The fate of the Sega Dreamcast is a truly tragic one, even today. Despite being deemed a failure and abandoned not long after it’s release, that console was actually years ahead of its time! It had online play well before Xbox Live revolutionized it and had a surprising amount of power, allowing for some truly impressive – at the time – graphics!
Even more tragic are the games on there that have gone the way of the dodo. Power Stone, Seaman, Skies of Arcadia, this console had some gems on it!
Hidden among them all was the subject of today’s review. The first licensed game for Berserk, titled ‘Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage.’ Curiously enough, this was the first piece of Berserk media to ever reach the West. It came out in 1999, but the manga and the original ’97 anime wouldn’t release overseas until 2003! For some, this would be their first exposure to the series!
Poor bastards must have been so confused.
Taking place between the Conviction and the Falcon of the Millennium Empire arcs of the manga, our story focuses on Guts, Casca, and Puck as they wander into a town plagued by a parasitic disease. The Mandragora is spreading, turning the town’s folk into simple-minded plant monsters. Balzack, the lord of the town, hires Guts to retrieve the Mandragora Heart, an item which is said to be able to heal any illness. But Guts soon finds there’s much more to this town’s plight than meets the eye.
Ayo, hold up a second. This game has:
- A religious community controlled by parasites
- Enemies include infected villagers, knights, and a large variety of monsters
- The main villain wants to use the parasite as a weapon for total domination
- The main character has a female companion he needs to rescue several times
- Quick time events
Holy shit, this game is just Resident Evil 4 six years before Resident Evil 4!
Putting that unfunny joke aside, this game’s plot feels like an arc of the manga we never got. Which makes sense, as the story was written by the late Kentaro Miura himself! It even slides into the timeline of the manga really easily! The only real argument against it being canon to the story is the simple fact that it’s a video game.
And you know what? For a video game from the late 90s, this game tackles some pretty mature themes, the main one being mental illness and how those afflicted by it are treated in society. Meaning you can expect a lot of mentally challenged people being subjected to absolutely horrible circumstances, all approached with the subtlety of a hammer to the face.
Ah, yup. It’s Berserk alright.
As much as I like the story, it isn’t entirely perfect. Balzack as a villain isn’t particularly effective; you’ll spend more time laughing about his name sounding like ball sack than you will actually fighting him. Rita is a major player in this arc, sort of like Jill in the Lost Children arc, but her arc is nowhere near as captivating or as important as Jill’s; Rita rarely does anything beyond just being present for the events.
A much greater issue is the localization. Remember: this was the late 90s. Japanese media rarely, if ever, got translated into English without major dramatic changes. If they did, then they suffered some weird stuff.
‘Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage’ falls more into the latter category. For example: Guts is referred to as Gatsu the entire game… except for the credits, where they spell it as Guts. Far more striking is how Guts is far more open and expressive with his feelings towards Casca, referring to her as ‘My love’ and ‘My Casca’, which is a bit out of character. It’s slightly wonky, but it isn’t a game breaking deal.
What really surprised me about the narrative was actually the voice acting. Remember: this was back in the era where most video game performances were on-par with Resident Evil 1. So imagine my surprise when I found out that this game actually had a fairly prestigious cast!
Michael Bell is the voice of Guts – excuse me, Gatsu. And he’s actually pretty good! Cam Clarke performs as Puck, and he’s not too bad either; he’s just energetic and boyish enough to capture the elf’s essence without becoming annoying. But the best performance comes from Earl Boen as Balzack. Man’s voice is a national treasure!
Also, Paul Eiding was a character. In case you don’t know who that is, he also played the Colonel in Metal Gear Solid.
That being said, not all the performances were stellar. I’d like to say Peter Lurie was great as Zodd. And for all I know, he was! But with how his voice was mixed, I couldn’t hear a damn word he was saying!
Is it awesome that Susumu Hirasawa did the soundtrack? Yes. This game’s OST is a banger, including an awesome version of Forces from the ’97 anime score. But when it’s so loud I can’t hear some of the voice actors, we have a bit of a problem.
Speaking of problems, let’s talk graphics. This game definitely doesn’t stand the test of time as well as some others from the Dreamcast. The character models, while highly detailed, are all a bit stiff and rigid in motion during the cutscenes. This is especially clear in their faces.
Although, oddly enough, Puck is treated fairly well. They even modeled his Chestnut form!
The environments don’t look too bad, either. Whether you’re in the city streets, a mountain path, or a dark dungeon, this game’s world looks pretty good even today! It even takes you to some truly bizarre and psychedelic locations. The entire final boss fight is downright bizarre!
Has this game aged well visually? Nope. But honestly, that’s kinda why I like it. I love old-ass looking games! It reminds me of my childhood! So yeah, it’s an issue. But it’s one I find charming rather than annoying.
I wish I could say the same about my problems with the gameplay. Speaking of:
‘Sword of the Berserk’ is a character action game in the real early stages of the genre. As Guts, your goal is simple: make your way to the end of the level. This could mean literally walking to the end, killing all the enemies, or defeating the boss. In order to do this, you’ll need to make good use of the Dragonslayer and Guts’ other weapons.
For a game this old, the combat has a surprising amount of depth! Guts has a jump, a jumping slash, a slide, block, parry, unarmed combat, and tons of combos with the Dragonslayer! I played this with my brother and we were still discovering new tech at the end of our playthrough!
Of course, none of that would matter if the game itself weren’t fun. And it is! Swinging the Dragonslayer feels great! Managing your limited resources adds a unique challenge; you only have so many healing items, shots with your arm cannon, and bombs, and you only regain so many at the end of a level, so you need to be careful how you use them.
Land enough hits and you’ll charge up Guts’ rage meter. While in this state, you’re completely invincible and can ignore the collision system – we’ll get to that – entirely. Unfortunately, you have no control over when it activates; as soon as that red bar fills up, you’re in it. This makes the power feel more like a random boon than anything. Albeit one that can save your run.
This game even has branching paths! Throughout the game, you’ll be assaulted by QTEs or timed battles. Failure usually means death, but in some rare scenarios, they actually send you down an alternate path of the level! This adds a surprising amount of replay value to the game.
Which is nice, since you can beat the whole thing in an afternoon.
In terms of enemies, this game is shockingly varied! From armored knights to plant monsters of all shapes and sizes, this game never stops throwing new challenges at you! The same goes for the boss fights, all of which are pretty fun. The Zodd boss fight in particular is a highlight; my brother and I were losing our shits fighting him, it was so cool!
Except the giant baby. That boss sucks and I never want to do it again.
Alas, this is where we start to get into the problems. For one: this game has no lock on system. As a result, you’ll frequently end up slashing at the air around an enemy or in front of them rather than actually hitting them.
More of an issue is the collision system. God forbid the game ever drops you into a tight hallway, because if it does, the Dragonslayer will basically become useless. I bonked more times in this game than I did playing Mario 64!
There’s also a hallway scene where you need to run away from oncoming danger, ala the boulder levels from Crash Bandicoot. If you screw up once, you’ll die and lose one of your precious lives. So… hope you had a pretty good run leading up to it.
Or you could just save using whatever emulator you’re using. Because let’s be honest: if you do play this game in 2023, it’s not gonna be on official hardware.
Despite my grievances with it, I still thoroughly enjoyed ‘Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage.’ It was a fun little piece of Berserk content that I’m glad to have experienced. Is it the greatest video game ever made? Absolutely not. But it’s still surprisingly fun in spite of it all!
At the very least, it was good enough to get a kinda sequel on the PS2. Unfortunately, that one is Japanese exclusive. Getting a hold on that one is even more of a problem than this one.
But that won’t stop me.