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Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (Dreamcast) artwork

Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (Dreamcast) review

"Gattsu is a bad hero. Gattsu is a man who cares for no one, except the singular exception of his life's love, Casca. He searches the medieval wasteland world for the cure for her disease, his soul an otherwise vacant, purposeless being. "

Gattsu is a bad hero. Gattsu is a man who cares for no one, except the singular exception of his life's love, Casca. He searches the medieval wasteland world for the cure for her disease, his soul an otherwise vacant, purposeless being.

He is a strong man, garbed in dark armor and black cloth. He is imposing in his build, muscular and tall. He has jet black hair and his right eye remains shut after being gouged out. His life, although dedicated to the cure of his beloved, has been a series of battles and struggles for as long as he can remember. He wears the burden of his life on his face and it has hollowed out his soul.

So, when Gattsu and his dearest wander past a band of thieves set to pillage a wagon broken down on a trail, he does nothing. He pays no mind to the evil brewing, until a stray thief suggests the possibilty that the band would rape Casca for their pleasure that evening. The thieves' lives end amidst the slashes of Gattsu's giant sword, and the salvaged lives of the wagon party are barely acknowledged. Gattsu doesn't care about these people, and barely at all even for his other accompanying ''friend,'' Puck the fairy. There's no good to him, no bad, just the ends he seeks and the means he uses to accomplish them.

Berserk, although extraordinarily deep in its plot and characterization, is most basically a hack-and-slash brawler. Interludes such as the above actually comprise more than half the game; Berserk is more a story smattered with scenes of gameplay than the other way around. What results is something unique and promising and often delivering, for sure, but a game ultimately in need of some conventions-work.

After the slaughtering of the band of thieves, Puck convinces Gattsu to follow the wagoners to a nearby town, where they'll be performing in the streets. After a dramatic title screen, accompanied by an appropriately epic, sweeping score, Gattsu watches the performance. When the strongman of the team fails his routine, he is discovered to be diseased by the Mandragora, a plant-virus which attaches itself to human hosts and mutates them. The townsfolk begin taunting him and he begins to run amok; fearing for Casca's safety again, Gattsu draws his incredible, brutal sword, and the battle ensues, with you in control.

And Berserk bounces back and forth like this for the remainder of the game. You perform a task, such as defeating this rampaging monster, or walk through a dungeon of jail cells overrun by Mandragora-infected prisoners, and then the story kicks back in and you watch the world change in front of Gattsu's eyes. What he discovers about the Mandragora and this town so strangely desolate will twist and turn and change what he knows about his beloved Casca. It's an involving tale, and characters so strong drive it forward.

Playing Gattsu is equally as rewarding. His cold and impersonal nature becomes controllable as you use his behemoth sword to slaughter the mutated malevolents. Gattsu can swing in both vertical and horizontal directions, as well as thoroughly varying combinations of each. The result is an orgy of violent swinging and death, as enemies decapitate and sever and spray their blood around the decayed, depressed scenery. As Gattsu marches through these playable levels, he can sheathe his sword and strike foes with his fists (useful in narrow hallways), throw daggers or use his Gatling-like crossbow. This is all heightened by Gattsu's stress threshold, a factor in the game to be at once feared by the enemy and rejoiced by the player.

As Gattsu swings and kills and is struck down by the enemy, he begins to amass a sense of rage, monitored by a meter beneath his health. Once accrued by enough violence, the meter fills and the screen turns red. Gattsu's eyes glow and burn crimson with fury and he is no longer vulnerable nor stoppable. He is a berserk juggernaut until the meter drains back down; nothing, not even walls, can stop his sword.

All does not match its promise, though. As fun as it is to assume the role of such a callous, malicious hero, Berserk doesn't seem to quite give the player the perfect means to take advantage of its premise. Often, areas in which you fight are simply large, vacant expanses devoid of much detail, providing for an unimpressive backdrop to the morbidly amusing massacres. Involving fights through forest trails and through town alleys are far more rewarding, but too often are the battles placed on boring setpieces.

The other problem Berserk encounters is the boss struggles. Bosses seldom string together discernable pattern types; rather, they use more basic attack forms in seemingly random order. While this ensures that no boss is a pushover, it also means that the battles are basically a matter of who can last longer, or a case of whether or not Gattsu will begin to rage in time.

Berserk is a gorgeous game. Player models are intricately detailed; Gattsu's face is a memorable portrait of a man weighed down by his own heartlessness and bleak devotion to his diseased love. Ballsac is an otherworldy-looking figure with a chiseled, dark facade masking his dark intentions. Casca wears empty, innocent eyes, displaying the loss of conscious life with which she now exists. The environments are equally as striking, with detailed expanses of land and excellent architecture in the highest of resolutions.

It's all delivered in a way akin to that of a lens filter; the game appears as if shrouded in a desperate haze, sullying any attempt at pleasantness by an innocent building or tree. Berserk maintains a thematic beauty through this method, a unique visual appeal beyond just its excellent engine.

Berserk's many cutscenes are voice-acted by a team of varying talents; some try too much and others not at all. The saving grace of this are the main characters, Gattsu and Balsac, who interact with each other and lesser characters perfectly. Gattsu sounds angry and distant, and Balsac sounds warm-hearted and intelligent in his treachery. The game is scored in dramatic precussions and brooding instrumentals feuling its confrontations as much as the Mandragora.

You'll spend more time watching Berserk than you will playing. The numerous and lengthy cutscenes intrude on the gameplay, and if you don't care for the story, you'll likely not care for the game, a rare quality for a brawler. But I was hooked on the story and appreciated it and the characters it developed as I played on. The action needs a little refinement in its pacing and level spreads, but the bloodlust and fun experienced through the heartless being of Gattsu is second to none in its own regard.

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Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)

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