Review by CrimsonGear80
"Heavenly Sword will hit your weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE...in a good way!"
Ah yes, Heavenly Sword has arrived. Developed by Ninja Theory, this was touted as one of the PS3's showcase games, and boy, it showcases all right. Heavenly Sword is definitely one of the best looking, most fun to play games on the PS3 yet. However, some minor gameplay and some technical issues keep it from becoming truly heavenly. Also, people are saying it's too short. I didn't know a games length really mattered now a days, some of my favorite games of all time are less than ten hours long. But hey, I'll get to that when I do.
The story starts off with Nariko, the main character, dying (God Of War, anybody?). So, the bulk of the game is told in flashbacks. Nariko is an outcast in her clan, since she didn't live up to her clan's prophecy surrounding the Heavenly Sword. Basically, she wasn't born a man. Her clan's main goal is to protect the Heavenly Sword and keep it from evil dudes, since the sword grants tremendous power to those who wields it. The games main evil dude, King Bohan, has succeeded in weakening Nariko's clan with his vast armies. In this desperate hour, Nariko's clan, which is headed by her father, must trust her with the Heavenly sword and rest all their hopes on her shoulders.
This is basically your basic good vs. evil story. It's decent and will keep you going to the end. However, the way it's presented is one of the ways Heavenly Sword is second to none. I will discuss that further more in the graphics section, but for now let's get to the good stuff.
You move Nariko around the stages with the left analogue stick, and use the right stick to roll and avoid attacks. The square and triangle buttons are your attack buttons, and pressing these is different orders will unleash different combos. For the first few sections of the game, Nariko is armed with only a simple long sword, which allows her to do some basic combos. It's only near the end of chapter one, when Nariko arms herself with the Heavenly Sword, do things start to pick up.
The Heavenly Sword has three stances to let Nariko dish out the pain to her foes. The speed stance is the normal stance, which arms Nariko with a blade in each hand and allows quick combos that aren't really powerful. Holding the L1 button switches to the ranged stance, where the blades become suspended on chains and allows Nariko to attack her foes all around her, knock debris at them, and even knock them into the air to set up an aerial combo. After knocking a foe into the air, you can flick the SIXAXIS up (or if you turned the motion controls off, hit the X button), to have Nariko jump up after them and dish out mid-air punishment. Finally, holding the R1 button switches to the power stance, where the Heavenly Sword becomes one big sword, and allows Nariko to use slow but powerful combos to send her enemies flying. All these attack stances will serve useful to you throughout the game. Whether you use the power stance to defeat the more protected enemies, or the ranged stance to deflect incoming arrows, you'll find much variety here. You can even switch stances in the middle of attacks to create your own custom punishment. But wait, there's more!
Performing consecutive hits will increase your style points, which in turn will light up your superstyle disc that is in the middle of your health meter. There are three sections to light up on the disc, and the more sections lit up, the more powerful the superstyle attack will be. Each of Nariko's stances has three superstyle attacks they can do, depending on how many lights are lit up on the disc. Activate these super attacks by going into whatever stance you want, getting close to an enemy, and pressing the circle button. These attacks will always kill the enemy on which it is preformed, and the more powerful attacks will also damage surrounding enemies. Overall, the combat system in Heavenly sword is very fun and very satisfying.
Unlike the Heavenly Sword, enemies themselves don't really offer a whole lot of variety. There is the normal grunt who can be killed with any attack, the more protected/big buff guys who are more easily taken out with the power stance, and some nimble female ninjas who I found easiest to kill with a combination of speed and ranged attacks. I should also point out before I forget that Nariko can pick up almost any object (including dead bodies) with the X button and throw then at her enemies. There is a very cool twist to this, as continuing to hold the X button after throwing the object will activate aftertouch. This zooms the camera behind the object you threw and allows you to control where it goes by tilting the SIXAXIS controller. Although this is an awesome addition, I didn't like using the SIXAXIS at all to control my projectiles. I'm sure some like it, but I just didn't find it very responsive and it made it pretty difficult. Luckily, you can turn off the motion controls in the options menu if you wish, and just use the left stick to guide the objects. You'll need to use aftertouch to get past the minimal puzzles in the game, which mostly include throwing a paper hat at a gong to open a gate. So it's good to practice this technique.
Heavenly Sword also has a very cool countering system. When enemies attack, they either have a blue, orange, or red hue form around them. Nariko will automatically block blue hue attacks, while holding the R1 button and switching to the power stance can block orange hue attacks. Press the triangle button after you block an enemy attack, and if you time it right, Nariko will perform a cool looking counter attack that could instantly kill her opponent. Counters are always awesome to pull off because they look painful and feel great when you do them. Red hue attacks, however, are unblockable, so be prepared to dodge these right away.
You'll also come across hero sequences in the game, which is your basic press the buttons shown on the screen as quick as you can event. If you've done these before in other games then there is really nothing new about them, however a couple of them feature diagonal button presses which I have never seen before in a hero sequence. It caused a couple of untimely deaths for me, but luckily you get to do a hero sequence over if you die, so I wasn't to upset. The boss battles in the game are for the most part fun and challenging. They are not overly cheap but they aren't pushovers either. The last boss fight in particular is one of the better boss fights I've had in a while. It should be noted that pretty much every boss fight ends in a hero sequence, so don't take your hands off the controller for a second.
Heavenly sword isn't all Nariko, though, as you'll get to play as her very special adopted sister Kai in quite a few stages in the game. Armed with only her monster crossbow, Kai's main objectives usually see her holding foes off, protecting someone, or getting from point A to point B while using her crossbow to hit enemy weak points for MASSIVE DAMAGE (yes, I know it's an overused phrase, but play the game and you'll see it fits in pretty well here). In the levels where you control Kai's movement, the controls are pretty similar to controlling Nariko. Holding L1 will cause Kai to raise her crossbow and position the camera right behind her similar to Resident Evil 4. You can then zoom in if you wish with the right analogue stick and press square to fire arrows. Of course, the best part of this is continuing to hold square and activating aftertouch to steer the arrows manually. It's always a thrill steering an arrow right into an enemy's head or groin area. Although Kai isn't able to block, she can temporarily stun an enemy by pressing square next to them, allowing her to create some distance. Nariko herself gets a couple levels where she fires a cannon or uses a rocket launcher to fend off enemies, so once again, aftertouch is your friend.
There is no direct camera control in Heavenly Sword. You can pan the camera with the R2 and L2 buttons, but for the most part the camera is fixed. There were a couple times where it would get locked behind an object or when it zoomed in a little tight on Nariko, but for the most part it worked just fine. It shouldn't cause many headaches while you cut through thousands of fodder.
Heavenly Sword's story might not feel very original, but it's presentation is quite possible the best ever seen in a video game in years. Backrounds and locations are very detailed and look excellent from any angle. Nariko's animations are some of the best in years and flow from one to the other seamlessly. But where Heavenly Sword triumphs the most is in its cut-scenes. These are by far some of the most well-produced, well-animated cut-scenes every done. Designed to match a Hollywood blockbuster, every character is wonderfully animated and given their own personalities with excellent motion capture work (including Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings, who plays King Bohan here.) you feel like your watching a blockbuster movie while also playing it, which is a feat not many games can say they accomplished. All this presented in 720p.
All this good stuff does come at a price, however. The game had some pretty bad screen tearing issues. While you may just shrug it off during gameplay, some cut-scenes feature it pretty noticeably. Quite a few PS3 games have had this issue, and I'm hoping it's just something we'll see with these early games. The framerate itself can chug from a time to time, also most noticeably when a cut-scene just starts up. It stays locked during gameplay for the most part, as you'll come across battlefields with thousand of soldiers on them with not a hint of slowdown to be had.
Like the graphics presentation, the sound presentation for the most part is top-notch. The best part is the voice acting, which is extremely well done. The well-written and funny script is brought to life by these people and really gives their characters realistic emotions. Nariko is loving and compassionate, while King Bohan is evil and somewhat humorous. The game is also presented in four other languages besides English, so if you ever wanted to ply a game entirely in French, now's your chance. Music in the game in mostly orchestrated tracks, with a few modern ones sprinkled in. Sound effects are also good and get the job done. Dolby digital 5.1 sound nails it all home.
There were some times when the sound would cut out and then cut back in a couple seconds later. It didn't happen a whole lot, but it was annoying when it did. It's a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless.
SO IS IT HEAVENLY?
While you play the game, you earn style points, and at the end of a section you can earn up to three glyphs depending on your style points. There are 129 glyphs in the game, and they unlock new combos, new superstyle attacks, making of videos, galleries, and all that good stuff. Perfectionists will easily replay this very fun game just so they can unlock everything. You can also choose a specific chapter and stage to play whenever you want. You will even unlock hell mode after you beat the game, which is of course a harder difficulty.
Now comes the main complaint about Heavenly Sword: yes, it is a short game. It took me five and a half hours to beat it the first time. It's funny that only now, after the release of this game, does a game's length matter. A hack-and-slash game like Heavenly Sword would begin to overstay it's welcome if it lasted more than ten hours. Would you like a single characters story in a Dynasty Warriors game to last that long? God, I wouldn't! It's two or three hours, then bam, on to the next guy. Do I wish Heavenly Sword was an hour or so longer? Sure, why not? But I feel in the time it takes to beat it, Heavenly Sword gets its point across pretty well: A non-stop, action packed, well-produced action title.
Every PS3 owner should give Heavenly Sword a try. Even with some technical issues and not a lot of enemy variety, they will find a very fun game with some of the best production values ever seen in a video game. Even at its length, this adventure is worth playing multiple times, just to experience it again.
+Action-packed from start to finish
+Excellent combat system
+Aftertouch is an awesome idea and is cool to use
+Cool boss fights
+Hero sequences are well done
+Excellent sound and voice acting
+Some of the best cut-scenes ever produced
+Replay value for those who want to unlock everything, or just want to play a really fun game all over again.
-Some pretty bad screen tearing issues, especially during some cut-scenes
-Framerate chugs from time to time
-Camera can be wonky sometimes
-SIXAXIS control isn't that good
-Not a lot of enemy variety
-Yes it's a short game. I'll put it last on the LAME list so there is no whining.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/17/07, Updated 04/16/08
Game Release: Heavenly Sword (US, 09/12/07)
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