I had some serious mixed feeling when Koei Tecmo announced they were making a new game based on the brutal dark fantasy manga/anime series, Berserk, and releasing it in the West. On one hand, Japan’s strongest fantasy manga is begging to be an awesome video game and with the anime finally getting a second season after nearly TWENTY YEARS and it being a primary influence on the beloved Dark Souls series there is no time like the present to do that. This series has the potential to deliver one of the greatest action role playing games of all time.
But that’s where the mixed feelings come in. Because this is Koei Tecmo (the game devs formerly known as Tecmo Koei) and their bread and butter has somehow become the repetitive Dynasty Warriors series and its ever-growing list of offshoots, spin-offs, and franchise adaptations where gameplay consists entirely of mashing buttons while your chosen avatar obliterates dozens of idle bad guys with each attack. I’m not saying a hack-and-slash Berserk game is a terrible idea (it’s been done before) considering the amount of hacking and slashing present in the source material. I’m just saying they could do better. A more Dark Souls-inspired take could have been something really special.
And then there’s tone to consider. The Warriors series so far has consisted of things like fictionalized Asian history, Gundam, The Legend of Zelda, and One Piece. Going from there to Berserk…not the best idea. Gamers with fond memories of wrecking shop with the adorable likes of tomboy princess Sun Shang Xiang, elastic pirate goofball Luffy, or gender-swapped cutie-pie Linkle who decide to step into the shoes of Guts and his band are going to be met with a world of WTF.
This list is going to include some aspects of the franchise that some of us here in the West might refer to as “problematic”. As in this is one of the most brutal and twisted non-hentai properties I’ve ever encountered, and I seek those sorts of thing out. Berserk is full of horrific violence, misogyny, full frontal sex; pretty much all of the things your mama (and Tumblr) warned you about. So I feel like going from One Piece to Berserk is going to require a disclaimer. Here are some aspects of Kentaro Miura’s fantasy epic that probably/hopefully will not be darkening our virtual door.
As stated above, the manga has a certain….flair for putting certain unsavory aspects of humanity front and center. If you think Game of Thrones has too much sex and violence, you know nothing, Jon Snow. Miura-san’s artwork is among the most detailed, revered, and stunning in all of the very large universe that is manga, but he is seldom shy about pushing whatever is in his head onto the page. And apparently his head is often filled with penises.
I’m not one of those people who goes around pointing out that every single thing that is longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol of our oppressive patriarchal overlords shoving their privilege into our faces, but sometimes a cigar (or a giant cock demon) is not just a cigar. Like I said, a lot of recurring aspects of this franchise are just not going to gel with Western audiences and I’m pretty sure that this is one of them. Miura deserves props for the creativity of his designs, but not all of his Lovecraftian monstrosities are video game material.
While the trolls’ prodigious shnozzes are no worse than, oh, say ALF’s, some of the creatures have more definitive features that make it pretty hard not to see a giant dick when you look at them. Also, some of them actually have giant dicks. In the manga most of these creatures make pretty brief appearances as background baddies in chaotic demon swarms and whatnot, but in a video game, you tend to see a lot of the same enemies over and over again and that goes triple for a Warriors game. I wouldn’t expect those designs to pass muster, so don’t expect to be wading through oceans of wieners with teeth. If that happens to be a personal fantasy of yours, I’m sorry in advance for the letdown, but as a condolence, don’t be too surprised if the above boss monster shows up.
Right off the bat, series protagonist Guts is the anti-est of anti-heroes. In the very first episode of the new anime he lets it be known that he has no fucks to give after his presence causes the death of two innocents (including a young girl), brushing it off by declaring that he’d never be able to take a single step if he was always worried about stepping on ants. Then he spends the next couple episodes mocking the Christian faith. No. Fucks. That’s kind of Berserk’s attitude about a lot of things, which is probably why nearly every story arc has scenes of non-consensual intercourse and/or constant threats of it whenever a woman is present. Hell, the very first shot in the new anime is of a dude dragging a screaming woman into a house by her hair.
A lot of fans of the series brush this particularly disturbing and prominent recurring theme off as being “reality” for that time period. But then again, when one is enjoying a series about demons and magic, a dude who swings a sword bigger than he is with one hand and wins fights against a hundred trained soldiers, I think reality may not be the most important factor in play. Still “reality” is a better word than “rape” when it comes to bold-face header titles so thanks for that, at least.
But yeah, I do think the Berserk game could do with less troll rape orgies, if that’s okay with everybody. I’m not saying that you have to censor the story and make it all G-rated, I’m just saying that there doesn’t have to a cutscene every other battle where helpless women are brutalized and violated by some hellspawn or bandits just to give you an excuse to cut them all down. On the other hand, a Berserk game just won’t feel right without a Rape Horse (see above image) boss battle, so it doesn’t all have to go. Just don’t make it seem like the main theme, yeah?
Moving right along from that note of Berserk not exactly being a safe space for women, we have perhaps the most questionable story development in manga history. After the initial eight issue arc in the manga, the story did something really super weird. It spent nearly a hundred issues on a flashback. That’s eight issues of present day story followed by eighty-four of backstory. That was six years worth. The Golden Age arc is what the franchise is best known for and it was adapted as an anime for television in the ‘90s and again as a CG film trilogy a few years ago, and it is confirmed to be a part of the upcoming game.
Serious spoilers are coming up so feel free to skip to the next section if you don’t want to dive down this rabbit hole of fuck. At its heart, The Golden Age is a love story between Guts and Casca, who is a badass warrior woman that falls for him while the two are fighting in the same mercenary band. It’s an amazing story worthy of the best that fantasy fiction has to offer. Then the end happens. It’s truly a stunning and horrible sight to behold and I love a great many things about it, but the aftermath is troubling. Long story short (and I am truly sorry for my language here, but it’s necessary to paint the proper picture): Casca gets raped retarded by a demon and that’s what kicked this whole shitstorm of death off.
Now, it’s bad enough that a strong woman is used as a sexual pawn in an act of violence between men and is rendered mentally disabled by the act, but the worst thing about it is that they kept her that way. I assumed she would recover her sensibilities, but nearly three hundred and fifty chapters in, “Derp Casca” (as she is often referred to by fans to separate her from the original character) is still drooling on herself and occasionally serving as the most depressing attempt at comic relief ever. I’m about 99% sure this is going to factor into the game majorly, seeing that the initial Japanese trailer partially depicts the act that left her in that state, but I’m still hoping her participation is minimal. Golden Age Casca is confirmed playable, but Derp Casca will just be an unwanted irritation that will make us long for the days of simple damseling.
The Voyage of the Damned
The Golden Age may have represented the most unusual pacing decision in the history of fiction but since then Miura has found more creative ways to test his readers’ patience. Six years of essential flashback is one thing, but seven years on a boat? Damn. The latter volumes of Berserk had the heroes spending sixty four issues at sea, essentially putting the entire main story on hold yet again as the characters journeyed to the elvish homeland. Adventures were had, backs were flashed, friends were made, characters were developed, and there were mermaids, etc, but still. Seven years is a long time to wait for…well, pretty much anything.
This thing has become such a joke that it’s pretty much all the fandom was for a while. The author’s repeated hiatuses and the lack of story momentum drove readers away (including this one) as the pace drew to a grinding halt. Instead of furthering Guts’ campaign for vengeance against the man who murdered his friends and derped Casca, we were treated to an irritating recurring villain in the form of a goofy pirate who began to feel like Ultros in Final Fantasy VI after a while. How do you make this into a hack and slash video game? Hopefully you don’t. A proper RPG maybe could use it as a character-building section, but as a Warriors-style game I just don’t see it happening.
The manga is only a few issues past the loooooooong-awaited arrival at Elfhelm, a world away from the enemies Guts seeks to eventually defeat, so there’s no good reason for the video game to include the voyage when there’s nothing to adapt beyond that, so it’s pretty safe to say the trip will not be in-game unless it’s start is the finale. As for the manga, now that our heroes have finally arrived at their island destination, there’s only question in the minds of longtime Berserk fans: how long is the trip back home going to be?
One way or another, I’m fated to play Berserk Warriors (if that’s the title they go with). If nothing else it’s going to be really interesting to see how Koei Tecmo integrates these insane elements and story pacings into a cohesive video game (if they do) and how gamers deal with it when they go in expecting another typical Warriors game and get a faceful of all that is Berserk. At least it won’t take seven years to find out.