Heavenly Sword is one of those frustrating games that comes close to being amazing but is held back by a few critical flaws in the game design. Heavenly Sword is one of Sony's big titles for the holiday season and Sony was hoping that the title would help move hardware. I'm not sure that Heavenly Sword will move hardware but it is a title that you can use to show off your PS3 as the game features some of the most mind blowing graphics and character models that have ever made their way to a video game but we'll get to that in a minute.
Heavenly Sword tells the story of Nariko, the daughter of the chief of a warrior clan. This is a bit of a problem as the Nariko was supposed to be the male heir that would lead the clan to their rightful place in heaven. This creates some tension within the clan as they assume that there's no way the tall, red-headed woman is going to take them to the promised land. There's also the issue of the Heavenly Sword, the item that is supposed to take the clan to the promised land. In traditional sword fashion it has two edges. The first is that the sword is pretty kick as and can kill people in new and different ways. The second is that the sword slowly kills the person wielding it which is kind of a bummer for Nariko as she's stuck wielding the thing after her clan is attacked by Bohan and his merry men.
Bohan is the big bad guy of the game or as I like to call it, the last guy you fight before the final cinematic. What separates Bohan from every other bad guy out there is that Sony plunked down the bucks to get Andy Serkis to do voice over and motion capture for the character. This immediately transforms what would have been your standard C list bad guy into one of the best villains in recent video game history. Andy Serkis brings the same gravitas and weight to the character as he did to Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movie. Of course he has a band of subordinate bosses that you'll have to deal with. While the gang does seem to have some of the same of the same inter-gang politics that plagued Skeletor and company they are some of the most vile villains in recent memory. I can't tell you why without spoiling parts of the game but General Flying Fox will have you yelling at your TV late in the game. I don't think I've responded so much to one villain and from talking to other people who've played the game I know I'm not the only one.
It doesn't hurt that the boss battles are tough and feature some of the best combat sequences in the game. Sure the bosses are a little predictable and feature the seemly standard God of War mini-games to finish but they also feature some of the best dialog in the game. I'm not talking your standard cheesy one liners but actual, good dialog between the combatants that adds to the story.
It's hard not to compare Heavenly Sword to God of War but after playing through the game the similarities are much limited to the button pressing mini-games(which are all the rage now a days), the involvement of twirling bladed weapons, and the excellent use of cinematic camera angles. Other than those things the games are very different. Nariko lacks Kratos magical abilities and bloodlust Due to it's T rating Heavenly sword doesn't feature nearly the blood and gore that the God of War games do. It is a bit odd to see so little blood with so many bladed weapons but it doesn't distract that much from the game.
Nariko has three different stances: ranged, normal, and strong. Pressing Square and Triangle actives a normal account which can be modified with L1 to unleash a ranged attack and R1 to unleash a strong attack. The system works pretty well and once you get the hang of the controls you can string together some pretty amazing combos and moves. My personal favorite is to run at an enemy and then unleash a strong attack that has Nariko using the Heavenly Sword to launch her self into the air like a polevaulter.
Other than the sword combat you occasionally get to have Nariko fire cannons at stuff or have Kai (Nariko's semi-adopted friend who's in her own world) shoot arrows at people. Both require to use the "aftertouch" controls which is fancy way of saying using the SIXAXIS control to move stuff around in the air. It takes some getting used to but once you finally get the system down it's actually not too bad and I found myself having fun with some of the Kai portions of the game.
The big let down for me is lack of puzzles. The only real puzzles in the game have Nariko throwing things at giant gongs and using the Aftertouch controls to make sure they hit their target. The game does mix it up by occasionally requiring you to bounce something off two gongs or requiring you to bang a gong and then get throw a door before it closes but that's about it. This is amazing frustrating as it really brings the game down. Something else would have been nice but I did learn that you could use the bodies of the bad guys instead of the oddly placed box of hats which did make them a little more interesting but it's still a major limitation to the game. If they do develop a sequel to the game I'm hoping this is a major focus for the folks at Ninja Theory.
The game is a little bit on the short side which is OK by me as the game takes just long enough to tell an engaging story without a lot of padding or filler. Sure they could have added another boss or secondary level to extend things out but the way it is now is fairly tight and concise which is something you don't see that often. There is some replay built into the game to try and unlock all of the artwork and what not but I didn't feel too cheated by the length of the game.
For the most part Heavenly Sword is a fantastic game that's hobbled by a few key things. The game's tremendous art design, graphics, voice acting, and plot are really dragged down by the lack of decent puzzles in the game. It's not a bad thing but a little more diversity would have gone a long way into making this a more complete game.
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