Heavenly Sword User Review
Many years ago, in the time of the Raven Lord’s hunt for power, a warrior was sent from heaven to fight back against him. This warrior succeeded, and the Raven’s power, and hold over the land, was broken. Soon after, the warrior vanished, leaving only his weapon, the Heavenly Sword behind. It was seen as a symbol of hope and strength, and was sought by many. Carving a bloody history through the ages, the Sword became hungry, seeking the blood of those that chose to wield it. This cycle was broken when a nomadic tribe took the blade from humanity, in order to keep the world from destruction. At this time, a prophecy was made, declaring the imminent return of the Raven, and the Holy Warrior.
King Bohan sits upon the throne, a cruel and tyrannical man, hell-bent on submitting the world to his will. None have been able to stand against his immense forces, until the last tribe, the guardians of the eponymous weapon stand before him. Leading the tribe is Shen, a wise and just leader. His sole intention is to keep the Sword out of the hands of Bohan. He decides to flee the fortress rather than face the overwhelming odds against him. The Heavenly Sword is passed to his daughter, Nariko, whom he orders to run in the opposite direction, and keep the weapon safe. From here, the game twists and turns, and leads to an epic ending, well worth sticking around to see.
The first thing to know about this game is that it is incredibly cinematic, focussing on telling a story, rather than deep gameplay systems. For this reason, the game greatly appeals to me. It is, I think, one of the first major leaps towards bringing the story-telling of games into parity with films and novels. A key part of this is the brilliant pacing. From start to end, you never feel as if you are lacking in motivation. There is a problem with this to me though, and that is that it felt as if the gaming sections were far too short. Yes, there are a lot of them, but when most of them last no more than twenty minutes at a stretch, it brings to light how short the game is. But then, were it not moving at such a cracking pace, I would probably be complaining about how the long gaming segments dragged down the narrative.
The story is also rather standard epic fantasy fare, so don’t go expecting anything that you haven’t seen or read before. It adheres strongly to the boundaries of most fantasy, and if you are a fan, all the better. If fantasy isn’t really your forte, I doubt that this is the game for you.
Graphically, even now three years out from release, it looks quite wonderful. Behind the game is a series of picturesque backdrops, although the textures could have used a bit of work in most of them While these backgrounds are diverse and well detailed, the game really shines in the facial modelling. The characters look very realistic. It is in the faces that I found, and admired, a touch of anime flair. In most anime, the ‘good’ characters have wide eyes, while the villains usually have small or thin eyes, and this is represented in Heavenly Sword. A small touch that goes a long way towards differentiating the sides.
This remarkable character detail is backed up by fantastic facial animation in the cut scenes, and what is arguably the best lip-synching ever seen in a video game. This makes it very easy to view the characters as real people, and emote with them as a result. Similarly, the character animation is brilliant. Nariko’s movements are all very smooth, and with a large range of attacks, you get to see a lot of variation. Everything about the graphics of the game exudes a slickness and sheen that is rarely seen, but it is not without its fair share of problems.
It seems at times as if the engine is struggling to keep up with the actions on screen (although this is understandable as there are a couple of scenes in which there are literally thousands of enemies visible at the same time). This results in frame rate slowdowns, and screen tearing. It isn’t as common as it might be, but it is more than enough to take you out of the experience when you are trying to take out a wave of enemies. The curious thing that I found was that these problems occurred more commonly in cut scenes than during a controlled session. It’s a wonder.
The sound really lets the production down, although it seems to have been designed this way. I’ll get the good out of the way first. The voices of Shen, Nariko and King Bohan are all very well done, although I felt as if they were unbalanced leading to frequent volume changes. One of the best aspects of the game is the orchestral score. No matter where you are through the story, the score is always right beside you, keeping you in suspense, and truly immersing you in the events. The sound effects suffice, but are really nothing special, and this is only amplified by the default sound settings. The effects completely overpower everything else to great detriment. Thankfully it’s adjustable in the Options menu.
I felt that the scripting wasn’t as good as it might have been, particularly when everything is about the story. As a result of this, the characters all feel somewhat overblown. Of course, this matter isn’t helped by the voice work of Flying Fox, Whiptail, Roach and, to a lesser extent, Kai. They certainly could have eased back on the over-the-top nature of these voices. Yes, it helps to get the individuality of them across, but it all feels far too forced. This, to me, one of the biggest detriments to the game.
Another area that could have been improved is the combat, given that that is the essential part of the game. First, the controls. As always, the left stick controls character movement and speed, however the right stick is a combat roll for Nariko. It serves no real purpose in the game except to dodge out of the way of unblockable attacks, or to move quickly in order to launch an assault on a group of enemies a short distance away. Attacks are mapped to the Square and Triangle buttons, but there doesn’t seem to be one for a heavy or light attack. It merely offers a slight variation on the basic slash, although is a rather large selection of combos that you can form. More variation comes from the three separate forms of the Heavenly Sword. Holding down the L1 button switches you into Range Stance, which allows you to strike a large number of enemies at the same time. Similarly, the R1 button is the Power Stance. When using this, your attacks usually focus on a single enemy, dealing a large amount of damage. When not using either of these bumpers, you are in the Speed Stance. This forms a nice balance between the three, and makes them feel quite unique. Performing combos fills a bar in the upper left corner of the screen that allows you to unleash Superstyle moves. Each one has three levels, with each consecutive level doing greater splash damage. They are activated by pressing Circle when near an enemy. Finally, the back shoulder buttons are used to pan the camera in their respective directions. An altogether suitably useless use.
I personally found the controls to be lagging behind the button prompts slightly, resulting in me missing more than a few of the Quick-Time Events when I was sure that I had pressed the corresponding button in time. The lack of a jump button is ludicrous. No, there are no platforming elements in the game, which makes it superfluous, but it is always nice to have the option, and it is more than standard fare in the modern age of video games. Another omission that I lament is that of a block button. Blocking is performed automatically, provided that you are in the correct stance (this is determined by the colour of the aura that surrounds your adversary). What this means is that, if you are attacking, it is impossible to snap out of it and defend against an assault. It is infuriating to die as a result of something that could have been remedied by such a simple addition.
The fact that the game is pure action, bordering on a beat-’em-up title, really reduces the audience of the game, as there is the story, the combat mechanics and very little else. There are infrequent QTEs, usually reserved only for the boss battles, and the rare platforming segment. This is most certainly a missed opportunity. The game itself is relatively easy, including the boss battles. With all of these seemingly missing elements, it severely reduces the play time of the title.
A single play through can be completed in less than eight hours, and with no multiplayer, it certainly seems dire. Replay value is added by the icon system. This is in play in every subchapter and depends on your combo scores. The higher your combos go, the more the bar fills. Each subchapter has three icons. While this is little more than a scorecard, it unlocks goodies such as concept artwork, and making-of videos, which are actually rather interesting. Upon completion of the game, you unlock Hell Mode, which is your standard hard mode, and it is considerably harder. When you factor in the total length of the game itself, it drags down the score, regardless of the incentive to play back over it.
Heavenly Sword is missing something intangible. There is nothing wrong with the title whatsoever, but it feels as though it has a lot of potential. Maybe it is because we have been spoiled by more than three years of gameplay improvements since its release, or maybe it really is the fault of Ninja Theory. Whatever it is, the game is still fun, and still very much playable. Despite this, unless you can find it cheap, I would not advise a purchase. The exception to this is if you enjoy games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and Heavy Rain, which carry a strong story emphasis, for it in this vein that Heavenly Sword is. It is less for the gamers than it is for the movie goers. Don’t go in expecting anything overly deep, or particularly fantastic, and you should come out happy.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.