Heavenly Sword

by Tracy Whitelaw
author awarded score: 90/100

Heavenly Sword Review
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Sony
Format Reviewed: PS3
Reviewed By: Tracy Whitelaw

Heavenly Sword is one of those rare games that come along that has not only female playable characters, but in fact can boast that the main characters are female. It all sounds too good to be true doesn’t it – well let’s have a look and see if Heavenly Sword can live up to expectations?

Nariko and the Waterfalls in Heavenly Sword

After the initial game install, which took an age, you’re greeted by a quick playable level that throws you right into the thick of it, this is followed by one of the most beautiful introductions you’re ever likely to see on this generation of hardware. The detailing of the intro and cut scenes throughout this title are truly something to be gawked at, the entire game seems to have a high production value glow about it. Visually speaking Heavenly Sword is a masterpiece, as mentioned the cut scenes are breathtaking, right down to the pores in the skin and the glint in an eye. In game the graphics are just as stunning, with lush environments, beautiful backgrounds and nicely detailed enemies aplenty. There are also some really great touches, such as the comic book style screen splitting when an enemy is speaking to you, or the slow motion attacks and bone crunching power attacks. The only downside to this is the occasional slowdown the title suffers from when there’s a lot happening, though this was occasional. The cast of this title also need a mention, but we’ll do that in the audio section which is handily up next.

As with the visuals the audio in Heavenly Sword is nigh on superlative. The voice acting is definitely some of the best done, with Nariko in particular sounding like a true gaming heroine - stylish, brooding, it’s all there (as voiced by Anna Torv - an Aussie!). Andy Serkis (famous as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) voices the villain of the piece King Bohan—easily one of the best video game villains ever. In fact, all of the characters were outstanding in both audio delivery as well as characterisation. The writers of the game have delivered an amazing background story that is acted superbly throughout. As for sound effects, there’s plenty of sword swooshing and bones crunching and it’s all done in a way that adds to the games atmosphere overall, the same applies to the music, which is also really cool. It’s actually all so perfect, it’s difficult to put into words.

Heavenly Sword and Nariko

The gameplay in Heavenly Sword is essentially a slash ‘em up title with Nariko—the main character, wielding her sword and other weapons as she hacks up lots of bad guys. Controls are fairly tight within the main fighting levels, only let down ever so slightly by the implementation of the SixAxis for targeting - though this is a very cool feature and you can see what the developers have tried to do, it just takes time to get used to. That’s not to say the SixAxis implementation ruined the game by any means - the breaks when using the crossbow or other ranged attacks did help to break up the hack and slash monotony a little. There are a few ‘puzzle’ sections in Heavenly Sword, though to call them ‘puzzles’ is a little misleading since they’re all so simple as to really be minor stoppages along the way - they usually involve hurling hats at gongs. As far as combat goes, there is quite a bit of depth in it with combos and special attacks, all working really well and utilizing the main face buttons and shoulder buttons for specials.

The use of the SixAxis in certain parts of the game is fairly difficult to get to grips with, the trick here is slow and gently wins the race. There is no point in lurching the controller this way and that, it’s all about being slow and easy. The fact only a few sections of the game utilise this feature is a good thing, it’s not overcooked so doesn’t feel like a gimmick. This aside what the developers have tried to do by integrating it in the way they have is extremely clever and does break up the hack and slash mentality of the rest of the game.

Nariko and Kai talking

Every once in a while a female gaming hero comes along that stands out as being something special, be it the overall charisma of the character, the look and voice or the story. Nariko in Heavenly Sword is one such hero. With her Eurasian good looks and her svelte Lara Croft slightly accented voice, she just oozes the cool factor. Of course there has to be a negative and there is and it comes in the form of the battle dress worn by Nariko. Sadly she falls into the ‘mostly naked even though I’m a warrior and armor would be a good idea’ format. Even though this seems silly, you’ll love the crimson haired beauty for her overall style and finesse. As well as the main character of Nariko, you’ll also play as Kai, another female character—yes that’s two playable female characters! Kai does the long distance attacking by way of her bow, though in all honesty, these sections harbor some of the most difficult sections of the game due to them utilizing the SixAxis for after touch aiming as mentioned. As characters go though, Heavenly Sword is a female gamers dream, not one, but two playable characters, one of which is truly something special. Had enough, well, there’s actually more, this time in the form of one of the villains, a half snake / half bitch named Whiptail. As with all of the characters in Heavenly Sword Whiptail is amazing, she’s bitchy, sexy and darn right evil, you’ll love her.

As a female gamer this title is amazing, though that isn’t to say guy gamers will love it any less. It was great to play a game however with a female lead and even a mad female sidekick. Graphically Heavenly Sword is a beautiful title, environments are stunning, voice acting to an amazingly high standard and cinematic cut scenes to rival any full length animated feature. Where Heavenly Sword fails however is in the length of play (around 7 hours). Although the play length was plenty to finish the story, it just felt a little flat for the overall price. However if you want great production values, then some may say the short play length is neither here nor there (given Halo 3 on Xbox 360 could be played through in around the same amount of time for example). Overall Heavenly Sword was a joy to play and a joy to watch, if you have a PS3, go get it, this is finally a PS3 title that shows what the console is capable of.