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Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3) artwork

Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3) review


"Often, the most powerful sacrifices are made by one, but benefit many. "



Often, the most powerful sacrifices are made by one, but benefit many.

Itís an old axiom Heavenly Sword demonstrates within its first five minutes. The main character Nariko stands alone on a battlefield, soldiers attack relentlessly but she destroys each one with ease. The battle heightens, as more soldiers fall to her unyielding blade, Nariko halts, crippled by an unseen force, then falls to the ground--dead--runes burning their way across her flesh.

Heavenly Sword kills your main character--all as a starting point.

Then the game draws back to the days leading up to this event, introducing the young woman you just went to war with; the woman you just watched die.

There you realize death may have been freedom for Nariko. From information played out in detailed cut-scenes you learn sheís been struggling since her first living day. Quite possibly, even before that. Her birth was foretold, and marked as the coming of a God, one who would free the people and usher in an era of great peace. The moment Narikoís father, Shen, and his clan lay eyes on her, all hope was lost. They saw her not as a savior, but an abomination. Simply because she was a girl.

A girl who grew into a noble, powerful warrior in an unforgiving world. Her father remains ashamed of her despite her skills, her clan continues to ridicule her and a vile, sadistic King named Bohan is driving them from their homes and into their graves. All to claim the Heavenly Sword--a weapon of immense power, yet so destructive Narikoís clan has spent generations protecting it, but never using it.

One night, prompted by an overwhelming attack, desperation turns Shen to his estranged daughter as a last resort, pleading with her to take the sword and escape with it, while he draws Bohanís army away. Shen and Nariko both hold to their vows, but Shenís sacrifice inevitably brings about his capture, one that leads to an intense and dramatic showdown between Bohan and Nariko.

And in that moment, Nariko--as she puts it--chooses to save her Fatherís life by betraying everything he lived for.

She removes the Heavenly Sword from her back, knowing full well that its power is too great for her; that using it will eventually drain away her very soul. Nariko forfeits her own life for another without even a tremble.

It was brilliant, inspiring, and Heavenly Sword had just begun. Immediately I felt drawn to Nariko, and felt for her. Like with Kratos plunging himself off a cliff and speaking of madness to open God Of War I was enthralled, and obsessed. How did Nariko end up here? What would be her ultimate fate? Would she die there where I saw her, or would she fight on?

To find the answers, I fought on, one soldier at a time, using the amazing Heavenly Sword to bury them all.

Typically action games use different weapons to provide diversity. Not so with Heavenly Sword. The legendary blade serves as your one and only weapon through out the course of the game, but thatís not to say itís lacking in variety. Instead of giving you a different arsenal, you use different stances, where the blade changes depending on which one youíre in. Your default is known as the Speed stance. It has quick movements that do medium damage, and are typically the most stylistic. Nariko splits the sword into two shorter daggers, using them ambidextrously as she whirls about, leaping into the air and holding her arms out, spinning like a twister to lacerate any enemy within striking distance. She cris-crosses her arms with blinding speed to dice an enemyís torso, then ends the attack with a back flip and kick to their chin.

Itís good for taking down the more agile soldiers, but quite often you run into brutish, shield carrying soldiers that Speed stance canít get past. Thatís where the Power stance comes into play. By holding R1, Nariko puts the two daggers together to make the Swordís true form--a two-bladed/one piece weapon thatís almost as tall as she. The fire-haired warrior has a hard enough time carrying it, and wields it by force rather than with grace but once you hit a blocking opponent with it, he sprawls his arms out, leaving him open for the killing blow--one that usually consists of her raising the blade high above her head, and letting its own weight crash down on her opposition. Given the way she moves with it, I bet itís a lot.

On the other end of the spectrum, is Nariko Range Stance--the closest she gets to projectiles. By pressing L1, she breaks the Sword into two pieces again, and whirls them about by a chain built in to the end of the handle. Pressing the square or triangle instantly prompts her to let loose, turning herself into a human blender, manipulating the blades several feet from her body and creating an aura of sharpened metal so chaotic that not even an arrow can slip through.

With each combo and kill, a disc inside of Narikoís health bar will begin to fill up. When it reaches a certain point, one of three gray circles will turn red, allowing Nariko to perform a Superstyle move--a single, devastating attack that adds to an already vast array of visually stunning moves.

A Speed Superstyle shows Nariko flipping over the soldier, driving one blade then two through his back and out his chest. She then lifts him up using the daggers and flings him off across the battlefield.

On a Range attack, Nariko throws the soldier into the air, and then follows him up. In one deft move she spins him upside-down, plants her foot between his legs and drives him head first into the ground.

Itís both exciting and painful to watch, making the already vibrant action stand out even more.

But no matter how great they look, or how many weapons they provide, action games often suffer the same plague: Redundancy. I can only swing a sword for so long--a couple of hours--before it all starts to meld together. I could play Heavenly Sword for days and never have that problem. Because rather than placing you in battle after sterile battle, it switches constantly between swordplay and other exciting quests. One level has Nariko controlling a cannon, blasting catapults into splinters, and bombarding an army racing across the battlefield, in attempt to rack up a seven-hundred body count. Several others have you take on the role of Narikoís charming, crazy counter-part, Kai. Instead of a blade, Kai carries a wicked semi-automatic crossbow. Sometimes sheís perched on a tree or tower sniping guards, others sheís racing around a circular room, out-running soldiers to get a shot off.

And all of these--the arrows or the cannonballs--employ use of the Sixaxis controller. You could fire normally using the square button, but if you hold it down, the camera locks onto the projectile and allows you to follow it in slow motion. Twisting or turning the controller will move the arrow/cannonball in the same direction youíre turning. Even if youíre way off with your initial shot, you can guide the missile to its intended target. It takes a little getting used to, but itís by far the most involved and intuitive things Iíve done ever in a game. The cannonballs are destructive joy, and Kaiís levels energetic and remarkable; for both the fast-paced, unique design and her playful, endearing nature.

Sheís not all together there upstairs, and has a short attention span, but sheís oddly adorable and enchanting in a mischievous way. Yet Kai is only one of several characters that make the story come to life. Nariko is bold, stoic and emotes every word she speaks with a quiet, solemn resolve. Though sheís a bit superficial to start, you watch her mature and steer away from her earlier motives to supplement only her needs, and on to ones that will benefit her people. Bohan--voiced and loosely modeled after Andy Serkis (known best for his role as Gollum/Smeagol)--is one villain I couldnít help but like. Heís dark, and sinister, but he has a morbid sense of humor, and the beautiful graphics portray his defining facial expressions flawlessly. Heís evil, he taunts you at every turn, but heís such a sociopath that you almost start to feel bad for him.

All these aspects mesh together to make Heavenly Sword more than just an action game--they make it unforgettable. It has a story that draws you in, drags you through every emotion possible, and keeps you glued until itís all over. Itís matched with unrelenting and innovative action that will leave you anxious and in awe. It would be tough for me to make a choice on which I liked more--the moving story, or the brilliant battles. Iím not sure whether I prefer the somberness or the rage. I loved Heavenly Sword for making me feel both. Perhaps, Iíll simply cry when Iím done killing.

Rating: 10/10

True's avatar
Community review by True (July 15, 2009)

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