Category: Action Games
Developer – Ninja Theory
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
HDD Space Required: 2100 MB
Supported HD Output: 720p
Sony’s press conference at E3 in 2006 was relatively uneventful, and somewhat long. But during the two hours plus I sat there a few games did manage to catch my eye, and one of them was Heavenly Sword, a first party title developed by Ninja Sword. Since the unveiling I have been following the game closely. During its development cycle the game has gone through some graphical upgrades and it really started to look good. Well the wait is finally over and Heavenly Sword is finally on the shelves. After some playtime with the game I would have to say that the game delivers some great graphics and good gameplay, but not for nearly as long as I hoped.
The visuals in Heavenly Sword are quite impressive. The graphics engine that Ninja Theory employed does a great job of showing what the game can do. There is very little in terms of annoyances when watching the on-screen action, even when there seems to be an endless number of enemies to fight. The game runs at a pretty smooth framerate only stuttering once in a while when things get really crazy. But this was far and few between and really does not affect the enjoyment of the game. One thing that I really did notice was that the main character, Nariko, really does stand out as her movement is smooth and graceful. Her actions are very well animated and they just seem to flow from one attack to another. This in itself quite impressive given that there are differing stances and forms of attacks you can take, and how you can alter them in mid attack.
The story is told through some very nice presentation, allowing each character to have some sort of life to them. While you watch the story unfold, during the non-gameplay sections, you will notice the characters facial animations and expressions really bring the story to life. This is something that I really appreciated during my time with the game as there were no cutting corners in this department. Ninja Theory could have opted out in a cheap way by just providing some generic cut-scenes, but they really did put in the effort to bring the characters to life and there is no doubt that anyone who watches will appreciate the effort put forth in the story telling scenes.
The environments are just as impressive as the rest of the game as well. If anything you may find yourself looking twice at the areas your battles take place. They are solid looking with great use of colors for a very definitive atmospheric look to them. I have to say that Ninja Theory really put some love and care into the level design and once you find yourself having the time to take a close look during battle there is no doubt a smile will come onto your face. Overall the whole visual package is very solid and it shouldn’t disappoint any PS3 owners out there.
The sound is a solid compliment to the great graphics that are found in Heavenly Sword. Everything from the music to the sound effects to the voice acting has some great production value to it. Something that really struck me during my gameplay experience was the voice acting. The characters voices seemed to match their on-screen persona perfectly. An added plus is that if one goes into the menus you will see that there is a choice of five different languages. Of course I chose the English language and the voice actors they utilized for my listening enjoyment was very well done.
The music in Heavenly Sword matches the atmosphere of the game. It is somewhat instrumental and has a very cultural sound to it that really sets the mood for the time period and environments that you do battle in. And the rest of the audio package blends in for some sweet sounds too. From the sound of the legendary Heavenly Sword striking its target to the sound of enemies running straight toward Nariko, everything makes for a pleasing aural experience.
Many people have been comparing this game to Sony’s stellar series God of War. And in many ways I can see why as the game has some great attributes that are somewhat similar including a pretty neat story and some great sword play to match. The story of Heavenly Sword has our main hero, Nariko, seemingly meeting her death at the start of the game. With this being the case the game’s plot is told via flashbacks. I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, but what I will tell you is that Nariko eventually dawns the Heavenly Sword in an effort to defend the people that protect it, as well as to protect the sword itself from falling into the wrong hands. This sword is not only an incredibly dangerous weapon as it provides the user with incredible power, but the cost for using it the user’s own life. Can you see where this is going? The story is told by some very great cut-scenes that really take advantage of the in-game graphics engine. But there is no need to repeat what I already spoke about in the graphics section of this review, just note that the story really plays out well in front of you and you will enjoy watching the presentation of such.
Control of Nariko is pretty easy, but yet there is enough depth that one can learn more and more moves as the game progresses. The basics of control have you focusing on three different types of attacks that Nariko can use depending on her stance. Speed attacks are performed by pressing the square or triangle button. Ranged attacks are performed by pressing and holding the L1 button and then pressing the square or triangle button. Finally power attacks are done by holding and pressing R1 button and then pressing the square or triangle button. Interestingly enough you can string attacks together (e.g. switching from one stance to another in mid-attack) to really open a can of whoop-ass on any given enemy.
Positioning Nariko is the key when fighting the hordes of enemies on-screen. Enemies are only vulnerable to specific types of attack styles, while others can only be attacked after you successfully block or counter their initial attack. Ninja Theory made it easy to discern what to do by making the bad guys who are attacking you flash a particular color that indicates what kind of attack is coming. For example, if any given enemy is about to attack you using a standard attack (blue aura flashes around enemy) you have to block using the speed stance or by the long sword. When an enemy attacks you using a powerful attack (orange aura flashes around enemy) you can only block with the power stance. There are unblockable attacks that the enemy will utilize more then once too (red aura surrounds enemy) and you can only evade these and then counter with your own move. Overall I found that having these visual cues (colored auras) was very beneficial, especially when the screen was filled with never ending enemies. It made the enemy fights somewhat well paced and even.
Heavenly Sword really emphasizes the use of combo attacks not only because they are efficient, but also because they allow you to open up even more combos later in the game. There is an on-screen meter that is divided up into three sections. This meter is known as a glyph meter and you are awarded a glyph when a certain number of style points are awarded to you based on how well you play (e.g. consecutive hits, activating superstyle attacks or using projectile weapons). Each glyph that you are awarded unlocks an item or locked content such as new combos, new superstyle attacks and even special features that are accessible from the main menu. This really does encourage you to link up your attacks, as well as show style, as you are able to open up even more deadlier combos that can help make you a better fighting machine.
I was somewhat surprised during my gameplay in two areas. The first was that there were door opening puzzles and scripted events where you have to quickly press a button that appears on-screen. These are somewhat paramount as you have to get the right button presses to continue on. The second thing that really surprised me was the inclusion of a second playable character. Either I wasn’t paying attention if it was announced, or it was added and I didn’t realize it till I actually played the game. Kai is a character in the game who doesn’t have any real fighting skills, but what she brings to the table is her use of her crossbow. There are some stages where you do get in the middle of the action, but here you only are able to shake of your attackers and then shoot them with the crossbow. This was somewhat awkward as going back and forth between cameras (running and then aiming) could be disorienting. But these actual times in the trenches with Kai are not many and most of your time with her is spent shooting baddies. Here Ninja Theory utilizes the Sixaxis’ motion sensing abilities. By holding down the fire button you control her arrows in mid-flight, and in slow motion, by tilting the Sixaxis left, right, up and down. This is very similar to a few levels where you Nariko uses a cannon or rocket launcher and you can control those projectiles in the same manner. The Sixaxis motion control for these levels is pretty impressive and somewhat responsive. There is nothing better then the satisfaction you get of actually controlling one of Kai’s arrows through the air only to hit your target head on (editors note – pun intended).
Along with most of the positive praise for Heavenly Sword comes two areas it really did disappoint: length of play and lack of multiplayer. The first point, length of play, is very disappointing. This game will take anyone around 6-8 hours depending on gaming skill. This took me by surprise as the game has been hyped as a potential system seller. If you are going to put so much emphasis into a game, then give the game some sort of legs. The short time is one thing, but there is really no incentive to play again. As much as I enjoy special or bonus content, I don’t see myself playing through again just to try to be more stylish and open up the bonus content I missed. The second point, lack of multiplayer, is an area I think that this game could have benefited. And when I say multiplayer I do not mean a versus component, but a co-op one instead. Knowing that there are two playable characters, I would have liked to have played with a friend, be it online or in split screen. To have the ability to hook up with another friend, who could take on the role of Kai, would have been awesome. I don’t know if the developers didn’t have the time or if the game would have taken a different visual look given with how the game looks in single player but the omission of this feature does hurt the game a little bit.
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