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Behind the Line: Berserk, and the challenge of adaptation

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a fan of Berserk.

The game Berserk: The Band of the Hawk is finally out to overwhelming reviews of “… yeah, it’s OK”.

This is not the first, or even the second Berserk game, though.  Yuke’s had two cracks at the property before. “Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage” for the Sega Dreamcast, and “Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō”, a Japan only release for the PS2. Each of these games presents the property differently, showing how tricky it can be to adapt a property to a new medium. Let’s compare and contrast.

Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage

This game appears to be the first release of Berserk in North America. Coming out in 1999, whereas the best info I can find states the North American DVD release was in 2002. Therefore this game was the first exposure for may people to the franchise, myself included.

Narrative

This game had a stand-alone story, which made it more approachable for someone who did not know the world or characters. On the other hand, it didn’t come across as a part of something else. Sure, the world could support more stories, but it didn’t do much to hint at how much it was building off of. There was also a part where Casca revives enough to call Guts “my love”. Knowing Berserk, that’s more than a bit out of character. Maybe Yukes went out on their own, but also it’s possible that Kintaro Miura hadn’t planned that far out yet.

Presentation

Good for its era. Cam Clarke (1980’s Leonardo from TMNT) voiced the fairy Puck. Tony Jay (Sher Kahn from Tail Spin) voiced the villain, and anything with Tony Jay is worth listening to. They did do that thing where they didn’t realize his name was supposed to be “Guts”, so they went with the direct pronunciation as “Gattsu”. Cringe inducing when you know that it’s wrong.

Game Play

This title took a bit to get used to, but once you got over things like the fact that you had no ammo limit on the crossbow, it played fairly well. It did have some problems when it came to being able to hit small enemies though, leading to “Look, a bear, I can deal with that…  OH CRAP, THERE’S A FROG BEHIND THAT BEAR, RUN!” That aside, it’s generally some good hack and slash fun and a solid representation of games at the time. It does not, however, do too much with the world of Berserk. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was written and developed with only a little bit of information about the story.

The other great sin of the game was in the final sequence where the player has to run through a corridor, avoiding roots closing off the corridor behind, and avoiding obstacles. This doesn’t sound bad, until you start running toward the camera, unable to see the obstacles ahead of you. A classic stumbling of game design while the industry was working out how to handle 3D. They should have known better here, though.

Rating: Rickert – Young, shows promise for the future.

Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō (Berserk Millennium Empire Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War)

This game directly covers a section of the Manga, with an original side story added. It’s more faithful to the story than the Dreamcast game, and has extra game modes as well.

Narrative

I can’t be too sure about this, because the game never got a release in English. I played the game entirely in Japanese. However, it did follow a particular section of the manga, showing some characters that still haven’t been animated in any other form.

Presentation

The game looks good, and presents a lot more of the darkness of the dark fantasy world of Berserk compared to the lighter tone of the Dreamcast game.

Game Play

Playing Guts felt much more like you are Guts. This was probably aided by fixing the bear vs frog problem. The enemies showed more of the horror of the world, and felt stiff. Furthermore, there are additional challenges that are difficult, and reward the player for not only playing excellently, but managing the flow of combat.

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