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Berserk: The Millennium Falcon (PlayStation 2) artwork

Berserk: The Millennium Falcon (PlayStation 2) review

"With its emphasis on fast-paced, cinematic action and strong storytelling, Berserk: The Millennium Falcon successfully brings these memorable encounters from the manga to life while providing some fun, if imperfect, action across several varied backdrops. Just make sure you watch the TV show first."

Berserk is a story about conflicting dreams, setting two men who once loved each other at uncompromising odds. It's bloody and it's powerful. Protagonist "Guts" is a badass who commands respect, even from those who normally despise Japanese heroes with big swords. He was born a loner in an uncaring world; even so, Guts found a home while fighting alongside comrades in the Band of the Hawk.

His target of revenge -- "Griffith" -- was the Hawks' gallant leader, who unexpectedly sacrificed his own men to become a god. The sacrifice, as depicted at the beginning of Berserk: The Millennium Falcon, was bloody and savage; the soldiers who admired and believed in Griffith were torn apart and eaten alive by slavering demons. Guts and the lovely Casca escaped this slaughter, thanks to some supernatural assistance. However, they did not escape unscathed; Casca lost her sanity after being raped, and Guts lost his left arm . . . which has since been replaced with a prosthetic reminiscent of Götz von Berlichingen's iron arm (on display at Jagsthausen castle).

This deeply personal conflict fuels many gory, action-packed adventures as Guts takes it upon himself to demonstrate humanity's power by slaying all of the new god's powerful, demonic followers. This conflict also inspires hypothetical analyses of organized religion, class division, quality of life, the meaning of "manhood", and the nature of good and evil.

If any of this interests you, then the PS2 game is not the place to start. I would instead recommend either the anime series or the self-contained Dreamcast game. Berserk: The Millennium Falcon tells the middle of a story (manga volumes 22 through 27 to be precise) with no firm beginning and no firm ending. The game does not culminate in a battle against Griffith; Casca does not regain her sanity. This is a bone for Berserk fans, who should enjoy seeing more of Guts' travels brought to interactive life.

At game's beginning, the uselessly insane Casca provides our hero's only company. Guts travels essentially alone across the snowy wastes, slicing demonic snowmen apart with his heavy blade. This culminates in a battle with the immortal ram-demon Zodd -- a battle that showcases the game's cinematic action and redeems the snowman silliness. When reversals, counters, or power blows are delivered, the screen transitions to letterbox format, emphasizing the attack's brutality. This fight, a rematch from the anime series, demonstrates how much Guts has improved since his first encounter with Zodd.

From that point on, Guts begins to attract followers. Since Millennium Falcon skips several chapters, the addition of Farnese and her talented man-servant Serpico will likely confuse people who haven't yet read the comic. "Why are these two people apologizing? Why does Guts let them tag along?" In short, Farnese was a figurehead in the oppressive Holy Order. Guts slew several of the Holy Order's most respected (albeit most tyrannical) members. Add some demons to the mix -- Guts killed them, too. Millennium Falcon picks up after Farnese realizes the error of her ways; she wants to fight for truth and find herself. For his part, Guts knows that his quest is dangerous . . . he needs companions to protect his beloved Casca. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement.

As companions join Guts' party, their powers can be summoned during battle. Some heal, some hurt, and some even stop time. Millennium Falcon employs a nifty shoulder-button system to select these powers; whether calling on a friend or firing his prosthetic arm's cannon (the thing's loaded full of gunpowder), it's easy to activate any of Guts' eight special abilities. As players fight through hundreds of undead knights in the forest, or hundreds of trolls in the city, they will learn to depend on Guts' friends.

By game's end, Guts too has learned this lesson. While Millennium Falcon may seem to meander at times, the game begins with solitude and ends with a speech on the importance of companions. That's an important message; even the world's ultimate badass can't do everything alone.

Berserk: The Millennium Falcon delivers pure action without a bit of puzzle-solving. There are secrets to be found, but every inch of every level is covered with respawning beasts, from centipedes to undead knights to creepy blobs with sharp-toothed grins. Guts' huge sword truly feels heavy; there's a brief lag whenever he first lifts his blade, but inertia propels successive swings, each of which is accompanied by either a suitably epic whoosh or a satisfyingly bloody sploosh.

Never. Stop. Moving.

Guts doesn't possess combination attacks like you'd find in other manly brawlers, but he makes up for this with fervor; it's easy to slip into a gaming trance while cleaving beasts in twain. Fodder is plentiful -- creatures respawn frequently, and hordes of trolls and ghosts swarm Guts inside "danger zones". Each stage tracks the percentage of lifeforms slain; kill 100 percent in every level for a secret bonus.

I'll tell you right now -- the bonus isn't worth the time. The constant respawning means that Guts can essentially stand still and rack up kills without bothering to explore the stage. After a while, the carnage verges on rote and de-sensitized. The Berserk anime is loaded with brutality, but it's passionate brutality. That emotional connection is sometimes lost here, as Guts occasionally feels too unstoppable.

The screen sporadically flashes with the flaming Godhand symbol, meaning Guts can temporarily invoke a "death attack" guaranteed to kill any minor foe or a weakened boss; these special death animations are great for the first twenty monsters, but after 300 kills of the same creature (not an exaggeration), I got a little tired of watching the same fatality sequence over and over. You can kill 800 creatures over the course of four hours, or you can kill 100 to 200 creatures in half an hour and still finish the stage. It's your call.

Thankfully, boss encounters are frequent and break up the mindless slaughter for all but the most obsessive-compulsive killers. A one-on-one battle against a giant knight segues into a furious fight with a red dragon, which then leads into an intense battle against another demon as amazing vocal music plays in the background. With its emphasis on fast-paced, cinematic action and strong storytelling, Berserk: The Millennium Falcon successfully brings memorable encounters from the manga to life while providing some fun, if imperfect, action across several varied backdrops.

Just make sure you watch the TV show first.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (December 21, 2009)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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