Heavenly Sword review
Forbidden fruit


Ahh, what PS3 owner doesn't remember 2007, the PS3's second year on the market? What, being its second year of receiving constant abuse from outsiders because of its high price... with barely anything worth the price of admission! It had a few more games up its arsenal like Ratchet And Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but not quite worthy of purchasing just yet. And... here's another PS3 exclusive from 2007 known as Heavenly Sword. It featured some nice graphics and gameplay, but alas, us gamers preferred another serving of the first person shooter pie – this slice, being named Halo 3 – and much like the PS3 at the time, Heavenly Sword only attracted Sony's diehard fans. Well, now that it's acceptable to have the PS3, why not give this one a spin?

The story is that a clan of people are protecting a powerful sword known as the Heavenly Sword, waiting for one worthy of its power to wield it. This must be a sexist clan, because when they realize that the one who will be wielding it is a girl named Nariko, they're all like “man she must be cursed or something”. She takes control of the sword while fighting off Lord Bohan's forces who capture most of her clan, and with that comes a more swift death for her, because the sword drains the power of anybody who wields it. Nariko, realizing she only has a few days to live, dedicates herself to saving her clan and putting a stop to the evil Lord Bohan.

It might seem a little cliched, but the execution will tell you otherwise. No shit, these characters have a surprising amount of depth to them, almost like human beings here in this desolate place known as the real world. Well, except for Lord Bohan, who's more of a psychotic evil lord with a lot of spirit and, well, let's just say that there's never a dull moment when he's on screen.. or with anybody, for that matter. The writing is just fantastic! It's just really deep, able to absorb you into it, and with characters like what I described, how can you not enjoy the story? Oh, and the best part is that there's no filler. The action doesn't stop because of some ridiculous sidequest that's given at a bad time! Can't ask for anything more!

For the most part, Heavenly Sword seems like your typical Devil May Cry/Soul Reaver/God Of War inspired action game where you encounter bad guys and hack the shit out of them. Seriously, that's what most of the gameplay consists of. She has access to a decent array of combos and three different styles – speed, power and range – and this would seem really cool, except because enemies love switching between quick attacks and blocks, the only times you really need to use lots of combos are when you fight bosses. Most enemies can be defeated by merely button mashing, even groups of ten or so.. kind of disappointing, since you'd think that with a (then) new system, everything would be better, but I guess not. Enemies are easy, unless there's like a really big gang, and only really because Nariko staggers when hit, which will be often with loads of enemies at once trying to gang *bleep* you.

At times though, you'll need to use the different stances not only as a means of dealing with enemies the best way you can, but also to defend. Defending requires you to stand still and not attack, but that's not enough, because Ninja Theory decided to integrate the stances into this. Whenever an enemy attacks, they'll glow a certain color, and only specific stances can defend against that color, with the exception of one color, which indicates that they'll use an unguardable attack. I find this interesting as you're required to use the different stances more than you'd think. Also, if you press triangle at the right time, you can initiate a counterattack, which is usually interesting to watch.

As with any good action game, you'll encounter bosses. There are only a handful of them, but these are some pretty good fights. These fights require a fair amount of memorization so that you'll know what to expect and how to counterattack, and with what fighting stance usually. They're not overly tricky (except the final boss, but you'd expect that), but they can be fairly challenging, meaning you shouldn't underestimate them, but at the same time, it's fun getting it all down and kicking their asses. The only thing that wrecks them is what you have to do in order to finish them off – QUICK TIME EVENTS! You'll often have to pay attention to see what button pops up next, but how can you when the action is so intense and full of eye candy? Exactly! I'd rather just watch it without worrying about pushing some buttons! At least it's more satisfying than screwing up once or twice and having them regain a lot of health!

There will be times where you have to arm a cannon to slow down the bad guys. Firing these cannonballs is done with the push of a button, but just doing that would be boring – not to mention, poorly inaccurate, because you have no line or curve telling you where your shot will land. Instead, hold the fire button, and the camera will be right behind the cannonball. Using the SIXAXIS motion controls (that is to say, tilting the controller), you can guide it to its target, which is usually something that supports one of the weapons they have, and sometimes, just groups of soldiers at once. At first, this will be quite annoying, especially if you've gotten too used to the Wii's/Move's motion controls being much more fluid, but after some time, you'll get used to having to hold the controller lightly while tilting it so you can get a good shot at whatever it is you have to blow up.

Sometimes, her friend Kai will get some time in the sun. Unlike Nariko, though, she can only use a bow and arrow to attack, which means if you're getting sandwiched between bad guys who spam quick attacks, expect death to come swiftly because Kai has a disturbing habit of forgetting a knife or dagger or something else to defend herself with when in close quarters. Oh, and everything I said about firing cannonballs and such for Nariko's gameplay is pretty much all Kai's gameplay essentially is. Just get some distance and fire, using the SIXAXIS to guide the arrow, though there's more emphasis on aiming, as a body shot won't do as much as a head shot. Overall, playing as Kai is something that gets really frustrating really quickly due to a lack of close quarters defense – that, and all you're really doing is firing arrows and guiding them to enemies' heads. It's not really that exciting, to say the least. The story may not have filler, but I always feel that, for the most part, Kai's sections are filler. Most of these could've been replaced with a couple more levels for Nariko – Nariko's gameplay was fun, goddammit!

Considering that this game was released a fair while after the PS3 was first put into the market, it's expected that the graphics would be excellent. Well, surprise surprise, the graphics are *bleep*ing beautiful! The environments and models have a good amount of detail with some excellent color usage, and the fighting animation is just really impressive, especially the counterattacks and – when the quick time event buttons get out of the way – whenever you're finishing off a boss. I especially love the attention put to detail, with some excellent lip syncing, facial expressions and character animations during cutscenes to make them all that much more enjoyable. The rest may seem dated when compared to later PS3 exclusives as they have better and sexier environments and textures, but only when the Playstation 7 comes out will the animations and lip syncing feel dated.

The soundtrack consists of epic symphonies that make each of the battles like something out of Lord Of The Rings – well, epic... shit, I don't think I can describe it any other way. Although unlike Lord Of The Rings, this soundtrack isn't really an earworm. Nothing really sticks in your mind. The ambience provided will suck you into the action and cutscenes, but I don't think I can hum any of the tunes if you wanted me to. Great soundtrack, really, but not the most memorable of the bunch. As for the voice acting, *bleep* yes, this is how it's meant to be done. Every actor elicits the right amount of emotion for each syllable – none of which are wasted – and, especially in the case of Bohan, manages to give every cutscene a whole lot of life, making you want to watch the cutscenes more than once, which is something most action games *bleep* up on a consistent basis, especially everybody's favorite, God Of War. Even though I got walloped by the final boss for the twentieth time (playing on hard mode, before anybody asks), I can still enjoy the cutscene. If, for some bizarre reason, the cutscenes don't appeal to you, go ahead and skip... then seek help. Just excellent audio all around, guys.

Gameplay: 4
In your face and yet fairly stylish. Playing as Nariko is easy enough – just kick some ass. Playing as Kai, however, never feels right. At least give her a dagger, goddammit!

Controls: 3.5
It's fine when you're fighting a reasonably small group, but when against giant swarms of enemies, button mashing God Of War style is the way to go! Oh, and the SIXAXIS – expect to be frustrated by them when you're just one degree off your target, especially as Kai.

Story: 5
Very well written and very quick to absorb the player into its awesome narrative with characters fleshed out like real people. There's never an ounce of filler, which is always admirable.

Graphics: 5
That hand painted look and feel is quite effective, and different from what you'd expect. Rich and full of life. There are some slowdowns here and there, but with literally over 9000 soldiers to fight against whenever it happens, come on, even the PS3 has its limits.

Sound: 4
The voice acting is excellent. It really adds a whole lot of depth to the characters, especially our lead villain, Lord Bohan. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is merely ambiance half the time, never always epic as hell unlike its other half.

Lifespan: 2
The game lasts about six hours, which isn't bad, but unless you feel like getting all of the collectibles, that's all the time it'll last for. No trophies or nothing to get, and the game isn't nearly as good the second time around.

Funfactor: 3.5
Hacking up enemies with Nariko's arsenal of blades is fun, but Kai's gameplay feels a bit more frustrating overall, and at times, enemies will just *bleep* you up with no problems.

Bottom line:
Heavenly Sword is a pretty well made game, but not without its problems, and it doesn't last too long either. If you can find it cheap, yeah, sure, go for it, but anywhere above 40 Aussie dollars is just highway robbery.


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