Review: Heavenly Sword (PS3)


Good: Presentation, voice acting, a couple epic moments, doesn't rely on backtracking and fetchquests, SIXAXIS implementation

Bad: Extremely short length, insultingly easy "puzzles", occasional framerate drops, enemy A.I.

The Playstation 3 has had three high-profile exclusives in the last few months, which is what it needs right about now. Out of those, Warhawk turned out to be a fantastic multiplayer experience, Lair was an absolute embarrassment, and Heavenly Sword is simply "good", not great.

Right off the bat, you'll notice some fantastic production value in this title. Everything from the cutscenes to the camera angles to the voice acting has been refined to a beautiful degree. Your main character, a woman named Nariko, features facial detail that hints at the amazing possibilities of the PS3's hardware. Individual pores and freckles are sharp and lifelike, and her facial expressions are very realistic. The actual narrative isn't anything to write home about, but the presentation makes up for it.

It's impossible to review this game without bringing up the comparisons to God of War. Yes, Heavenly Sword resembles that other Sony slash-em-up in many ways. When Nariko is flailing her swords about, hacking up guards in an elaborate fashion, it might as well be a spin-off alternate universe GOW. Even the attack buttons are the same square and triangle for standard attacks, and circle for grabs. The difference in Heavenly Swords' combat comes with the L1 and R1 usage. Holding either of these buttons will put Nariko into Range mode or Power mode, respectively. It's a great way of mixing up your available attacks, and you can gain new ones as you progress.


As an action game, Heavenly Sword is competent. As anything resembling an adventure game goes, it fails. Its few attempts at "puzzles" were accurately lampooned by Penny Arcade as "THROW HATS AT THESE GONGS!". Any time a door needs opening, it's a safe bet that there's a gong around, and you have to throw a hat at it. On top of the fact that the mechanics of such a locking system are baffling, it's just a poor attempt at adding puzzle elements.

For a few missions, you'll play as Nariko's sidekick, an odd little girl with a painted face named Kai. She's armed with a crossbow, and the way you use it marks the first time I've been impressed by SIXAXIS motion control. If you hold in the fire button when you shoot, the camera follows the arrow in slow motion a la Sam Raimi. At this point, you can tilt and turn the controller to guide your projectile. Obviously, the physics of this make no sense whatsoever, but it's still rewarding to lead an arrow into an opponent's face in slow motion.

Visually, the game is excellent. There are moments when you pass giant, sprawling waterfall backgrounds that really show off what the PS3 can do. This comes at a price, however, as there are occasional framerate drops when there's too much going on onscreen. Regardless, it's an absolutely beautiful title, and ranks up there with some of the best visual presentations of this generation.

If there's one massive weakness Heavenly Sword has, it's certainly in the length department. I beat the game in two sittings, with each lasting barely over two hours. Obviously, many gamers will have a difficult time handing over $60 for a 4-6 hour experience. It may be short, but I'd prefer a brief, straightforward experience over a longer one that artificially extends its length thanks to fetchquests and backtracking. Not once will you be forced to do either of these in Heavenly Sword. While it's a brief experience, it's non-stop action all the way up to the excellent last chapter.

Graphics: 9.0

Sound: 9.5

First Play: 8.5

Replay Value: 5.5

Gameplay: 8.0

Overall: 8.3


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