Now Playing: Heavenly Sword

Heavenly SwordAt E3 2006 I was surprised by a game that came out of the blue and had interesting, exciting combat, a very cinematic style and a cool-looking character. On the show floor I played through the arena they showed twice, despite the lines and all the other things there were to see. It was Heavenly Sword, and it was the reason I finally broke down and bought a PS3.

I had a brief moment of doubt when the demo came out and I didn’t have as much fun as I did at E3… it seemed to be missing a sense of context, and the frame rate seemed worse. Nonetheless, since I had owned a PS3 for two months and still had no games, I bought it this weekend and cracked it out on Sunday.

I love it. Screw the people that gave it weak reviews. It’s got:

  • Dazzling visuals: The game is beautiful from the character to the carnage, and never really breaks the polish.
  • Great storytelling: Sure, it’s a beat-em-up, but the story is simple but compelling, and contains some awesome moments.
  • Incredible Audio: The voice acting is top-notch, and when I reached one of the bosses and heard her lilting pizzicato theme song, I realized that there was something really inspired going on.
  • HS_KaiMemorable characters: Like a cast from Metal Gear Solid, the villains are over-the-top and tinged with humor. And Kai one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve seen in a game.
  • Entertaining combat: The combat makes a button-masher look cool doing it, but also has some fine tactical decision-making. However, success does not hinge on memorization of crazy move strings… the actions and responses logically fit into the system of blocking and stances.
  • Mass destruction: Anyone that knows me understands how I love Dynasty Warriors and being able to take down thousands. Part of that is the mild strategic decision-making, but the rest is being able to wade into a huge group and mix it up. Heavenly Sword is all about mass carnage, and the ability to ultimately litter the battlefield with corpses.
  • “Aftertouch” ranged attacks: Holding the “throw” button after hurling or shooting an object allows you to steer it with the tilt axis, and it works surprisingly well (although it makes it hard as hell to have a cat on your lap as you play). It never gets old, and is a blast.

Six hours of gameplay you say? Well, I’ve never been one to shy away from a great experience because of play time.

It’s clear that Sony put a tremendous amount of money behind this game. Often such flagrant spectacle can be wasted, but all the production values and great voice acting took a very high-quality brawler and turned it into a fantastic package to own. I’m glad my PS3 is finally getting a workout.

5 thoughts on “Now Playing: Heavenly Sword”

  1. Yeah, this game has crazy-high production values and is simply beautiful. The character design, graphics, and animations are all top-notch and though a bit unorthodox (blocking), I enjoy the combat system. This game is so cinematic as well. I love how at the end of a chapter you get a brief cutscene from Nariko before it returns to the menu – these have a ton of character emotion in them and offer a really personal glimpse into her current state of mind while letting us see her fragile and vulnerable side. Yep, she isn’t just a killing machine. Very cool. My only real complaint is that I just wish it performed a bit better. Sub 30-FPS at times really hurts this game for me as I hate poor frame rate. I’ve been looking forward to this game for sooo long that I just wanted it to be perfect. I would have rather waited another month for a consistent 30+ FPS but overall I’m really enjoying this game too. Yep, Kai is awesome. What a cool character! 🙂

  2. I just got done last night. I really enjoyed the story all the way through, and even the end boss fight, which is often flubbed, was awesome.

    I did notice more of the stutter you mentioned in the final chapter, specifically in the cinematics, which seems strange (since you can usually control 100% of your factors in a cinematic) but nonetheless, my fondness for Heavenly Sword is defintely still high. I gotta finish Bioshock to make a determination as to which I enjoyed more this year.

    Those that would cry heresy to that comparison, I’m talking about sheer entertainment value, and how much fun I had. Oscars usually aren’t given to the most entertaining movie you saw in any year.

  3. “The combat makes a button-masher look cool doing it”

    I don’t see how this is a good thing. Heavenly Sword lets you LOOK like a god when you kill armies with little effort. In Ninja Gaiden every opponent is a threat. When it rains sword slashes and exploding shurikens from opponents and I roll away at the right split second, throw one of them in the air, hit him a couple of times and land with him on the remaining opponents I don’t only look like a god, I FEEL like one …which is better.

    I don’t think we even need to talk about the gameplay. The moment I read that the game is aiming for 30fps when every other decent comparable game (Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Onimusha, God of War) runs with 60, it was clear to me that Ninja Theory don’t really know their priorities and won’t be able to excel.

    • I don’t see how this is a good thing. Heavenly Sword lets you LOOK like a god when you kill armies with little effort.

    The benefit of Heavenly Sword is that it is easy to play and feel good, which makes you come back and learn the finer points and actually get good at the combat. In comparison Ninja Gaiden reveled in beating you in the head with a hammer until you learned each lesson… Consider it like Soul Calibur vs. say, Virtua Fighter. The former is entertaining up-front but Virtua Fighter makes you work to even <i>see</i> some of the cooler moves.

    …and of course what I haven’t stated here is “to each his own.” I know hardcore Gaiden fans who feel that you have to earn every single victory, and there are those that dont’ feel that a game should be so much work to have fun.

      I don’t think we even need to talk about the gameplay. The moment I read that the game is aiming for 30fps when every other decent comparable game (Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Onimusha, God of War) runs with 60, it was clear to me that Ninja Theory don’t really know their priorities and won’t be able to excel.

    Again, this is something of a religious issue again. Midway has some extremely experienced and talented hardcore arcade guys that believe that no game, from Mortal Kombat to Halo, should ever run under 60 fps. I had a friend that was a massive Tekken fan that shunned the incredible Soul Blade when it came out on the PS1 running at 30. I would contest that their “priorities” are in question when these sacrifices gave them battles against hundreds of foes without the fogging present in games like Dynasty Warriors, but again we’re talking about personal preference.

  4. Sorry, I don’t know how to properly quote here, so I will do it newsgroups-style:

    >The benefit of Heavenly Sword is that it is easy to play and feel
    >good, which makes you come back and learn the finer points and
    >actually get good at the combat. In comparison Ninja Gaiden reveled
    >in beating you in the head with a hammer until you learned each
    >lesson…

    Ninja Gaiden should really have something like a tutorial and I accept that some people like easier games and some people difficult games. But just like there should be a limit on one end of the spectrum and a designer shouldn’t make an unfair game where the player dies no matter what he does, the designer shouldn’t make a trivial game where the player wins no matter what he does. Allowing button-mashing makes the game trivial. Noone would accept a first person shooter where you aimlessly shoot in a general direction and get through the game. Or a chess game where you are just pushing pieces forward and some good will come out of it.

    >Consider it like Soul Calibur vs. say, Virtua Fighter

    I do. A friend has brought a magazine DVD from Japan and I saw a guy beating Soul Calibur on the highest difficulty setting in 10 mins using the Dreamcast fishing controller and without using the stick. I don’t consider Soul Calibur being even close to Virtua Fighter.

    >Midway has some extremely experienced and talented hardcore
    >arcade guys that believe that no game, from Mortal Kombat to
    >Halo, should ever run under 60 fps

    They should all get promoted. Then I could have fun with games like Strangehold instead of getting a headeache because the game can’t keep 30fps half of the time. There is a good game hidden in there but it needs another half a year of polishing.

    >I would contest that their “priorities” are in question when
    >these sacrifices gave them battles against hundreds of foes
    >without the fogging present in games like Dynasty Warriors, but
    >again we’re talking about personal preference.

    I don’t think so. This is one of the rare occurrences when you have a metric for the quality of the game.

    1. 60fps is as of now the standard in melee fighting games (thank God). If the game can’t even keep up with 30 all of the time, it’s not only sub-standard, it’s really bad compared to other games. And you can’t have a feature rating bad in a AAA-title.

    2. We are talking about an additional feature that affects only a fraction of the game (battles against hundreds of foes) vs getting the absolute basics right. Lower framerates make it more difficult to discern the attack of the opponent so you can react accordingly. I would say that it is always better to first get the basics right.

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