Ninja Theory gives PS3 owners a reason to be proud as Heavenly Sword brings life to a dynamic rich story of sacrifice and vengeance.
Heavenly Sword's design takes cinematic approach to its gameplay and presentation by merging music, dynamic camera angels, and intense cut scenes into wild over-the-top action. Heavenly Sword is a beautiful and visceral journey that takes you across the country side as the red-haired heroine, Nariko. The story revolves around the “Heavenly Sword” which is an ancient magical sword that once belonged to a deity. Whoever wields this massive sword will be rewarded with great power that comes with a deadly price, life. Nariko bares this burden, trading her life to save her father from the grip of the genocidal King Bohan. In this dramatic tale, Nariko unsheathes the Heavenly Sword and fights against King Bohan's marching warhorse and his diabolical henchmen.
The main focus in Heavenly Sword is the story, and then its gameplay. Ninja Theory is adamant about making Heavenly Sword a personal story-driven action game. The cut-scenes are filled with action, drama and drawn out interactions. Purposely produced to be over the top in an attempt to capture the feeling of a blockbuster movie, and for the most part Heavenly Sword succeeds in feeling larger than life. The secondary part, the action takes leaps forward with the fast styled combat system that mixes medieval swordplay and dexterous martial arts. The ferocious battles you’ll slug through in Heavenly Sword have a tremendous amount of action that keeps our heroine busy for hours fighting nameless enemies. The best part of this action is that it’s well designed and easy to learn.
The main weapon in Heavenly Sword is the Heavenly Sword itself. Clever in design the Heavenly Sword can be used in three different fighting techniques which have their own set of moves and limb removal style. The three techniques or stances in the game are the Speed Stance, Range Stance and Power Stance. The speed stance splits the sword into two blades that is meant for quick action against one-on-one fights, or clearing a fast path. The next stance is the range stance which splits the sword away from its handle with elongated chains. This attack is the weakest form, but has a far reach for covering a large and wide area. With the range stance you can knock enemies back and even launch them into the air for aerial combos. This stance clears a room quickly, but you’ll have to go in for the final slice. Lastly is the power stance. This stance uses the full power of the Heavenly Sword as one massive piece. The drawback with the power stance is its slow rate of attack due to the swords weight but when it comes down, the power suffices for the lack of speed. If you need to finish off enemies in a few swipes, or break through their defenses of a heavily armoured enemy its best to use this stance. In my experience in Heavenly Sword is lent towards the speed stance; however the combat system is intense and requires the player to be able to switch stances and attack and defend on the fly.
Learning all the attacks and counter attacks doesn’t only aid you in your battles, Nariko is also rewarded with style points. Style points cite with sequential attacks without being hit along with use of weapons, counters and other moves. With the style points they build up into a Superstyle disc that is located in your left corner HUD. Nariko’s Superstyle is constructed in three sections that build up to deliver a killer attack. In total, nine different Superstyle attacks can become available, however some need to be unlocked. If you're looking for the coolest moves, the superstyle attacks showcase some of Nariko’s best techniques and re-illiterates the versatile carnage in Heavenly Sword.
Heavenly Sword's quick pace keeps you busy as Nariko, slashing, ball busting, and button mashing through the enemies. Aside from vindictively gutting enemies you will have a handful of button pressing sequences, a few simple door-opening puzzles and then you get to the hidden gem within Heavenly Sword, the playable character of Kai. Kai is the adopted sister of Nariko who takes upon a child-like personality that resembles a playful kitten. Kai ends up following Nariko along on her adventure, and ends up being a pleasant surprise and switch in gameplay, style, and storytelling. Unlike Nariko, Kai doesn`t use a sword to defeat enemies, she is an archer and uses her oversized bow to pierce a few eyeballs. Not being able to fight enemies at close range is a tough challenge because Kai can only shove them away and then retreat for the head shot. On her side is her quick and nimble body that can basically vault over any obstacle making her as quick as a cat and as crafty. The time spent with Kai balanced between surprisingly enjoyable Sixaxis controlled archery sequences and then followed through with on foot battles against overwhelming odds.
Kai`s real charm isn`t her gameplay moments, they manifest from the cut-scenes where she comes to life. Kai`s wide eyed, playful nature make her a strong contrast between the headstrong lead character Nariko. Heavenly Sword breaks more ground within the script and the main characters personality with the relationship between Nariko and the totally insane King Bohan, juxtaposed by the fragile and meek nature of Kai and then Bohan`s henchmen which include the oafish Goonies-Chunk like Roach, the flamboyant Flying Fox and the ladyfish Whiptail. What Heavenly Sword lacks in variety they make up with strong performances, great dialog lines and interesting and creative characters.
The artificial intelligence claims to learn and adapt to your playing style keeping Heavenly Sword challenging in battle. However over the eight or so hours Heavenly Sword takes to complete the impact of the AI becomes stagnant. Once you start to master Nariko, Heavenly Sword becomes an overzealous button masher of sorts. The only real challenge in Heavenly Sword are the boss battles that jump into another realm of difficulty by adding button pressing sequences to sword fighting. Admittedly, Heavenly Sword is bit of a pushover, but it never looses any momentum in its action. If you’re dealing with a one-on-one dual, or a horde of enemies, Heavenly Sword succeeds in making it feel like an all out war fighting inch by inch for your life. In this respect it’s easy to forget about repetition of the action and focus on the simple and brutal path of destruction you leave behind as you travel across the countryside.
Continuing Heavenly Swords dynamic approach is the level selection screen which serves as a netherworld where you can replay levels, access bonus material, or continue on your adventure. The bonus material which includes backstage documentary on how Heavenly Sword was made, bonus art work and two episodes of a Heavenly Sword animated movie which serves as enough to keep you motivation beyond the final cut. This content isn’t all opened up immediately, most of it has to be unlocked by earning Glyphs. The Glyphs are earned when you finish a level and get your rating from one to three. Depending on your skill level and style that you completed a level you can start unlocking bonus content and new moves. The Glyphs are a great idea and don’t always fall into your lap. Heavenly Sword is a short game, so anything that can extend the length Heavenly Sword sits in your PS3 is welcomed.
The development effort in Heavenly Sword is an achievement in the gaming world of animation and cinematic performances. If you have been reading about Heavenly Sword then you`ve probably already heard the praise on the motion capture and overall outstanding job Ninja Theory accomplished. One reason besides the talented team was Andy Serkis acting as Dramatic Director for the game. Andy is best known from his role in The Lord of The Rings as Smeagol. Andy also added his talent behind the brilliantly portrayed King Bohan who`s crazy charismatic voice and twitchy actions make him an original and believable character. Serkis's performance as King Bohan will likely keep him in gamers minds for years to come. The quality of the character, his performance matched with the visual style make King Bohan a memorable villain in gaming.
Aside from the motion animation, the Havok Physics engine is put to motion showcasing the abilities of the PS3. There are a few instances you might encounter some slowdown, but its not a huge deal. Another treat for gamers taking in Heavenly Sword is the cleaver character design of the other lead characters and the great art direction behind the large environments and location setting. Heavenly Sword is an original mix of barbarian and Far East culture all rolled into its own properties. Heavenly Sword has all the angles covered making this action game one of the most cinematically gripping titles for the Playstation 3 console. If wanted a game to show off your PS3, Heavenly Sword is a good bet to get some strong reactions.
Heavenly Sword's lush presentation, graphical prowess and fast paced action deliver an outstanding game experience that no gamer with a PS3 should miss. This fantastic voyage into a conflicted world battling over an ancient weapon is surprisingly full of life. The adventure might be a little shorter than you expected, however while you are on the clock you will be enthralled by fast paced action and exceptional cinematic aspects. For a game that could have turned into a generic hack n’ slash, Heavenly Sword pulls away from the chains of Kratos and gives PS3 their first “must have” title in a while. Rent, or Buy, Heavenly Sword is a must.
Gameplay:9, Graphics/Sound:10, Innovation:8, Mojo: 9 Final: 9 / 10