Review by horror_spooky
"Do the mash! The button mash!"
For the first few years of its life, the PlayStation 3 was notable for having a lack of software when compared to the competition. It wasn't that the PS3 had no games, but the games it did have were hardly enough to justify the original $599 asking price of the system. During the early years of the PS3, one of the most hotly anticipated titles was Heavenly Sword, a God of War clone with ambitious aspirations.
Heavenly Sword is, like I said, a God of War clone. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, especially since God of War is amazing, and it also takes more than a few cues from Capcom's revolutionary Devil May Cry franchise. In Heavenly Sword, players control Nariko as well as Kai, two powerful Japanese women that live in a clan that have to deal with a heavy burden.
Their clan is tasked with protecting the titular weapon. Legend states that the sword drains the life of anyone who wields it, though it is an extremely powerful weapon. An evil man named King Bohan wants the sword, so it's up to Nariko and Kai to protect it.
The game actually begins at the end of the story, a plot element borrowed from God of War. Right at the outset, players are thrust into a giant battle. There are hundreds of enemy soldiers that are on the screen at once, and it's overwhelmingly exciting. The power of the PS3 is shown off here, with a perfect framerate despite the number of enemies that crowd the screen. The action is fast-paced, if not terribly exciting, but then Nariko collapses from using the sword, and the rest of the game is played out like a flashback, showing players the events that led to this battle.
I think the main problem with Heavenly Sword is the pacing. The game seems to be almost nothing but fighting, which isn't the game's strong suit. Instead of exploration and puzzles and platforming elements, the game is heavy-handidly combat. Each chapter seems to feature a very small amount of exploration with simple puzzles, and then fill out the rest of the time with enclosed battles that generally feature waves upon waves of enemies. This certainly wouldn't have been a big issue for me, except the game's boring combat in turn makes this giant focus on combat feel quite boring.
The game's combat system focuses on two buttons. Square and triangle are the main modes of attack, and the strategy in battles boils down to button mashing. Later in the game, the idea of "stances" is introduced, which are supposed to shake up the combat a bit, but in reality, their main function is to counter attacks from enemies using colored visual cues. Unfortunately, the combat is far too fast for this to work effectively, and once again, it all boils down to button mashing. For a game that is focused so much on battles, a more advanced combat system is a necessity. Button mashing is fine for some games, but for a game like this, it's extraordinarily detrimental to the experience and overall entertainment factor.
The puzzles in the game are way too simple to be engrossing, and the small bit of exploration is just filler until the next set of enemies to fight. Heavenly Sword isn't a complete waste of time, though. While the combat is admittedly dull, the game is still fun for a little while. It suffers from Assassin's Creed syndrome in that regard. Fighting a bunch of soldiers and hacking and slashing your way to victory is fun the first few times, but just like jumping out of tower into a wheelbarrow of hay, the novelty wears off far faster than it should.
One aspect of the game I really liked was the ability to pick up nearly anything and throw it at enemies. During battles, the objects in the environment like tables and shelves are inevitably going to be destroyed from the button mashing. Nariko can pick up the pieces of wood from this, as well weapons that enemies drop, barrels, and the dead bodies of the enemies themselves. After chucking these items, players can hold the square button and control the direction of the projectiles using the PS3's six-axis capabilities. While actually moving the item around by tilting the controller is a bit annoying, it's very useful in terms of making small adjustments and making sure the object stays on its flight path. There's nothing more hilarious than throwing a dead body at a group of enemies, and knocking them down like bowling pins.
This gameplay mechanic also shows up when players control Kai, Nariko's friend. Kai is a sharpshooter and is equipped with a crossbow. Her shooting segments are like rail shooters, in that a bunch of enemies charge and she pretty much stays in one place waiting for them to come. Shooting enemies with arrows is satisfying, but using the motion controls to control arrows is more of a headache, and not as fun as it when just throwing stuff around with Nariko. It is more effective just to button mash, once again, during these shooting segments. Trying to precisely control the arrows as the game constantly suggests will only hinder progression, but firing rapidly at targets and hoping something sticks is easily the best strategy.
This unique gameplay mechanic shows up other times throughout the game, with one of the most entertaining occurences being towards the beginning of the game when Nariko is controlling a cannon. During this segment, there are hundreds upon hundreds (maybe even well over a thousand) enemies on screen at the same time, with no lagging and no framerate issues at all. Heavenly Sword is a technically impressive experience for sure, but these segments are too few and far between to make up for its otherwise dull core gameplay.
Yes, Heavenly Sword uses the PlayStation 3's capaibilities very well. The amount of enemies that appear on the screen at once is astoundingly awesome, plus the destructibility factor is very impressive. Perhaps the best-looking thing about the game is the character models and the facial animation. The animation is very truly expertly done. I was blown away. The environments could have used a little life, but what's there is detailed and visually pleasing.
The voice acting is just as good as the graphical presentation. All the voice actors (with the exception of one) convey their characters well, and the background music is also well done. Plus, Heavenly Sword has some star power. The guy that played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings is the voice actor for the primary antagonist in the game, King Bohan. Unfortunately, like I noted a couple of sentences ago, there is one character in the game with an awful voice. He is one of the bosses, Flying Fox, and his voice sounds just...bad. He honestly sounded like a teenager trying to do a parody dub. It was bad, and grating on the ears.
Speaking of Flying Fox, I hate him. Not only is his voice atrociously irritating, his boss battle includes one of the few poorly implemented QTEs in the game. In another desperate attempt to be exactly like God of War, Heavenly Sword has included quick-time events. QTEs are not bad all of the time. In games like Resident Evil 4, they do nothing but enhance the experience. Heavenly Sword's QTEs are frustrating, and seem randomly thrown in there just because QTEs are popular nowadays. When they aren't doing anything for the game, then there's no point in including them.
Yet another nail in the Heavenly Sword coffin is its length. The game is very short, and the only replayability is unlocking meaningless stuff like artwork and other lame extras. Being an early PS3 game, Heavenly Sword doesn't even support trophies, which is a huge mistake. I don't know why a first-party PS3 game like Heavenly Sword hasn't been updated to include trophy support when many other games, like Warhawk, have been updated to include trophies. Regardless, Heavenly Sword can be beaten in about five to six hours, and after that, there's not much else to keep players coming back.
Heavenly Sword is a gorgeous game with high production values and cool ideas. Unfortunately, repetitiveness makes these ideas less and less impactful as the game goes on, and then the lack of replayability becomes a major issue as well. Heavenly Sword aspired to be a God of War clone, but in the end, it ends up as a disappointing action game thats good ideas are forever going to be overshadowed by its problems.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 04/18/11
Game Release: Heavenly Sword (US, 09/12/07)
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