Berserk is a franchise (in)famous for two reasons: compelling storytelling and ultraviolence. A dark fantasy, Berserk has its origins in manga but has been adapted into an anime TV series, three anime movies (the third of which was released late last week), and two video games.
The first, Sword of the Berserk: Guts Rage, was an original standalone side story for the Dreamcast and was released in the West. The second game, Berserk: Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War for the PS2, was not. This is a real shame, because Berserk: Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War is a game tailor-made for fans of Berserk — with all the giant-sword-swinging, demon-slaying violence they have come to expect in the series.
Now, with the truly violent Berserk: Golden Age Arc III: Descent hitting theatres in Japan this month, let's take a look back at Berserk: Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War.
Note: This article contains minor spoilers.
Good — Like Playing the Manga
Unlike the Dreamcast game, Chapter of the Holy Demon War is not an original side story. Rather, it is largely based on volumes 22 to 27 of the manga and follows Guts from his fight with the demon Zodd in the Field of Swords to his first battle wearing the Berserk armour.
For the most part, all the major battles from the manga are replicated in the game, with quicktime events often used to replicate the most memorable scenes from each fight. The cutscenes often recreate scenes from the manga frame-for-frame as well. To top it off, much of the voice cast for the game returns from the '97 Berserk anime. Simply put, it is very true to both the look and sound of Berserk.
Good — An Extra Original Story
While the game is mostly based on the manga, there is an original side story interwoven with the plot. This story follows a young nobleman, Charles, whose family and earthly wealth were all destroyed when his parent's estate burned to the ground. Using a Behelit, he gained the power to create real-seeming illusions and lived within his own fantasy world — until Guts shattered it, in turn causing Charles to swear revenge. Thus, as the story goes along, Guts is forced to confront the illusions sent forth by Charles — which in true torturous fashion often take the form of Guts' dead companions.
This new story, while not overly epic or complex, serves a useful function. As the game presents a rather abruptly starting and ending cross section of the manga, the new story of Charles ties together the game as a whole with its self-contained plot. So even though the game contains neither the beginning nor the end of the greater Berserk epic, the new additions give the game itself a beginning, middle and end of its own.
Mixed — Swinging Around a Giant Sword
The majority of the gameplay in Chapter of the Holy Demon War involves Guts cutting through thousands of demonic and/or monstrous enemies with his trademark giant sword. In general the sword handles well and has a real weight to it — which is great considering how much you'll be using it.
The sub-weapons and spells, while numerous, are much more hit-and-miss. Guts' arm cannon and Puck's healing spell are instrumental in surviving the endless hordes of enemies. However, several of the other spells and tools are not. I never found the throwing daggers or crossbow particularly useful — nor Isidro's fire dagger attack, for that matter. And as all sub-weapons have long cooldowns after use, I found myself forgetting I even had them while waiting for the reload.
Mixed — It's Kind of a Slog
Chapter of the Holy Demon War is not the kind of game where you are expected to kill all the enemies in a given area before moving on to the next. While not infinite, you could easily spend hours upon hours of extra hacking-and-slashing trying to clear them all out.
Thus to get from point "A" to point "B," I would have to literally carve my way through the masses of enemies — using the forward momentum of my attacks in lieu of actually walking to get there. That is how I spent the majority of my eight hours with the game. And while chopping up trolls and demons isn't without its charms, it does get old — especially when you're being constantly sniped by crossbowmen or other ranged attackers standing just off screen.
Luckily, to break up this monotony, there are numerous awesome boss fights (in addition to the previously mentioned cut scenes). These are where the game really shines. With imposing boss enemies, flashy cinematic counter attacks, and a good level of difficulty, you really feel like part of an epic story.
At its core Berserk: Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War is little more than a decent, competently made game of the hack-and-slash genre. However, its connection to Berserk is what makes it more than the sum of its parts. If you are a fan of Berserk, you will no doubt enjoy this game. It puts you in the role of Guts, gives you a giant sword, and lets you use it against everyone who gets in your way. Add to this the ability to relive some of the manga's most epic moments yourself — in addition to a new Berserk side story to enjoy — and you have all you need for an entertaining tie-in game.
Berserk: Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Holy Demon War was released on October 7, 2004, in Japan and Korea for the PlayStation 2. There has never been a Western release.