Berserk is an odd series. The manga--which has been ongoing since 1989--has run the gamut of genres, from stories about brotherhood and love, to a somewhat lighthearted dark fantasy, to a different kind of dark fantasy tackling heavy themes of good versus evil and the nature of humanity. Both the manga and anime--now wrapping up its second season--have depicted more taboo topics such as religious fanaticism, mutilation, and sexual violence. It goes without saying that for someone hoping to bring this kind of story to a worldwide audience, it has the potential to be a localization nightmare to territories' varying rating systems.
At Tokyo Game Show, I sat down with producer Hisashi Koinuma to discuss Koei Tecmo's latest musou venture: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. Koinuma touched on localizing the game while protecting its original tone, as well as why his team sought to make a Berserk title in the first place.
GameSpot: You've made a few musou games, so I have to ask: why Berserk?
Koinuma: For Berserk, in Japan, the latest anime series has begun broadcast and with that the anime production committee actually approached us to see if we wanted to make a game. The second reason is that in Japan it's a popular IP, and whenever people in Japan or the fans go to talk about what kind of game you want to see next as a musou game, Berserk has always been within the top answers. So definitely, it's definitely a challenge we've been wanting to tackle. This was the perfect opportunity to do so.
Had you see or read Berserk before the company approached you about making the game?
The manga itself has been continuing and it started 20 years ago, so when I was younger I actually had started reading it. It was really easy for me to get into the world of it and also, within our developing team members, we checked to see if there were people that had read the manga or watched the anime. Definitely having those staff members made it easier to start working on the game.
For clarification, exactly what part of the story does your game follow? The Golden Age arc and then the Hawk of the Millennium Era arc? What would you compare it to for fans who are only watching the anime?
For people familiar with the manga series, in terms of the manga volumes, our game covers from volume one until the first part of volume 32. For anime fans, and people who have seen the films, that part is covered as well. It goes a little bit beyond the story of the second anime season.
I played the demo yesterday. In the musou games, your character moves really fast and part of the appeal is being able to take out a bunch of enemies very quickly. But Guts moves very slowly and I can feel him hefting his sword. Obviously, it's how he moves in anime, but why make that design decision to slow down your playable character for this particular game?
We wanted to stay true to the source material. So definitely, we wanted to make sure that you can feel the weight of Guts' sword,. It was also something that the manga creator [Kentaro Miura] feels, he really wanted to make sure that the game included that element. As you go forward in the game and Guts becomes stronger, then his actions become a little faster because obviously he's become accustomed to the weight of the sword. He does become not as slow as he was before. As he takes on different forms, then his actions become even lighter and faster. So you will see that change within the game.
Berserk has a lot of mature content. I read an interview with you from earlier this year where you expressed concern that this mature content might prevent from being localized. We are getting the game in the West, and I'm was just wondering if your concerns over the content have changed or if you know anything about the localization, or what would change for western release?
Even for the Japanese version, there are the depictions of violence, and there's a little bit of erotic content as well. Those are some of the elements of the game that we had to look into to see what can stay and what would need to be removed due to rating restrictions. For the Japanese version, we've been discussing with the various ratings boards. We've been consulting with them to see how far can we go and to what extent can we do it. With the North American version we've also been consulting with the ESRB to see how far we can go with our depictions. So we have been careful with what we depict. So I think we've been able to retain a lot of the core elements of the of the original source material without stepping over any lines that will prevent us from releasing the game.