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CONSOLE: Dreamcast DEVELOPER: Yuke's PUBLISHER: ASCII; Eidos Interactive
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 16, 2000 GENRE: Action; Hack'n'Slash
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

This game is a work of fiction.
It contains violent, unsettling images.
Only mature audiences should play
this game.

I should bloody hope so too. Sword of the Berserk is based on the much beloved psychological horror manga series Berserk, which is a twisted and dark voyage into the truly disturbing world of Guts, a sword-wielding mercenary with a past far too inappropriate to dive into for a random.access review. He hasn't had a great history, and if you watch the excellent late '90s anime or read the manga, you'd know just how messed up his life has been, and further becomes. I'd hate to spoil a thing, but let's just say that if this game didn't warn me about its content it wouldn't be a faithful Berserk game.

If you're a fan of Berserk, all you need to know is that the game takes place between volumes 22 and 23 of the manga, and that its events are a What-If scenario rather than explicitly canon. The game sequel-baited with a non-canon ending, but no such sequel came, allowing it to be enjoyed as a standalone adventure. For those who don't know anything about Berserk, you can play this game and nothing will be spoiled, outside of the existence of a few characters. Sword of the Berserk doesn't go out of its way to explain anything, so while the setting and characters may not be familiar to those who don't know anything about Berserk, you don't need to know about the quite frankly abysmal things that have already happened by the time this game takes place in order to enjoy it.

Much alike its contemporary Shenmue, Guts' Rage pioneered the QTE (Quick-Time-Event) feature that poisoned video games during the late 2000s. It is based around hack-and-slash style gameplay along with exploration, though the in-game areas are fairly small and the game progresses linearly. I would compare this to games like Dynamite Cop or Zombie's Revenge, which were fairly similar from a gameplay perspective, but with story-focused lengthy cutscenes along the lines of Metal Gear Solid or Shenmue. It combines the best of third-person combat with a strong, well-paced narrative. While a fairly short game, two and a half hours, it packs in a great story with some top-quality voice-over for the time.

Players assume the role of Guts himself, as he and his former lover Casca, and his friend Puck (a small flying elf) are travelling to a placed named Elfheim. During their journey, they save Rita, a travelling performer (who bares a striking resemblance to Jessica from Dragon Quest VIII, a good five years before that game released). Rita joins the group, and they come across a small town to rest. Here they discover that the town's populace has been driven mad by a flower, the Mandragora, which has begun to grow there. In the hopes that finding and destroying the flower may lead to cure for his former lover's madness, Guts agrees to help the king of the town, Balzac (crude jokes to a minimum, please) and ventures into the twisted remains of the town. At some point, Casca also gets kidnapped, which forces Guts hand. The Japanese title for the game better represents the story of the game, being titled "Chapter of the Flowers of Oblivion", though the word "flower" might not have been manly enough for a Berserk game released in the West.

The game's score is comprised of compositions by Susumu Hirasawa (Paprika, Paranoia Agent) and work from Yukes' in-house musicians. The result is a chilling soundtrack that supports the game particularly well. The theme song is particularly '90s, but contains the chilling vocals of Hirasawa making it fit nicely with the vibe of the game itself.

The game is broken down into three general types of play; 1) the 1-on-1 spectacle fights, 2) exploration segments with many enemies to cut down, and 3) QTE segments that often consist of running from someone or something. Each segment is punctuated bylong cutscenes that might bore action-obsessed quick gratification gamers, but tell a gripping story that is impossible to put down. You might find the amount of cutscenes to be too much, but the game is very proud of them, boasting over one hour of engrossing cinematic movie sequences utilizing enhanced in-game models according to the box. It certainly makes great use of the Dreamcast's "Gigabyte Disc" GD-ROM format and its over 900MB of storage. I couldn't imagine this game without these directed real-time cutscenes, it elevates the game to far higher than it would be if it were still images or blocks of text.

I really should get these green spots checked out.

While washed out by today's standards, Guts' Rage has fairly well detailed environments for when the game released. The areas of the game are often quite tight and packed, allowing a certain degree of realism through inventive use of textures, lighting and shadow. The lighting is generated by the game but the shadows appear to be baked into the textures, which allows the whole thing to run at a gloriously steady framerate.

Guts has access to a slew of weaponry, namely his big sword which is cumbersome and almost unusable in tight spaces. For some reason, the developers decided that Guts sword should clang off of walls, which makes the tight corridors very difficult to fight in. The game encourages you to use your fists or crossbow, or your limited-use items, to turn the tides of combat. Many enemies use ranged weapons which can whittle down your health pretty quickly, which often had me cursing. It's the core component of the game, and unfortunately, it's not all that amazing. However, you can stumble through on your first play of the game on Easy difficulty, learn how the game works, and improve over time. Dare I make a comparison to the From Software SOULS games? I think I will. In many ways, Guts' Rage difficulty and "considered-combat" are much akin to what we see today in Sekiro or Bloodborne. A precursor to this genre? Perhaps. I might even go out on a limb and say "yes". I think anybody who enjoyed those games and their bull manure difficulty would certainly get a kick out of this game.

More often than not, enemies can 'stunlock' you, leaving you open to attack after attack with no way to defend. As you watch your health plummet to zero, you might even be tempted to quit. But the satisfaction upon completing a difficult section is truly immeasurable. It would be best to describe Guts' Rage as a commitment rather than simply a game, as it can be a true test of patience.

Completing Guts' Rage on each difficulty unlocks rewards from the 'Prize Box' including mini-games. The rewards barely make up for the insane amount of effort required to beat the game, but as I said, the satisfaction of the credits rolling after beating that grotesque abomination of a final boss, is a reward in and of itself.

Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage is one of few Dreamcast games that never saw a re-release that clearly deserves one. With no modern release to support, I can't honestly condemn someone who might want to play the game from a disc image or pirated copy, especially considering its resale value. My copy of Guts' Rage cost me around half what a brand new game costs today, and that was around 2014 or so when I stumbled across a copy. This game is uncommon, and its maintained a high value in the retro game marketplace, however I do believe the exceptional quality of the game's cutscenes for a game first released in 1999 serves as a testament to Yukes' talented game staff. Guts' Rage is a timeless hack-and-slash with over an hour of in-game cutscenes, a tough but fair combat system and an intensely high difficulty even on the game's Easy setting. It comes highly recommended to fans of anime, manga and all things Japanese. Its dark, grim and unforgiving... just like Berserk.

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