As I get older I’ve noticed that my attention span for videogames has gotten a lot shorter than it once was.
I was one of those kids that would always try to finish a game in one shot. I would stay up until ungodly hours of the morning trying to just power through something until I hit the end credits. Like the time I blew through Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater in one, six-hour sitting. It was 5am when I finished but it was worth it.
However, now I genuinely struggle to finish a game if it’s more than 10 hours long. It becomes even harder to finish if said game decides to pad out its run-time with unnecessary levels that contribute nothing to the story and just bog players down with boring gameplay.
The current target of my frustration is Berserk and the Band of the Hawk.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a hack-n-slash adventure game based on my favourite manga series of the same name by Kentari Miura. There’s been quite a few Berserk games over the years but this one shook things up by taking the Dynasty Warriors approach of giving players an open battlefield that they can run around and cause all sorts of carnage in.
I’m a massive fan of Berserk. I’ve read the entire manga series cover to cover multiple times. I love everything about it: the brutal story arcs, the characters and of course the excessive gore, it all just appeals to me. So when I picked up Berserk and the Band of the Hawk it was with trepidation. There have been so many downright terrible attempts to truly capture the essence of Berserk as a video game. Luckily this game does it justice, they cover four arcs of the story across 46 missions and you’re brought up to speed relatively easily on what’s going on and who the chap with the big sword is.
The gameplay is fun, if a little repetitive, and there are some genuinely entertaining missions that made me feel like I was on a real battlefield. However, in this game the developers have a nasty habit of bogging you down with long boring missions that I’ve come to call “filler levels”.
Anime Storytelling Tropes
Now, normally in an anime there will be a filler arc where the main story gets put to one side for a minute whilst the characters have a (usually) non-canon adventure that lets the audience have fun and get to know the characters better. Unfortunately, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk doesn’t do that. Instead the game will often throw a mission at you just when the story starts to get good that boils down to: murder everyone in this area, rinse, and repeat. One frustrating incident of this was when I was given not one, not two, but three consecutive missions that had me run through an area, murdering bandits and thieves. These levels would last a half hour each!
I understand that sometimes if developers are stuck for ideas they might be tempted to just throw in gameplay that is brainless and fun. It’s fine, making games is hard especially when only using Dynasty Warriors as an inspiration. But when your story starts to get interesting and you decide to sidebar it out of the blue for something mundane like murdering bandits for an hour, it just gets boring and kind of noticeable that you ran out of ideas.
Filler for the sake of filler is not fun.
Filler as Game Design
When there is such an extensive and interesting world like Berserk to pick from, don’t bog me down with boring bandit killing missions. There is an entire Saturday morning cartoon cast of villains to cherry pick from instead of ‘Medieval Man with Sword #238’ and his friends. I don’t want to look at a mission goal that says “Kill all the thieves” right after a heart pounding battle, fighting the gigantic furry one-man army that is Nosferatu Zodd. Plus, it just doesn’t blend well to good storytelling in when the game suddenly slams on the brakes and dump an hours’ worth of generic bad guy murdering on us just for the sake of padding.
When a game revolves around such a unique and expanded world like Berserk and it still manages to bore the players, you know that somewhere someone seriously dropped the ball. I mean it’s the same franchise that has a giant that turns into a dragon made of Diamonds and a possessed horse with a man’s face, how did could they manage to make these things boring?
Currently Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’s mission list is at a massive 46 and I honestly think that they could cut that down to 30 and still have a succinct story. Most of their cutscenes at the beginning are ripped from the movies anyway so if you’re still not following what’s going on (although you would have to be brain-dead not to) you can always go watch those to pick up extra lore.
In closing, I really want to like Berserk and the Band of the Hawk more than I already do, as I said I’m a massive fan, but there were points were I legitimately struggled to go back to it and continue playing because of all the filler. The meat of this game has a little too much fat on it, if they were to trim that off they would have what I think could potentially be the best Berserk game ever made instead of something that feels like it’s been Frankensteined onto Dynasty Warriors because it worked so well for Zelda.