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Berserk - Millennium Falcon: The Saintly Demon
  opened by paleface at 11:47:18 11/30/04  
  last modified by paleface at 12:10:17 11/30/04  
  paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Beat_em_up; loc=JPN]
The long subtitle Babelfishes as something like "Millennium Falcon [or thousand year battle?] chapter of Saintly Demon Game." Hm.
I played "Berserk: Guts' Rage" all the way through on the Dreamcast, I seem to recall that was some alternatingly fun and frustrating times. While slicing stuff with a big sword was fun, there were race phases and a boss or two that were just a real bitch. Also, while the main character looked good, a lot of the others looked grotesque, but in a silly sort of way that was just sort of icky.
Well the big one-eyed armored dude with a long sword and short temper is back, and this time he's got much higher production values backing him up. Yukes (who also did the DC Berserk) has put together a Berserk with unique, compelling controls, awesome atmospheric music, strangely attractive expressionist graphics, a sorta deep levelling system, and some really well-done characters and cinematic sequences.
The main thing, of course, is the hitting with the giant sword, and in this latest version the hitting feels so much more visceral because of how Guts moves: he moves like that sword really does weigh a ton when he brings is slicing down right through the middle of some unfortunate demon. There seems to be a pretty slick kinematic system behind how he moves, so as you twist yourself around he'll whip the sword more of less effectively depending on how he's positioned, whether he just swung hard, where the sword is trailing at the moment, which way you try to have him swing again, and so on. It really does seem like he's slinging a huge sharp hunk of metal around, but at the same time you pretty much always feel in control.
The fighting is made even cooler by the animations and cinematic sequences--I know that sounds weird, but bear with me here. First, when you slice things up, with limbs and torsos flying every which way, the animation or kinematics or physics of your victims is really impressive, so that their bodies and parts of their bodies recoil and split (ew!) in apparent reaction to the force and direction of your strike. For instance, if three demonic snowmen come at Guts and he whips his sword around in a big horizontal arc, he might catch one in the face, cutting off its head and spilling the body over backwards, while another gets it in the arm, and the arm goes flying off while the force of the blow spins the monster's body around, and finally the sword comes crashing straight down on the noggin' of the third, cutting him neatly in half from head to toe, and the two sides split apart and fall separately to the ground, still squirming. Radski.
And you'll see that sort of thing a lot, because the smaller fry respawn over and over again. At least half the action sequences, early on anyway, have Guts travelling along a relatively narrow path in an arctic wilderness while demon snowmen, human-headed dogs, ghosts, flying brain-suckers, haunted trees and zombies spring out of the ground and attack him incessantly. You have to concentrate on cutting down the ones in front of you, and if you time it right you can slice-dash-slice-dash and get right past them.
On the other hand, you may want to spend some time smashing them, because you earn XP for doing so. Furthermore, the higher you can combo your kills, the more XP rewards you get. What's the XP for, you ask? Well, at certain mid-stage save points and between stages Guts can level up a dozen or so abilities, like his Berserk state, or gun skill, etc. I can't read all of them because unlike the main menu headings they're in Japanese (and mostly kanji at that), but oh well. They cost a lot just to get to level 2, so this game is either real long or they expect you to replay levels a lot for XP. In a way it sort of bugs me that you don't know where the level end is, so you may hit it and have the stage end when you had full health and could just as well have spent some time whacking respawning demons right at the end of the level to earn XP.
Oh, yeah, I was gonna talk about the cinematic sequences. Well, aside from the nice cinematics between action scenes, showing Guts, his annoying hermaphroditic pixie sidekick, the weird unintelligible girl who follows him around, and assorted other weird children and demons (I don't really know what's going on, okay? I don't read the manga and I don't speak Japanese... but the scenes are fun to watch anyway), in major boss battles you also get short cinematic sequences when certain things happen.
What things? Well, you have a block button that, when pressed just when an enemy attacks, can turn the tables on them with a counter move. Against a large boss this often switches immediately to a canned cinematic sequence in which the counterer does something pretty bad-ass against the counteree, then it returns to controllable action. The cinematics are in the game engine, with a letterbox effect, and they flow real nicely. There are other things too, like if a certain boss grabs your sword and you have a shotgun blast left, activating the shotgun while Guts struggles to free his sword will make Guts whip the shotgun out, blast the demon boss at point-blank range in the mouth, then drop to the ground where regular action resumes--after a really huge and nasty blast almost floors the demon. Really impressive to see, and again even though the game interprets your input based on a complex set of rules, and the result may be something sorta unpredictable, you still feel in control and, most importantly, like you are one bad dude kicking serious demon butt.
Oh yeah, and then there was the time my friend was fighting the same boss, and pulled off a reversal which triggered a cinematic big where he sliced off the demon's forearm--and then the demon picked up his severed member with his remaining good arm and proceeded to beat my friend with it like a club! Now that was simply a stroke of game design genius (and a painful one at that).
The graphics play to the PS2's strengths, with muted color palettes and lots of particle, glow, and blur effects. The crazy red overbright when triggering Guts into his berserk state is pretty nifty for instance, as is the blurring of his character when he dashes. All these effects combine to make the world feel slightly indistinct and constantly in motion, adding to the already very dynamic feeling of the game. And I think I mentioned this before but the sound is very good, with very atmospheric, subdued orchestral music and nice beefy sword clanging and slicing sounds.
It's really really gory, so if you're easily disturbed by that sort of thing, avoid, but know that you'll be missing out on a really keen action game.
  paleface 12:10:17 11/30/04 [title updated]
Oops, that should be "thousand year empire" rather than "thousand year battle." That part is kanji, and "Millenium Falcon" is above it in tiny katakana. Also, the full title of the DC version I think was "Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage."

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