Game play - 8
Presentation - 9
Story / Creativity - 8.5
Lifespan - 6
This shows that Heavenly Sword isn’t just a one trick pony and is instead a combination of different play styles that while questionable in terms of design are still great fun to play with. The story also proves to be an excellent tale of revenge and coming of age that is supported by an incredible voice cast that outshines most modern games to date. While Heavenly Sword may only see your attention for one or two playthroughs, it is still a great afternoon time waster if you are in the need for excellent writing and fun gameplay for a couple of hours in-between chores.
Sometimes in our gaming life we need to take a break from the lengthy week waster games and just spend a day enjoying a much shorter, but in no way less epic adventure that is still a bang for your buck. Heavenly Sword became one of Playstation3’s poster child launch games but how does it fair now six years later?
I have always been a fan of the short but sweet games. Video gamers have usually risen up in mob-like anger when they stated that a game shorter than eight hours was no good and not worth the money. In some ways I disagree and Heavenly Sword definitely proves my point.
You take on the role of Nariko, a beautiful young woman with long red rose locks that has been turned into an outcast by her village and even her father. See Nariko was seen as a coming prophecy before her birth. The legend of a warrior from the heavens would return to the world to guide its people and also reclaim his heavenly sword to light the way. As you can probably tell Nariko is a girl and with that the old days of sexist stereotype were incredibly rampant.
This proves an excellent tool for shaping Nariko into a brave warrior of her own. Not only does she learn to stand up for herself rather quickly but also showcases to her clan that she is pretty much a badass in the butt kicking department, while also looking like a sexy magazine model in the process.
As the title of the game, the Heavenly Sword makes a strong template for the entire story, but while the focus of the villain’s desires is the sword in general it is shown that this whole tale is more about our red haired heroine. What is more unusual is that the sword is actually transformed into a character itself but not in the way you would expect.
In between important sections of the game we get to see Nariko speak to the sword in a dream-like state as if we were looking through its eyes. This allows for a clever breaking the fourth wall trick while also putting the silent, symbiotic sword into a partnership that it originally saw as slavery. This is an unusual take on a character that in some ways is not really there and even though we never know the thoughts and opinions of the sword, we know that Nariko is a wielder it has never come across before.
Nariko’s short journey shows that a character can become an independent, brave and inspiring warrior even in the darkest of times. Even though the game has a running length of under six hours, it feels like Ninja Theory meant for this to happen because the game feels more like an epic short story rather than a long winded quest for something else.
Heavenly Sword’s plot was written in a way that gives you the facts at the beginning and then lets you run wild as you dish out revenge on the amazing cast of villains and their barbaric hordes of soldiers. Just like the movies video games and their stories are not going to be great without a stellar cast. If the actors portraying these characters are not passionate about the game and their job then a game will generally fail to give us any kind of satisfaction.
Thankfully Heavenly Sword not only gives us a nicely nit story but also a cast of characters that are portrayed by extremely talented people who were just as in love with the game as the developers. Everyone in the cast does an excellent job of bringing their role alive and this is proven extremely well by the game’s villains. This is one of the few games that have allowed each villain role to have a nice level of on screen development and in doing so none of them over stay their welcome. You are going to hate the bad guys you are meant to fight, but for good reason. This is because these are really bad people and in some way you will understand what Nariko is going through when taking them and their twisted personalities on.
Not only is the vocal talent a dream come true but so is the soundtrack. Heavenly Sword bursts with an immersive, instrumental “twing twang” of oriental inspired music that fits the tone and atmosphere as the game progresses to its heart felt climax. Players hoping for electric guitar solos won’t find them here and for good reason.
For a game with such a short tale to tell you can probably expect that the game would need to deliver its combat mechanics in such a way that felt rewarding to the player. Sword play is broken down into three styles that Nariko can perform on the fly as we discover that the sword itself can be broken apart into a chain weapon (light attacks), two short blades (normal attacks) and the complete sword (heavy attacks). These weapon modes allow the player to take on multiple enemies of varying types in an attempt to replicate and evolve the unbroken formula of games like God of War that have always done it so well.
In a way the game’s tried attempt to reinvent the hack and slash system is a brave and accepted concept but you will slowly come to find that its small library of simple combos become rather repetitive within the half way mark of the game’s story. As I mentioned Ninja Theory have attempted to reinvent the formula by instead of giving players a dedicated block button made it so that no attacking, or moving is the block mechanic instead.
This ends up being a process of trial and error that can become slightly annoying as you try to attack multiple enemies on screen only to have them retaliate mid combo and not allowing you to just press a button on the fly. You are sadly forced to work under Nariko’s own speed and reflexes, which aren’t that fast in the stopping department. This can make running around without health a little annoying especially when some types of characters will spend entire combo sessions blocking you only to strike back like a bolt of lightning with no way to protect yourself.
The game tries to make up for this by including a brutal parry system that sometimes works but also doesn’t. There will be times where you will be sat through lengthy enemy attacks as you tap the counter button only to receive no bone breaking parry attack and instead be put in a position where you must sit through the way all over again. When these parries do work though they are an incredibly satisfying spectacle to hold and shows that Nariko knows her way round the human skeleton. This is proven even more so with the large variety of awesome super style grab attacks that are achieved by filling up a radial gauge after attacking enemies. Heavenly Sword is all about the cinematic and that is shown even more in its elegant finisher moves.
Nariko isn’t the only character you will play as though. Kai who is the main character’s adoptive sister makes her weird, yet intriguing appearance as the master of the remote controlled crossbow. This puts Heavenly Sword in a cross combination of close combat and ranged shooting sections that feel incredibly satisfying and fun to play around with. When firing a shot Kai’s arrow can be controlled in a state only known as slow motion as you slowly guide it to unknowing targets as you attempt to get a constant stream of nut and head shots.
These sections prove to be incredibly fun to play around in just to see the reactions of the slowly dying victims of your bow after a blow to the precious family jewels. My only advice though is to turn the six axis function of the game pad off as not only is the motion control system a little hard to wield but an analog stick proves to once again but a safe bet for fluid third person shooting.
Heavenly Sword is available now on Playstation 3
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