Title :Sword of The Berserk: Guts' Rage
Platforms :Sega Dreamcast
Publisher :Eidos Interactive
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :8.0
Review by :Richard Rae

Guts (also known as Gattsu) is a lone dark warrior of melancholy nature and somber mood — a mercenary who has lost everything dear to him, and for whom fate holds no bright future. Accompanying him are Puck, a male fairy who serves as the only cheerful and comic element in the entire story, and the wistful Casca, once a warrior but now so emotionally and physically brutalized in a recent disaster that she has gone both mute and mad. Guts wields a huge sword, the "Dragon Slayer," as he seeks vengeance against the supernatural enemies who killed his companions and brutalized his beloved Casca before his eyes. (Are you depressed yet?) 

Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, a Sega Dreamcast game published by Eidos, is actually a "side story" from an extremely popular (and violent) Japanese manga and anime of the same name (Kenpuu Denki BERSERK) created by Kentaro Miura. It serves as a sequel in game form to events already known to followers of the manga and anime. 

As this foreboding Dark Ages fantasy story begins, Guts and his entourage rescue members of a performing troupe from a marauding group of bandits. The band soon enters a dismal, despairing town whose populace stands terrorized by a plague of walking parasitical plants, the Mandragora, which seize control of human or animal hosts and turn them into fierce, horrific mutants. Baron Balzac, the ruler of the town, enlists Guts into helping him locate the Heart of the Mandragora, purportedly to cure those who are unfortunate enough to be inflicted, and he holds out to Guts the hope of even possibly curing Casca's condition. Balzac, however, actually has a much more sinister agenda and his horrific experiments seek to encourage, rather than destroy, the Mandragora outbreak. As the story unfolds and the truth comes out, Guts and his companions also face some truly paradoxical moral and social issues that affect the innocent as well as the guilty. 

"Sword of the Berserk" is essentially an amazing interactive 3D movie with integrated combat sequences. As the frequently unsettling story unfolds, the player must clear battle stages as they occur before the tale moves on. And in some scenes, the player must (a la "Dragon's Lair") choose to press a specified controller button when indicated in order to branch to an alternate story path or prevent Guts from receiving damage. These events definitely keep the players on their toes. 

Control is actually quite simple, with character motion guided by the analog thumb pad, and attacks initiated by the four action buttons. Pressing the triggers in conjunction with button presses can toggle a varying array of attacks and special actions. 

Graphics are excellent with impressive terrain features with which to interact (including doors to break down and things to smash). Character rendering is extremely smooth, though the faces generally don't change expression very much. The game does feature some extremely gruesome imagery, however, and blood sprays everywhere when Guts wields his mighty Dragon Slayer sword. 

Guts' left forearm was severed during the same horrifying incident that put out his right eye and traumatized Casca, and he wears a mechanical replacement forearm equipped with a combination rapid-fire crossbow and explosive launcher. While explosive blasts and grenades are limited in supply (and are replenished through success or finding items), crossbow bolts and throwing knives are unlimited. Guts also has at his disposal a limited supply of "Fairy Dust," which heals all injuries and restores the player's HP bar to maximum. 

In battle sequences, wave after wave of enemies attack from all directions, getting their own licks in while you try your best to slash and hack your way through them. Each type of enemy has unique behavior and patterns, and battle sequences keep you constantly thinking as a melee unfolds. Periodically, Guts goes into "Berserk Mode," his power increases, and his blows often bisect or maim attacking enemies with one hit. 

Because the story actually develops and progresses like an anime film, hardcore action gamers may tire of the story development and keep pressing the "Start" button to skip the sequences and get right to the hacking and slashing. This, however, is not something I recommend, as the story itself is so good that you're missing out on the entire, involving experience if you are in this game just for the bloodshed. Mark my words, you'll be itching to see what happens next. 

I highly recommend "Sword of the Berserk," though I also can't stress strongly enough that potential players and parents heed the "Mature" rating of this game. It is uncompromisingly violent, dark, and depressing, makes no apologies for its brutality of story bordering on gothic horror, and has some graphic visuals and scenes that could give pre-teens nightmares. 

But, if none of these elements bother you, pop this unique product into your Dreamcast and get ready for an unforgettable medieval fantasy-horror story that you may find more engrossing than the gameplay itself. 

This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-May-00