (Gatsu in Japanese), a strong and skilled swordsman who wanders a medieval land on a quest to destroy the members of God Hand, a group of dark angels and demons who destroyed all he ever cared about. Armed with his giant sword DragonSlayer, he searches for them relentlessly. On the back of his neck is a mysterious brand, which attracts creatures of the night while making him virtually indestructible in combat. This brand, given to him by the God Hand, serves as a tracking device. Eventually the members of God Hand catch up to Guts, and while he puts up a struggle, it is not enough to prevent his lover Casca from being brutally raped before his eyes. While being held down and forced to watch, his right eye is gouged out by one of the restraining demons. This is where the game picks up the story.
Sound nasty? The plot of the game is just as bizarre! Guts is once again wandering the lands, with Casca in tow, who was so traumatized by previous events that she has gone mad. In searching for a cure for her madness, Guts stumbles upon a town plagued by a mysterious disease. The threat comes from a horde of parasitic plants called the Mandragora. After the plants attach themselves to their victims, the hosts undergo a grotesque transformation. When threatened, the hosts become violent and uncontrollable and attack all humans within range. When told that the life essence of the plants may hold a cure for Casca, Guts sets out on a quest to defeat them.
If you look up "bad ass" in the dictionary, you'll probably find a picture of this guy.
Cinematically, the game is gorgeous. The cut scenes are long and involving, and are well acted. I would say that the voice acting in Sword of the Berserk is the best dubbing job since Metal Gear Solid. Depending on what kind of gamer you are, the lengthy cut-scenes can be either a plus or minus. If you like a good story, you'll be engrossed and you won't mind watching the cinematics. If, however, you simply want to hack stuff up and play, you might grow a little impatient. In all, the game features over an hour of cinematics, using enhanced in-game models to the fullest.
The graphics are no slouch during actual gameplay, either. The character models are very detailed, and are animated with appropriately exaggerated flourishes. The player character especially is cool as hell, with his dramatic flowing cape and comicly large sword, which is so immense that he must drag it along behind him. Final Fantasy VII's Cloud has nothing on this guy.
Backing up the smooth graphics is an exciting soundtrack and gritty sound effects. Every time your sword connects with an enemy, you're rewarded with a gruesome "thwack!" to accompany the gratuitous splash of blood. This helps a lot in establishing the feel of the game's hacking, slashing gameplay.
Sword of the Berserk sports fine control. Your character will seldom do anything you don't intend, so it's quite easy to get on with the business of destroying enemies. One small problem does occur, though. Your sword is so huge, it can be difficult to wield when near walls or in narrow passageways, resulting in some small amount of frustration.
Finally, after completing the game, you can unlock special features like mini-games and game art. On the whole though, nothing very special, but better than nothing.
Occasionally, while watching these beautiful cinematics, players will encounter "reaction tests." Players must quickly hit one of the Dreamcast's four buttons to overcome some hazard or obstacle in the movie, sort of like a real-time Dragon's Lair. As you might imagine, this doesn't add much, if anything to the experience. In fact, certain sequences result in your instant death (game over) if you fail to hit the proper button, which is pretty damn frustrating in a game with limited continues.
Hack and slash, and hack and slash, and hack and slash, etc.
On the downside, the gameplay of Sword of the Berserk is very simple... perhaps too much so. There is only one type of action sequence, in which players must maneuver Guts in 360 degrees to attack enemies, which approach him from all sides. There's not much challenge involved at all, unfortunately. Simply whipping out the sword and hacking and slashing enemies is enough to destroy everything you encounter. That's it. No different modes of play, no secrets, and very few special weapons.
And speaking of special weapons, they were so unimpressive and ineffective that they weren't worth using. The first special weapon is a pistol, which has limited uses and kills enemies en masse. The second special weapon is a nail grenade, which detonates near enemies filling them full of metal. The final special weapon has unlimited ammo, and is a nail gun. Players will no doubt find the unlimited ammo helpful, as the weapon does hardly any damage at all.
These weapons also aren't very user friendly. By the time one was deployed and used, Guts had been beaten up fairly well. It seems that throwing daggers in a 2-D game like Castlevania is a more simple and rewarding experience. In Sword of the Berserk, you'd be better off sticking with your.. well, sword.
Unfortunately, the sword gets old as well. The DragonSlayer allows players to do a few combos and sword tricks, but for the most part, pressing the attack button repeatedly can take you through the whole game. And after a while, Guts will build up his "berserk" meter and become practically invincible. While berserk, the screen turns red, your attack power is doubled, and limbs fly. As you might guess, this gameplay itself gets boring after a while, because you find yourself doing the same things over and over. And there's no challenge involved at all, considering that you're ten times stronger than your enemies. In fact, most bosses can be defeated simply by standing still and pressing attack repeatedly. Insane.
The Final Word
In conclusion, Sword of the Berserk is definitely a game to buy if you value style over substance. If you're a fan of the manga and you know who the characters are, you might want this game for your collection. A game has never looked better, and the story is actually eerie enough to want to play through a few times. However, expert gamers can tear through the "normal" skill setting in about 2 hours. What matters in the end is that there's not much replay value in this title, making it more akin to a rental than a purchase.
Highs: Great graphics and sound, wonderful cinematics, good control, satisfying hack'n'slash.
Lows: Horrible repetition, not much longetivity, way too short.
Other: 1 Player, VMU Compatible (save requires 6 blocks), VGA Box Compatible, Jump Pack Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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