Heavenly Sword tells the story of Nariko, a fierce red-haired warrior whose clan has long protected the Heavenly Sword, a blade of immense power that drains its wielder of their life. A power-hungry ruler known as King Bohan is trying to obtain the sword to gain its devastating power, and after beginning the game the player is immediately thrust into the final battle with Bohan’s army. After slaying many of Bohan’s soldiers, Nariko can no longer fight. She falls to the ground and dies as the characters carved into the sword engrave themselves deeply into her skin. After dying, she wakes up and finds herself in an empty clearing, and then the rest of the story is told via flashbacks.
The most important element of any action game is the combat system. Heavenly Sword’s combat system is both fluid and easy to master. The player can chose from three stances: Range, Power, and Speed. Each stance works well against different enemies. The stances serve to break up the action so you’re not just button-mashing. In some cases the levels have hundreds of enemies on screen at one time with no slow-down, so there are plenty of targets to choose from.
Not only is the combat system easy to learn but it’s also fun to watch, in particular the Superstyle attacks. Superstyles are charged through a meter that increases whenever you kill enemies. Once the meter reaches a certain level, it allows you to unleash a devastating attack on your enemies. Some of the most brutal Superstyles include “The Whirling Passion” where Nariko kills a soldier then attaches him to chains and swings him in a circle around her. Another brutal Superstyle is “The Startled Lover”. For this move Nariko flips a soldier in the air and kicks him in the groin. Ouch.
In addition to Nariko, the game has a second playable character named Kai. Kai’s only method of attack is a bow-and-arrow. The twist here is that after the arrow is fired the action slows down, and you take control of the arrow in flight. Arrows are guided left, right, up, or down by tilting the controller. Guiding the arrows is difficult at first, but once you have the hang of it, it’s pretty simple. Overall, Kai’s levels do help break up the hack-and-slash action.
In addition to the combat, the game’s presentation is great. Heavenly Sword is helped by strong characters and voice acting that really bring the characters to life. Also, the cut-scenes are beautiful and really help tell the game’s story with movie-like quality. The game also features a lot of unlockable content: there are animated cut-scenes that tell the legend of the sword, character sketches, and a feature that details the making of the game. Overall, the story really draws you in with strong character performances and beautiful animation, even if it is a little predictable.
Although Heavenly Sword is an entertaining play, there are some drawbacks that make it a good game instead of a great one. For starters, the level design can be repetitive. Many times I felt like I was in an enclosed area with alot of soldiers surrounding me. Three levels that come to mind are the Forest, Bohan’s castle, and Bohan’s Arena.
This made the game drag in some parts. Furthermore, there’s very little strategy to the boss fights. Once you’ve figured out how to counter, the fights are a breeze. The boss fights also tend to drag because of the simplicity of the strategy involved and the number of hits it takes to finish them off. One instance that comes to mind is the battle with Roach. I also would have liked the ability to move the camera, but that’s somewhat excusable given that this game was a PS3 launch title.
As well as the drawbacks in level design and boss fights, Heavenly Sword is also extremely short, taking between six and eight hours of gameplay to finish. It’s short enough to finish in a weekend. After beating the game you’ll unlock “Hell Mode”. In “Hell Mode” the enemies are much smarter and do more damage, which is a nice change since most of the enemies in normal mode can be beaten with the same few moves. Between Hell Mode and the unlockable content, Heavenly Sword does have some replay value. However, it is limited.
Overall, Heavenly Sword is a fun but somewhat flawed game. The controls are simple enough for anyone to pick up and the animation of both the cut-scenes and gameplay is fluid and beautifully done. However, the repetitive boss fights and level design make the game monotonous at times. Still, the ease of gameplay, great animation and great presentation make Heavenly Sword worth at least one playthrough, even if it has been out for more than four years at the time of writing. Whether or not you play it multiple times depends on how much you enjoy “Hell Mode” and the unlockable content.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Heavenly Sword developed by Ninja Theory
- Controls are Easy to Pick Up
- Beautiful Gameplay Animations and Cut Scenes
- Great Acting and Storytelling
- Boss Fights Can be Repetitive
- Level Design Can Also be Repetitive
- Only Six to Eight Hours of Gameplay