Having got my PS3 the December of ’06 (yup, I forked over the 600 for my system), I had already started running dry in the games department. It was in July of ’07 that a demo was released for a game that I hadn’t heard much about: Heavenly Sword. After multiple playthroughs of the demo, I got the game in September on the first day and have never regretted that purchase. Though I’ll admit Heavenly Sword is neither an old game nor a relatively unheard of game, I find myself still enjoying this largely overlooked gem even five years after its release, thanks to its combat/use of SIXAXIS and mo-cap/voice acting.
Most of my hack-n-slash gaming experience stems from time playing all the God of War games, so when I found out HS didn’t have a jump or block button, I had some difficulty adjusting. Though I still miss not having a jump button, the combo system really makes up for it. The eponymous sword is in fact three weapons in one: regular attacks, heavy attacks, and ranged attacks. Switching between the three styles is simple and fluid, making it easy to use whatever combo that suits your fancy from the game’s extensive list. As for blocking, enemy attacks (in an admittedly tacky fashion) use a color coded system and only being in the corresponding style allows you to block. And with the ability to switch styles on the fly, it’s hard to imagine using a block button ever again.
Besides swordplay, combat also consists of good old fashion bow and arrows (lots of that at E3 this year, hey?). In steps the main character’s adopted sister, Kai, and the insanely fun “game” of Twing-Twang. Several sections in the game slow down to let you control her arrows, using the SIXAXIS. With the release of the DualShock 3 in April of ’08, I had been looking for a game that would finally take advantage of the lack of rumble currently available. Guiding an arrow into the crotch of an enemy who was so far away he looked like a speck of dust is not only satisfying (weirdly enough) but also completely free of frustration. You’ll end up pulling a Robin Hood before you know it. Though I felt scorned by loss of rumble, I finally had a reason to not care (as much) and I sometimes just end up playing through the Kai sections just because it is that fun and easy to use.
However nice combat can be, I’ve always appreciated a game that wants to tell a strong, interesting, and engaging story. With Heavenly Sword, you get that in droves. The game covers the story of Nariko, the only woman born into a clan of men who protect the mystical and ancient Heavenly Sword. One man, King Bohan, wants it for its power, while Nariko’s father, Shen, wants no one to use due to its power. Sure, it’s not horribly original, but the doses of humor and the way the story unfolds are more than unique. Not only is King Bohan played by mo-cap extraordinaire Andy Serkis (Gollum, anyone?) but he also oversaw the acting as Dramatic Director. Needless to say, everyone in the game pulls off top-notch performances. Anna Torv, now well-known for her main role on the TV show Fringe, brings a raw and passionate performance to Nariko as she is pushed to the edge and then shows how she gains a heavenly composure by the end. Lydia Baksh gives Kai’s extremely random and odd behavior a childish wistfulness not to be missed and Steven Berkoff (who I best know as a bad guy in a Bond film) steals the show with the unforgettable Flying Fox, a minion of Bohan.
It was with this game (and later Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune) where I first got the taste of how great performances by actors, not just their voices, really could change video games for good. The acting in Heavenly Sword is my main reason for loving the game and still playing it years after. Plus, being a huge movie fan, I was ecstatic that my two favorite past times where finally overlapping. And which system was letting that all happen, exclusively? Why, the PS3 of course. Seeing that crossover begin really makes Heavenly Sword memorable to me, as it’s now hard to find a AAA title that doesn’t strive to really push strong acting with an equally well written script. To me, it all started with Nariko’s tale.
Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope the rumors are true that she’ll be in PS All-Stars Battle Royale, opening up her amazing character to a whole new group of potential fans (and a wish for Trophy support).
Written while listening to the game’s sweeping musical score by Nitin Sawhney.