Heavenly Sword is quite possibly a gift from Sony to anyone who owns a PlayStation 3 console. It is not what Heavenly Sword is that makes it spectacular, but what it dares to do in the video game industry that makes it remarkable and unique. Never have there been such life-like characters in any game–characters which instill a sense of care from the player through the stories in each of the character’s eyes whether antagonist or protagonist. The presentation is completely remarkable, with support from full motion capture performances and beautiful voice acting. Characters display a very wide amount of emotion, unparalleled to any game. Being the first game to use full dynamic motion capture, Heavenly Sword captivates the players in a cinematic experience that details the best journey ever embarked on.
“It’s just God of War with a chick, right?” is something we’ve all heard time and time again from many people who fail to assess the value of a game properly, and constantly try to paste past remnants onto future games that transcend the barriers of anything ever seen. Ninja Theory, the developers of Kung Fu Chaos, genuinely wows audiences with their second creation, Heavenly Sword. Heavenly Sword’s ideas were in development long before God of War saw the horizon. In a time when many developers are creating sequels to their established franchises, Ninja Theory is doing something daring and new. The game is a story of revenge and redemption centering on Nariko, our main heroine. Born into a clan who had been guarding the Heavenly Sword for generations and expecting a god to be born to reclaim the sword, Nariko brought disappointment on those who saw otherwise. The clan was now more fractured than ever, and this is the perfect time for King Bohan to attain ultimate dominance.
As the King persecutes the tribe, Nariko becomes the scapegoat for the scarring woes thrown upon the backs of the tribe. In a moment of desperation, she decides to take charge and use the Heavenly Sword to destroy King Bohan and his army, but ends up dead—bewildered by the magnificence of the sword’s power. Different from the common misconception that she is a female version of Kratos, Nariko does not wreak havoc on Gods. She’s not taking any alliances and or trying to conquer Greece.
Anyone who is fooled into thinking this is God of War type game is either seriously dazed in his or her reasoning, or just hasn’t given this game a proper evaluation. Assuredly, as they read on, they will see the heavenly sword is a tough weapon to yield—even for Kratos. Thankfully for players, Ninja Theory realizes that games should immerse the players in an interactive and cinematic experience, rather than just seating them next to the swords handle all to watch droning cut scenes. The game not only immerses you in its realistic and unbelievable cut scenes, but also makes you feel like you’re a part of them. With such beautiful cut-scenes, the enrapturing gameplay will make players drool.
One of the game’s principal potency is the combat system, which is beautifully crafted. If you’re expecting a button mashing game, you will be disappointed. The combat system makes sure players have one hell of a time fighting enemies by a three-stance system, which adds some variety to the repetitive hack-and-slash genre. The three stances are Strength, Speed and Range. The speed stance is the default stance throughout the game, and is also the most complex. The strength stance takes advantage of a more powerful weapon to deliver heavy hits at the expense of speed—but it really teaches enemies a lesson. The ranged stance allows you to hit enemies from a distance and will knock them back to keep them a few feet away, but is the weakest stance in terms of raw power and speed. With the three stance combat system, the need to use face controls is completely eliminated. Holding L1 puts you in the ranged stance, holding R1 will trigger the power stance, using neither utilizes the speed stance, which Nariko is in by default.
Unlike most fighters, the combat is more gratifying. The battle technicalities don’t make use of a block button. Nariko will attempt to automatically block attacks, but you need to match the incoming attack stance of the enemy with the proper stance in order to properly block it. Luckily, enemies glow a certain color just before their attack to clue you in as to which stance to take.
The A.I. is very intelligent in this game and truly unique in its own respect. The enemies recognize your stances and adapt to it, forcing you to come up with something new to defeat them. Lastly, an important move to note is the ‘counter-attack’ and ‘cross fusion’. With the former, when timed right, an impressive animation will begin which shows Nariko really teach the enemy a lesson by brutal bone fractures. In displaying a cross fusion, the most intricate fighting system to date, you can mix stances in between moves. So, if you’re coming at an enemy with a blow to the groin, you can implement speed to grind the sword around that area. In addition to this nice transition is the interconnection with the environment, especially the enemies’ bodies, allowing you to pick up and throw your foes corpses at incoming opponents.
Graphically, Heavenly Sword is glorious. The details through the entire game are made possible by an unimpeachable performance by the cast, which makes Heavenly Sword the first game in history to use full motion capturing. Andy Serkis does an amazing job as the Dramatic Producer, and Anna Torv as Nariko gives a similarly eye-catching performance. Giving the perfect performance as giddy girl who loves to be crazy, Lydia Baksh gives the Kai sequences a comedic touch to Heavenly Sword—for people not too much into a hardcore dark story with a plot surrounding solely upon death and domination.
The boss battles are spectacular. Even though they have a series of pattern recognition type attacks, where you attempt to figure out their weakness and then attempt to win strategically, the environments and fighting styles present realistic displays. The tactics are unique to use—and constantly using triangle doesn’t help you, something that many players in earlier builds thought they could get away with. The bosses are amped up and so are the enemies—so don’t think triangle is your only sole source of support anymore.
Aside from the flawless visuals, character detail and dramatic performance, is the life-like audio. With every fighting move Nariko delivers, anyone with an adept skill at picking up nuances in sound can detect the reaction from the music. If she smashes the enemy’s body, a huge drum is heard that adapts. If she flings the body to various other enemies, the music dramatically picks up in pace for a short while and soon rescinds to a calm flow of travel. The sounds are crystal clear, the effects are sharp and precise, and everything is spot on.
Heavenly Sword contains a myriad of unlockables, including behind-the-scenes DVD style featurettes, character art, almost every trailer, and specific area focuses such as animation and other such aspects. You can earn many tokens by points you get for a chapter’s battle, and you can go back to any sub-chapter to strive for a higher point count to utilize for unlockables. Most of all the bonus content is superb, but some can be downloaded online—not all of it. From all of this, the replay value skyrockets.
The only real problem is that you only fight the same soldier types for most of the game, with the exception of the incredible bosses. The soldiers range from basic to greatly armored to bow casters and ninja’s. At certain spots, there are different types of enemies, but the actual amalgamation of the enemy variety lacks. Despite this, Ninja Theory aimed for processing power and not so much as diverse character models. So, this slight lack of enemy variety isn’t exactly deal breaker.
Heavenly Sword really allows the players to focus in on the story and battle system realistically and immersively. Over a total of 2,700 animations for the enemy AI alone, Heavenly Sword is enough to get players to use more than just one stance throughout the entire game, and really make players experience the visuals on a transcendent level. With more than 7,000 animations, the game becomes life-like through the first usage of Dynamic Parallax mapping. All of these features, balanced perfectly, stray this game far from the apparently believable grasps of heavenly and into something unbelievable and unexpected.