gmhawk's Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3) review

WORTHY OF MORE RESPECT

Heavenly Sword is a beautifully done interactive movie, and the gameplay is more than solid, but it's over far too quickly. It feels as if Ninja Theory focused on presentation and experimentation much more than content, but the result comes across as a very solid first try at developing for the PS3.

Much has been said--more like overtly chastised--about the SixAxis being implemented in games. The best games (Uncharted, Ratchet and Clank, etc.) use the motion controls as limited additional immersion methods and the worst games (Lair, etc.) depend on them far too much. Heavenly Sword is somewhere in between and the risk pays off with rewarding gameplay that only occasionally gets frustrating. The Sixaxis is mainly used for something called "aftertouch" or the ability to aim arrows, cannons, and throwing objects after firing them. As has been pointed out time and again elsewhere, the SixAxis motion controls don't feel nearly as tight or natural as the Wii remote, but after some experimentation, Heavenly Sword uses it about as well as any game so far. For example, when firing cannons you have the ability to guide the cannonball to the target by tilting the controller at various angles. At first this is somewhat frustrating because you find yourself overcompensating quite a bit, but after a fairly steep learning curve you really come to appreciate the ability. Aftertouch is especially important while playing as Kai because her almost total lack of fighting ability forces her to rely on shooting arrows for survival which makes accuracy critical. Another gameplay innovation is the focus on stances when fighting as Nariko. Combos and defense are all dependent upon selecting one of three stances: speed, power, and range. Also, stances and combos (as well as defensive abilities) are all unlocked as you progress through the game which helps keep the gameplay engaging and interesting. The demo felt like a bit of a button-masher to me, but the full game has very tight controls with dozens of combo selections to experiment with as you progress through the game. All of the above are well done and the variety of elements really help keep things interesting throughtout the game.

The main protagonist is Nariko: a kind of tribal princess whose birth is thought to have ruined a prophecy and doomed her people. She is the best female protagonist in recent video game memory and comes across as being a valiant, selfless hero even while her own people look down upon her as a omen of doom. It helps her cause that she pulls off some wicked combos, especially as the game progresses. The story revolves around Nariko's father, his need to protect the Heavenly Sword from all who desire it, evil Bohan's desire to possess it, and Nariko's resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect her people. Bohan, and all the antagonists, are interesting characters who make for great boss fights, but are a bit over-the-top in their dialogue and fighting talents. Kai is a very interesting and strange character that adds great value to the overall story and to the gameplay sense she plays so differently than Nariko. Nariko's relationship with her father is especiall interesting and adds spice to the story. The game is very much influenced by Japanese fantasy in much the same way as the Metal Gear Solid series, but the characters aren't quite as interesting or engaging as are those in Kojima's masterpiece series.
Even more than the aforementioned gameplay innovations, the strength of the game is it's presentation: both visual and aural. This is one of the, if not the best looking PS3 game yet, and the music and sound effects are simply outstanding. The musical score in particular is one of the best I've experienced; it's close to being on par with God of War in that regard. In my opinion, the main theme captures the mood of the game almost perfectly, and the sound effects make the gameplay very satisfying and engaging.

All of the above makes for an engrossing experience that will take between 6-8 hours the first time around, but with many unlockables to achieve many fans of the action/adventure genre will find themselves playing through this again. This is a perfect rainy weekend rental for most, and a solid purchase for some. While not quite a must-play, this is one that every PS3 owner should strongly consider picking up at the rental store.

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