Heavenly Sword

Divine Done Right

Short-but-sweet storyline and combat, powerful performances and some of the best visuals on the PlayStation 3? Yes, yes you should pick this one up.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: September 9, 2007
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There was a moment when playing one of the earlier builds of Heavenly Sword where a cutscene played with no actual voices. It wasn't a bug; the voice work hadn't been added yet, but what really grabbed me was firstly how damn good the close-ups of the characters looked and then the fact that so much of the performance was delivered with incredibly subtle things like the way eyebrows moved and the way a lip curled. Moreover, the characters eyes were so emotive that they may as well have belonged to an actual actor.

Welcome to the kind of cinematic experience that Heavenly Sword delivers in spades. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I have never played a game with characters and performances that were as impressive as those found in Ninja Theory's short little epic. The cutscenes in this game really are that good, and to be perfectly honest, as a graphics whore, they're reason enough for me to buy the game, and certainly enough to recommend a rental, but then, of course cutscenes do not a great game make. For that, you need actual gameplay.

For starters, banish from your mind the idea that this is some kind of challenger to the action crown that games like Ninja Gaiden Sigma or even the oft-compared God of War. Sure, the game are more or less situated in the same genre, but even with an ever-unlocking series of combo moves and a slightly button-mashy feel, Heavenly Sword can't really hold a candle to those aforementioned games, and to be honest, that's just fine by me. The combat that is here will likely have to be revamped for the sequel, but for the seven or eight hours of the main game, it supplies more than enough room for experimentation and some cool looking moves.

In fact, that is probably how you should look at Heavenly Sword. I'm sure the designers were hoping for more, but the highest complement I can give the game is that it's essentially an interactive version of a summer blockbuster; stuff blows up real good, the main character is a badass with some lines, and by the end, you feel like you've gotten your money's worth, but it's not exactly Oscar-worthy.

That's not to say the performances in the game aren't head and shoulders above just about everything seen in games, but in terms of actual storyline and gameplay, it's just a simple, enjoyable little distraction that happens to look really, really good when things are exploding all over the place. That there are a handful of puzzles to think your way through is more of a distraction and way to break up the constant block-and-counter gameplay rather than anything that really tests one's reasoning skills.

Still, the tale of femme asskicker Nariko, her wigged-out sister Kai and Nariko's inevitable (or is it?) end after taking up the cursed Heavenly Sword to defeat the despotic King Bohan has just enough moments meant to boil the blood and tickle the funny bone to keep the whole experience light. The game doesn't take itself terribly seriously, and it works in the storyline's favor. I really don't want to dip into moments from the game for fear of ruining something, but if you aren't sold on Kai's character after watching her try to sneak into Bohan's armory, there's no hope for you.

I mentioned it before, but the combat in the game is largely reactive. If you haven't gotten the skinny on the way things work, here's the simple version: the Heavenly Sword can be wielded in three stances; ranged, speed and power, in order of attack strength. The combos, then are strung together in pre-set configurations, allowing you to start in one stance and switch to the other. There are some caveats, however. Some enemies can block your attack with shields, which necessitates a block-breaking attack (usually done with the power stance), while some of the more showy aerial attacks require a ranged stance hit to knock them up in the air. Furthermore, some attacks can only be blocked while in a particular stance (indicated by a glowing blur as they race toward you), and others can't be blocked at all and must be dodged.
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