"No longer content to wear a smiling yellow mask, death incarnate now dons a frightening visage of hollow-eyed contempt and clenched-teeth ferocity. The kindly divinities of biblical lore have fallen before the fourfold might of the Godhand, an unholy gathering of macabre cenobites inspired by Clive Barker’s hellraising quartet. Brought together by the baleful cry of a suicidal man’s selfish prayer, grandmaster Void and his compatriots Slan, Ubik and Conrad have summoned a menagerie of grotesqu..."
No longer content to wear a smiling yellow mask, death incarnate now dons a frightening visage of hollow-eyed contempt and clenched-teeth ferocity. The kindly divinities of biblical lore have fallen before the fourfold might of the Godhand, an unholy gathering of macabre cenobites inspired by Clive Barker’s hellraising quartet. Brought together by the baleful cry of a suicidal man’s selfish prayer, grandmaster Void and his compatriots Slan, Ubik and Conrad have summoned a menagerie of grotesque tentacled fiends to act as high priests for the purpose of bloody human sacrifice.
This is the story of Griffith.
The man cannot walk, for his legs have withered to useless strips of flesh. The man cannot speak, for his tongue has been torn from between his parched and blistered lips. Only through the aid of the Godhand can Griffith, an orphaned mercenary leader who once aspired to kinghood, grasp his hopeless dream in broken arms. For these self-gratifying ends, Griffith sacrifices the family that earned him fame, glory and nobility: the Band of the Hawk, the most acclaimed mercenary group of the Golden Age and a brotherhood that looked upon Griffith as their salvation from a wretched life of slaughter.
Cue the bloodletting.
Seventy-seven bodies torn asunder. The mighty Pippin is decapitated and devoured. The happy-go-lucky mercenary Judeau falls to the ground in excruciating pain, reaching out to the Hawks’ sole female member with his one remaining arm. As sticky red gore streams from the stump where his other used to be, Judeau offers encouragement to the lovely Casca, begging her to fight and live. Judeau then dies, mercifully spared the sight of Casca’s savage rape at the loins of the man she once adored: their boyishly handsome leader Griffith. Carcas, driven mad by the brutality about and around him, runs to the open arms of an exotic female and lays his head upon her tender chest . . . inches above the gaping maw where her stomach should be. Four gentle arms wrap themselves around Carcas’s body, pressing his head deep inside hungry bowels where rows of uneven teeth shred screaming face from skull.
This is the story of Guts.
Amidst victims tripping over comrades’ broken bodies and ravenous fiends cavorting through fields of flesh, one man fights against the impossible odds. Guts wades through the lake of blood, cleaving countless beasts into ethereal ribbons with his enormous blade until nothing remains but disfigured bodies and clouds of putrid fluids. This is not enough; even the mighty Guts is overwhelmed by sheer numbers and helplessly pinned to the ground by husky bone-crushing claws. His arm is severed, his eye is punctured, his lover is violated, his pride is stripped and raped by the man he most admired. Only through the miraculous intervention of an enigmatic being called Skull Knight does Guts escape with Casca.
Although Guts and Casca have survived, they are forever cursed with the Brand. As this hourglass-shaped symbol on the back of his neck throbs and bleeds, Guts knows the apostles of the Godhand draw near. Casca doesn’t know anything because she’s gone insane from the trauma and now lives in a childlike state of wonderment, but she still feels the excruciating pain on her branded bosom.
These are the memories that drive Guts’ rage towards Griffith and his impudent disrespect for the Godhand. With mechanical arm and Dragonslayer sword, Guts has made it his trade to slaughter his divine tormentors’ hand-picked apostles, be they serpentine tyrants or diabolical child-eating viscounts. Operating under the name Black Swordsman, Guts murdered one apostle after another; his is the only human name whispered by the mouths of demons.
Berserk: The Millennium Falcon begins in Guts’ snowy future atop the Hill of Swords. Decorated with blades crafted by the young blacksmith Rickett, each sword representing a single snuffed-out life, this hill serves as memorial to the perished Band of the Hawk. Here, Guts and the reborn Griffith meet face to vengeful face. Guts is not a man known for love; the baseness of Griffith, who abandoned his companions for personal gain, will not be forgiven. Without a single thought for their consecrated rest, Guts treads across his fallen comrades’ shallow graves with blood on his mind and execrations on his lips.
Not one to make things so simple for his childhood playmate, Griffith summons the immortal apostle Zodd to keep Guts busy for a while. This early battle highlights many of the things that make Berserk so great: detailed graphics, reversals, counter-attacks, challenge and personality. Racing across the snow, his durable body clad only in a loincloth, Zodd swings a curved sword towards his agile human opponent, raising a cloud of white as the manslaying blade strikes soft ground with inhuman force. Following a deft and fully controllable sidestep, Guts heaves the enormous Dragonslayer into his immortal adversary’s muscular ribs, pushing Zodd off his feet. A cinematic reduction in speed exaggerates the impact of the counterblow to coincide with a significant reduction in Zodd’s vitality.
Now he’s angry.
No longer content to toy with his opponent, Zodd discards his somewhat human appearance and takes the form of an enormous Satanic goatman. Thousands of jet-black hairs burst from Zodd’s smooth fleshy skin, each strand bristling with apollyonic rage; twin curved horns squeeze through both ears with painful force. A mighty swing of clawed fist hurls Guts to the ground, leaving a trail in the snow as his body skids helplessly downhill. Zodd’s true form bellows in victory and digs a cloven hoof into Guts’ muscular stomach, twisting and crushing delicate organs beneath the hard leather armor. Refusing to be so easily defeated, Guts plants his man-high blade in the ground and painfully lifts himself from the cold earth. No sooner is Guts on his feet than he swivels towards the demonic Zodd and charges with sword held level. Unfortunately, Guts is not the only being in this world capable of counter-attacks. Zodd easily catches the Black Swordsman’s Dragonslayer in one enormous paw, casually lifting Guts into the brisk winter air. As Guts helplessly dangles in Zodd’s firm furry grasp, a message across the screen advises: “Tap square to escape!” Rapidly tapping square would escape, yes, but there’s an alternative. With a press of the special attack button, Guts raises his mechanical arm, removes his prosthetic fist, and fires four pounds of gunpowder through Zodd’s gaping mouth into his enormous scumsucking skull.
Zodd’s a special case. Whether tendriled denizens of the Qlipoth (an astral dimension that intersects the human world) or trolls rampaging through the streets of Enoch, most adversaries fall in a few swings of the Dragonslayer, Guts’ dull blade crushing through tender bodies with its massive weight. A painful death for the devils he hates . . . but Guts feels no remorse, only rage. With every bloody victory he inches closer to inhumanity, closer to tapping the subconscious beast that drives his soul in its unquenchable thirst for death. The beast even presses Guts against his beloved Casca, accompanied by delusional visions of shark-like teeth wrapped around her slender neck, digging and tearing at the veins deep within her supple throat. Although she’s mentally too far gone to ever consider leaving Guts, Casca understands violence and never completely trusts him from that point onwards.
How ironic that Guts’ four other companions, people towards whom he feels little emotional attachment, unquestionably place their lives in his hands. Flittering fairy Puck, child thief Isidro, mysterious fencer Serpico and apprentice witch Schierke each offer assistance to Guts during his endless battles. Similar to King of Fighters’ strikers, a simple button tap pulls the chosen companion into the fray for a quick assist in the form of healing, fighting, stopping time or increasing combat potency. These companions function as more than a gimmick; they catalyze significant storyline events. After Guts thwarts a troll invasion upon the town of Enoch, littering the town square with heaps of carved-up flesh, no quarter is allowed for rest. An enormous ogre, its poxen face twisted into grim eternal scream, emerges from the darkened forest with its dog-like companion Kelper. Under the assumption that Guts has spent all his strength, the young witch Schierke casts an incredible spell to unleash the full might of the water spirit Undine against the two otherworldly invaders . . . unfortunately, she fails to control Undine’s power and releases a torrentious flood through the city streets.
The ensuing scene lets the player control Guts as he battles the ogre in raging waist-deep waters with shattered barrels and broken troll bodies gushing by. It’s but one of many exciting events punctuating long levels of monster slaying. I swear I killed at least five hundred beasts of numerous variety in the underground tunnels of Qlipoth, slicing a motley assortment of tentacled brains, dinosaurs with long eye-stalks and airborne jellyfish into quivering slivers. Even after successfully navigating my way across overlapping bridges and through hidden tunnels, I happily selected Qlipoth from the Stage Select menu to return for even more carnage and to uncover all of the level’s hidden secrets. These lengthy levels and exhilarating boss encounters are joined by two common threads.
The first is the Godhand. During the course of Berserk, Guts faces multiple apostles and even defends himself against one member of the devilangelic Godhand, a single battle that would earn the game an 18+ rating if the plentiful decapitations, skewerings and eviscerations didn’t. The most prominent influence of the Godhand involves the Brand on Guts’ neck. Throughout the adventure (particularly on return visits to previously conquered levels), the Brand’s throbbing becomes audible and a horde of vile hell-born fiends rise from the earth, crawl up from under bridges or step out from wooded groves to eliminate their masters’ most troublesome prey. Fall before their numbers and an invisible hand scrawls a bloody message across the screen: “YOU HAVE BEEN SACRIFICED.”
This is all above and beyond the allotment of decomposing, rock-throwing zombies that you would typically expect to encounter in a spooky forest.
The second persistent threat is Charles. Of his apostle status there is never any doubt; created to provide unity to the game’s events (which unfold across seven or eight volumes of manga), Charles’ childish black-toothed countenance exudes pure evil. With foppish feathered hat, fancy vest and breezy pantaloons, he snickers from far away, constantly toying with Guts and his friends. Charles is a demon, but his true form remains unknown until the end. Once his secret is revealed, the game’s early cinematic sequences take a more ominous tone.
That’s not to say the cinematic sequences weren’t already ominous. One scene early in the game paints a crowded ballroom on the screen, filled with ethereal shadows dancing gaily across the checker-tiled floor. Cut to Guts, walking towards the door. Back in the ballroom, music continues to play as shadowy partners merrily twirl and pirouette in time to the invisible orchestra. Guts forcefully opens the door and . . . silence. He glances around the room, completely unaware of the merriments just moments before, but the player knows. The player knows that Guts is not alone and that surely, at any moment, the forces of evil will descend. With every second that the game withholds the inevitable, the bar of tension rises until . . .
Play the game. Play the game and pick up where the television series ends. The excessively powerful opening, with music composed by the godly Susumu Hirasawa, previews a medley of the game’s most thrilling moments. Although Berserk: The Millennium Falcon only reaches the staggering heights promised by the introductory cinematic in its final level, the rest of the game doesn’t lack for quality or beautiful brutality. Even beyond the normal bounds of the game, there’s the unlockable “100 Animal Murder” mode: ten additional scenarios with their own objectives, rules of engagement and throngs of vile maggots to eliminate. And eliminate them you will.
Raise some hell, mortal.
Community review by lilica (December 18, 2004)
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