Heavenly Sword review
Sent from heaven
Time! To die!
As a hack and slash game released after 2005, you’d expect something along the lines of brutal, corpse-ripping, *bleep*-tearing combat like God Of War. Well, look away, because Heavenly Sword isn’t all about tearing armies a new *bleep*. It’s about executing enemies with some style! It was one of the games I was interested in when the PS3 first came out, and back when I had a 360. I guess it’s a good thing it and the other 3 I bought red ringed, because when I got this with my PS3, I was hooked like a smoker. Damn fine game is what it is!
The story revolves around a tribe that looks after this sword known as the Heavenly Sword. They believe it was a sword from heaven, forged by the angels themselves, so that’s why they watch over it. They also know that there will be a warrior born in the year of the fire horse to wield the sword and end all wars... What, was this prophecy sexist or is it just the tribe? I ask because when Nariko was born, they shunned her. She was meant to be a he, and since she came out the way she did, she was the outcast of the tribe. Hell, her dad wanted to kill her – I guess guilt pulls its weight even in video games, because he doesn’t. Instead, he does what any good father does, and brings her up and trains her to be a damn fine warrior.
When she wielded the sword at about the time they all got captured by the evil King Bohan, the curse of the sword entered her body and soul. She was going to die in a few days... so why not live them up by using the Heavenly Sword to end the war? Oh yeah, did I mention there’s a war going on throughout, and at the climax, she dies? Oops, spoiler... Or so you’d think, but that actually happens at the beginning of the game. Basically, it’s told like this – memories, recounting past experiences.
The actual premise works well. Typical sort of story, lots of hack and slashes revolve around wars of some sort. It’s pretty damn well told. You really manage to get into the story and all that, but this is mostly because of the characters. Each character has their own distinctive personalities, making them stand out from one another. Lord Bohan is one that certainly stands out, being so delightfully evil and providing witty dialogue. Actually, just about every character has either witty dialogue, or just well written dialogue, making you really fall for them. In fact, I remember looking up this game to see if Tim Schaffer was involved, and he wasn’t. The writer must’ve been influenced heavily by his efforts in Psychonauts, then! This is what makes you enjoy stories – the characters. Most games have maybe one or two cool cats, but this has the entire cast fitting that role!
Slice em up!
What you’re doing in this game is slicing enemies up. You run through some halls or whatever, run into some enemies, and carve them all up with your fighting skills. You progress by killing them all off and solving whatever puzzle they throw your way. Usual hack and slash kind of stuff, and it still works, so don’t worry too much if you liked the linear progression of Ninja Gaiden and God Of War.
And I do mean linear. The levels aren’t really meant for exploration. They’re just a background for you to marvel at while you walk to the next bit with more lambs for the slaughter. I guess that would make sense since you got some drab camera controls – hold one of the triggers to move it to that direction, whoopee, but for the most part, it’s something you’ll end up not minding, because combat is definitely rewarding, and hey, who doesn’t want to see what comes next in the story? I know I would love to know what happens next after I kill 30 dudes by the castle gates!
At a certain point, you can bring in the entire arsenal. You already know about the double blades for regular combat, but then you have the heavy hitting Heavenly Sword, and the crowd controlling flails. Holding R1 switches to the sword, and L1 lets you bring out the flail. Combat, as I said, feels satisfying, since you’re slaughtering groups with seemingly superhuman agility and strength depending on what weapon you use. Even though fights can feel a little samey, they also have a sense of style and brutality to them, like you feel good for killing cannon fodder with slick combos and some snappy weapon choices. It can even go as far as what kind of attacks you block – some can be blocked by not pressing anything, some by holding R1, and some... just can’t be blocked, so roll out of the way. Really, combat is just awesome.
Let me just sort out a misconception. God Of War clone? What Heavenly Sword were the professional reviews playing? Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden clone? Now that’s more at home, since they both require some precise button inputs (though not nearly as merciless as Ninja Gaiden) and style (but not overly stylish like Devil May Cry). Yeah, it borrows, but it manages to kick ass on its own terms, so to criticize the game for some unoriginal elements is pretty silly, especially if you don’t even get the game right! You already know not to expect drab combos, so why repeat myself?
Why is it that games have quick time events? They’re not fun, they’re not interesting, and worst of all, they’re just a needless distraction! Now, these aren’t as bad as some quick time events in other games, but they’re pretty common. About to slay a boss? Quick time event. About to jump some shit? Quick time event. Especially with the finishing blows, I want to experience the full scene, not just the bottom of the screen to know what to press to do whatever. I’m sure everybody else would, too. Screwing them up either kills you, or just extends the length of the boss battles. Whatever, don’t care, quick time events suck.
Snipe their heads for maximum damage.
At times, you get to play as Nariko’s sister, Kai. Instead of some swords and flails, you get to use a bow and arrow. This sounds pretty cool; you get to fire arrows at enemies. Yeah, but the problem is that you can’t do much else. Kai can’t fight at close range, and when you’re surrounded by enemies, you’re just begging for some sort of opportunity to fire an arrow at them so you can flip away and get a much better shot at them through the aftertouch feature... speaking of which...
Enter... THE SIXAXIS!
At times, you get to do something other than slash enemies to bits. You get to fire projectiles as well. From cannonballs to shields and to Kai’s arrows, you get to -- I’m sorry, is this even worth explaining? Oh wait, it is, since you get to use the all new motion controls! Hold down on the fire button, and not only does time slow down, but the camera heads off to the projectile. By tilting the controller, you can guide it to its destination, whether it’s the head of an enemy or a mark on the catapults. This kind of thing gets integrated into door opening puzzles, but they’re not all that common.
Oh, how do they do? Pretty swell. It definitely feels nice, allowing you to guide the projectile to its point if you tilt the controller the right way. It takes some getting used to, as does anything new, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be impaling heads and blowing up armies in no time! That’s not to say that you’ll be using it quite often – in fact, it’s just a few puzzles and while playing as Kai, who doesn’t get as much playtime as Nariko, and that’s it for the SIXAXIS.
Length, is it an issue?
Most reviewers will tell you that this game is too short. Let’s see... it runs at 6 hours, and the only real reason to replay beyond enjoyment is to complete the highest difficulty level, which can be quite a bitch. It does seem short, but I don’t think you could really do much else to expand it. The plot works out quite well without overstaying its welcome, and expanding the game will wreck it, I reckon. Just go for the replay value, and hey, once you’re done, don’t worry – it always finds it’s way inside your PS3 again!
Definitely has that edge to it.
Heavenly Sword has a sort of different look to it. Instead of ultra realism like its shooting buddy Resistance, or instead of something from Pixar like Ratchet And Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction, Heavenly Sword prefers to sport a more hand painted look. Each of the environments, while lacking in a couple of textures (very noticeable on a big screen), have very rich colors that makes everything stand out in their own way. The animations flow seamlessly, with little downtime – yes, there is a little lag here and there, but there’s usually a hefty amount of soldiers, so don’t look so surprised – and large hearts. It’s almost like watching a good dance performance when fighting, and you know you really got animation by the balls when that’s how it feels.
The voice acting really stands out amongst the competition. Most games can have good voice acting, but either just good, corny, or just plain dogshit quality dialogue backing it up (oh god, Mirror’s Edge, why do you torment me!!), while Heavenly Sword has excellent dialogue AND top notch voice acting. Seriously, you can write good dialogue and bugger it up anyway if the voice actors blow. Not the case with Heavenly Sword. The delivery of the lines just makes them feel more awesome. It’s like they came in every day, and they actually wanted to act! They manage to give their characters a large amount of personality where written dialogue alone can’t, and it makes you actually feel like watching the cutscenes more than once. It’s the sort of voice acting that inspires you to become one yourself. Man, I got my inspiration from this game! That’s just how good it is!
As for the soundtrack, it’s one of those epic symphonies that manage to make the situations epic, especially the fights, and especially the fight towards the end of the game. I swear, I never felt like such a winner until I heard this music. Of course, they all play at the right moments, and it all sounds good. But when stacked up against the competition, eh, it’s nothing big.
Heaven or hell?
Heavenly Sword is definitely worth getting. The length shouldn’t scare you into not getting it, especially since it comes cheap now, and if it scares you, you’re only missing out on excellent combat, nice visuals, and some ace quality storytelling that only a few games on any system ever made have managed to top, and for a hack and slash no less. If you haven’t got this, you probably don’t have a PS3.
You know those stories where the main character is already dead and retells the story? This is one of them. Nariko dies due to harnessing the power of the Heavenly Sword because she got angry at the main bad guy when he captured her father. Mind you, it’s a fine concept, and the characters really bring the story alive.
It has more mechanics and stuff than a typical hack and slash game like stances and having to change between each mid combo for different and killer combos, but at its heart, it’s a great hack and slash experience. Needs less quick time events, though. I swear, every time I see one, I die a little inside. Who greenlit that shit?
A lack of a jump button is a bit disheartening, and the camera controls are fairly weak, but the mapping for everything else makes sense and is well done. Responsive and easy to learn, that’s the way to do it! The SIXAXIS controls take a bit to get the hang of for more precise projectile aiming, but they work well for the most part.
The hand painted look is definitely a feast for the eyes. Not the best looking game in HD, but it manages to get many other things right. Environments look impressive, characters look excellent (the icing on the cake would be the expressions matching their tone of voice), and the animation for Nariko is beyond excellent... not that the others are bad; just that they don’t stand out.
The music manages to make everything sound epic, and is a treat for the ears. Voice acting is top notch, adding to the characters’ personalities.
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