One of the first PlayStation 3 titles I heard about after the console’s initial launch, Heavenly Sword has the look of a promising and entertaining adventure. A glance at its cover features the main character, Nariko, in an intimidating pose. The text on the back of the box describes what players are in for when they start their new adventure. Indeed, Heavenly Sword looks like it would be a “heavenly” title to get into no matter what type of gamer you are. I really enjoyed my journey with Nariko…until I got to a certain point in the journey that made me disregard all of that great stuff Heavenly Sword offers. To me, there is something tragic when a game with so much promise ends up falling due to a singular incident. That is what happened with Heavenly Sword.
Heavenly Sword opens with a bang. The leading lady Nariko is fighting thousands of enemy soldiers under the command of the evil King Bohan. The battle ends prematurely as Nariko struggles to stand on her feet; her life appearing to drain from her body. We get to learn what truly happened five days earlier to Nariko and her comrades. A member of a warrior tribe, Nariko and her clan have been on the run from King Bohan’s forces. After defending their fortress from another onslaught, Nariko’s father Shen entrusts her with the Heavenly Sword. Legends say that the sword has unspeakable power, but the wielder’s life will be drained from it the more it gets used. Similar to Shinobi’s Hotsuma who wielded the cursed blade Akujiki, Nariko’s burden is a heavy one. Heavenly Sword’s story is more than one about good versus evil. Because Nariko is a woman, her clan despises her. Her father acts more of a sword instructor than a parent. The only friend in Nariko’s corner is a young girl named Kai, who has an odd way of speaking and a past just as twisted as Nariko’s. Heavenly Sword’s world is not a pleasant place, but it draws you in and makes you want to see more of it. You will be rooting for Nariko from the moment the game begins. As a warrior woman, her character is a mixture of strength and vulnerability. Her struggle is all too familiar because of her gender; something that still happens in the world today.
Despite the world’s grim tone, Heavenly Sword is a gorgeous game. This is a title that can truly show what the PlayStation 3 can do. Nariko’s journey spans mountains, barren fields and decrepit prisons. At every turn, she is fighting enemies with style and without any of her long, red hair falling out of place. The music is just as epic. An orchestrated masterpiece that will get your blood pumping, Heavenly Sword’s music sets the mood for the game with equal parts drama, tragedy and adventure. The cast of the game is voiced by credible actors and actresses. The well written script is executed flawlessly by each person. I have zero complaints about the game’s presentation.
Most of the time, you are in control of Nariko as you relive the past five days that brought her the unfavorable destiny of wielding the Heavenly Sword. Combat is always exciting and easy to pick up and play. Nariko is an agile warrior that can dodge, maneuver, block and counterattack. Her titular weapon is able to shift in speed and power depending on what sort of stance Nariko enters. The square and triangle buttons are used together to create combos that combine sword slashes, kicks, and strangle holds. It’s clear that Nariko is a seasoned warrior. Sometimes, you can throw barrels or boxes at an enemy. There are other times when Kai will be your lead character and you have to participate in a stealth mission or a sniping mission. These distractions are a clever way to take a break from the frantic combat.
And then there will be times you have to aim some sort of projectile device in order to proceed. During these times, all thoughts of the game’s positive attributes will be thrown out the window. I look back at this particular incident with such disdain that it’s enough to make me not recommend Heavenly Sword. Nariko is tasked with manning a cannon in order to stop three catapults from reaching their fort within three and a half minutes. This cannon is hard to aim and needs to hit specific weak spots on the aforementioned catapults. There is no way to trace the trajectory without trial and error. Pressing and holding the fire button will let you use the SIXAXIS and manually control projectiles, but doing so is sensitive and requires precise input since the weak spots on the catapults are about the same size as the cannonballs. If (and when) the timer runs out, you will have to deal with long loading times to get back to that point and start over. Does any of this sound fun? Of course not, so I question why Ninja Theory decided to implement such a gimmicky incident like this one into an otherwise fun game. It’s enough to make me bring down Heavenly Sword’s score and enough to avoid recommending it. These “projectile” moments don’t happen often, but when they do, Heavenly Sword goes from fun to frustrating.
Nariko’s adventure is a short one that lasts less than ten hours. Each stage has the potential for you to find medals that can be used to unlock concept art, behind the scenes videos, animated movies and more. The real question is whether or not you’ll want to endure the sequences in which you move from intense and slick sword combat to tedious and aggravating projectile warfare. If you’re able to overlook these, then Heavenly Sword is a game worth your time. Unfortunately, I cannot overlook them and have a very difficult time recommending it.
Overall, 5/10: Heavenly Sword does so much right, but it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Just when the momentum is building, Nariko is forced into a brief moment of misfortune. The game just doesn’t stumble during these brief moments; it falls flat and has a hard time getting up.