Move Over, Ms. Croft! Nariko is Here!
In just a few days, Heavenly Sword will become part of the slim but promising PS3 game library. Many of the games we’ve been waiting for are slowly but surely being released, giving gamers less reasons to complain about Sony’s powerful game machine. Since so many games are being developed for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the PS3 is relying almost entirely on its exclusive titles in order to get more sales. People don’t feel quite ready to drop their money on it, especially when they’ve owned an Xbox 360 for a long time and have such a big library available to them; that and the Achievement Points, which everybody loves. Hopefully, when Sony Home comes to life things will be different.
Heavenly Sword is a fantastic addition to the PS3 lineup, and it’s also an exclusive. Even though it’s quite short compared to other epic titles, the game is so interesting and fun to play that almost everyone will forgive them. I’d say this game would make a good franchise; we’ll just have to wait and see how it does sales-wise.
The story is very engaging, and it’s the main reason why you’ll find yourself playing the game. Somewhere in Asia they don’t actually reveal (although it’s most likely Japan), you’ll meet Nariko and her clan. Nariko is a red-haired heroine with very strong traits. She was brought up as a warrior by her own father, Shen, who also happens to be the king of the clan. Her mom died when she gave birth, and Shen never felt a connection with his daughter as such; instead, he trained her to be one of the most powerful combatants ever known. As protectors of the Heavenly Sword, they put a lot of sweat and effort into hiding the blade from the unwanted. However, Bohan, king of another tribe, felt the urge to brandish the powerful weapon and become the feared and omnipotent master of the lands. This will, inevitably, provoke a bloodthirsty war that will end the lives of many. Nariko will join the army and play a decisive role as the heroine who wields the Heavenly Sword and masters it to perfection. But things are not always as easy as they seem, and it will soon become a story of vengeance, pain, and blood; lots of blood.
You might have heard the incessant comparisons of this game with the God of War series, and you probably want a further explanation, don’t you? If you’ve played God of War you will find similarities in the amount of violence and bloodshed that takes place. You will also notice that one of Nariko’s weapons is similar to the Blades of Chaos or Olympus. Moreover, the game controls feel similar, as you will be able to perform combos by pressing different button combinations, just like in Kratos’ masterpiece. However, this game is not a copy or knock-off of God of War; Heavenly Sword has its very own personality and has been carefully made to please those who enjoy epic action-adventure titles. There’s certainly more action than adventure in this title, and puzzles are almost non-existent in Heavenly Sword. It’s the story that will take you to the end, along with its masterful soundtrack and the easy but engaging gameplay.
The key of the game is to help Nariko master the Heavenly Sword. The square and triangle buttons will perform the attacks, and holding L1 or R1 will trigger other powerful actions. Combat mode is divided in three stances you will also recognize in the enemies’ attacks; Speed Mode is the standard mode, with no secondary buttons required. When you hold R1 while pressing your square / triangle combos, you’ll obtain Power Stance attacks, which are stronger but also slower. You’ll enter the Range stance by holding L1; this is when the Heavenly Sword splits into two blades hanging from chains, very much like Kratos’ favorite tool of destruction. These attacks are much faster, but they don’t cause as much damage. One thing I missed is a blocking button. You’ll have to press triangle as soon as they try to attack you, which will result in a strong counter-attack. However, the counter attack is not guaranteed, and sometimes you’ll find yourself helplessly taking a lot of hits from the enemy. Time it correctly for best results! Also, you’ll have to counter in the proper stance; the enemy will glow blue or orange before it attacks – blue being the speed attack, and orange being the power attack. If they glow red you better get out of the way, because those attacks are the enemy’s specialty and you can’t counter-attack. You can also wait to build up enough style points by performing lots of regular combos, counters, and aerial combos. She can use these points to perform a special attack with circle; those moves are the most shocking and spectacular of the game, and they’re very fun to do.
In some occasions you’ll play as the young Kai, Nariko’s dear girl-friend, who looks like a little girl and also a weird version of Smeagol; she even acts like him sometimes. I know Andy Serkis, the actor that played that role in The Lord of the Rings, is part of the team that created Heavenly Sword; not only did he play King Boham’s role, but he also has a lot to do with the characters within the game, their personalities, and many other things; it wouldn’t surprise me if he was behind Kai’s awkward, Golum-like behavior… One of the greatest things of the game is the originality of the characters, not only the way they look and pose, but the way they talk; they will make you laugh, even the most evil ones. Just take a look at Whiptail, Roach, and Flying Fox, and you’ll know what I’m talking about!
Kai is the only remaining member of another tribe that was struck dead by Boham’s army. She can’t attack the enemies by foot, but she is very good with the crossbow. When you play as Kai, you’ll have to shoot at the oncoming enemies and some other random targets. The game contains a feature called “aftertouch.” You will be able to direct the arrows towards the desired target employing the aftertouch, which allows you to travel along with the projectile. You’ll achieve this by holding down X and aiming with the SIXAXIS motion controls; while this is not very difficult, it takes quite a while to master.
Later on, you’ll have to aim through a flame to then light up explosive barrels or hit a switch. Sometimes it felt a little overused; targeting and hitting the enemies is fun, but when you have shot a dozen of them, you just want the game to move on to the next thing. Instead, they make you shoot almost a whole army, and it takes forever. Nariko will use the aftertouch once in a while too; for example, directing bombs from the cannon, or throwing discs to hit a gong, which will open a gate or something like that. If the game didn’t rely so much on the aftertouch, Heavenly Sword would have been pretty much frustration-free.
The game has astounding visuals. Heavenly Sword is defined by lots of combat and beautiful, high-quality cutscenes; this is not to say that in-game graphics are worse; actually, your eyes will be delighted watching Nariko throw her powerful attacks her crazy, long, red hair flows in the air, dancing in the middle of a combat scene. Their clothing, the weapons, the architecture, the different textures, the characters’ facial expressions, etc., everything is of the greatest quality, completely faithful to the potent graphics engine the mighty PS3 has to offer. Perhaps this is why the game is shorter; it’s possible that the extra effort it took to make the game look perfect translated into a shorter final product. I wouldn’t mind playing a sequel, which will most likely have a bigger budget and ample resources to make it longer and better.
The soundtrack is another near-masterpiece. It sounds just like a movie. I didn’t even hear the same tune twice, except more towards the end, in the final battle, which did get a bit boring. The voice acting is also superb, with quality professionals delivering the most unique and interesting video game voiceovers I’ve ever heard. The sound effects are equally above average, with movie-like effects that resound across the walls.
The way the levels were split within each chapter was also very nicely done. Often enough, you’ll cross an invisible checkpoint and the screen will display a “Complete” message, along with the number of glyphs you obtained (up to three), which represent how well you performed in that level. The game continues on without stop, which allows for smooth gameplay and flow of the story. You’ll rarely have to say “Oh! Now I have to do this again!” (This happens a lot in other games). At the end of each chapter you’ll have access to the previous chapters and the levels within them. You can repeat some levels if you want, hoping to obtain more glyphs than the first time around. Completing the game in normal mode will unlock Hell mode. It will be more difficult, but the story will remain the same. Unless you’re used to playing your games a second time around, you will probably call it quits after you beat it, which takes no less than six hours and probably no more than ten.
By and large, this is a game you should consider playing, whether you rent it or add it to your library of purchased games. I wouldn’t say it’s a title worth buying the PS3 for, but if you put it alongside many other good titles that are starting to come ashore, it should at least influence your decision. Did you enjoy God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, and other games of that nature? Then, no doubt, this is a game you’ll love. If you are thinking of a game with more platforming elements and puzzles, like the Prince of Persia trilogy, this might not be exactly your style; however, you might as well give it a try!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Heavenly Sword feels like a movie hit, thanks to the beautiful scenarios with in-depth detail and the stunning cutscenes. 3.4 Control
The combat moves can be repetitive. The aftertouch controls are a bit of an afterthought; there’s lack of accuracy and you’ll often feel betrayed by it. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
PThe soundtrack is epic, worthy of the latest blockbuster film. It varies throughout the levels and never feels overused. The voice acting is one of the best I’ve heard in a video game. The characters show deeper personalities due to their peculiar voices and their attitude. 4.5 Play Value
If you love action-adventure games like God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, etc. you will love this one as well. The story is very engaging, and the gameplay takes some skill, which is good. The only downside is the game is short. 4.2 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.