previews\ Jul 30, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Heavenly Sword - PS3 - Preview 4

Not just because the game says so, but Nariko’s story is the stuff of legends.

Her birth was a surprise, but in spite of the stigma that she never heard, she flourished as a young warrior. Her clan was special, with her father – the chieftain – tasked with the protection of an ethereal article known as the Heavenly Sword. It was said that no mortal could possess or use the blade, or they would suffer dire consequences.

Bofan, a ruthless king and warlord held no such trepidations about possessing the sword. After all, he had – at his disposal – lieutenants that defied the logic of the world and affirmed the presence of magic. Perhaps they were not the brightest, or the most trustworthy, but they did his bidding – to a degree.

The sword was his dream and he marched on the village, taking the people hostage. Nariko stole the sword and now, with Kai accompanying her, she must weave a path of vengeance through Bofan’s armies before the deadly blade leeches the life from her.

Expectations have been running high for Heavenly Sword. When it was first shown at E3 2006, as one of the exclusive titles for the PlayStation 3, the tale of Nariko was dubbed “Goddess of War” by some. Ok, there are some similarities, but Kratos wishes he had such a compelling story and half the skills that Nariko has, or the bow prowess of Kai, the young girl who approaches life in a very free-spirited manner.

Perhaps that is not quite true … but before getting to that – Sony Computer Entertainment America sent out preview code of Heavenly Sword, which is basically the whole second chapter. There are – if the menu is to be believed – six chapters in all. The second chapter, which may not have been complete, was about 90 minutes of gameplay. The developers, Ninja Theory, estimates there will be between 10 and 12 hours of gameplay in the release.

The level supplied began where the demo (available on the PlayStation Store) does, but went much further, delivering puzzles, a variety of platforming exercises, and missions that came in two flavors – destroy a lot of the enemy, or protect someone who didn’t seem overly grateful (I would say who seems more concerned with his own skin than duty and honor to the clan, but that might be a spoiler and you'll have to play it for yourself to find out what occurs in the Chapter 2 of the tale).

The game also had two playable characters: Nariko is deadly, quick and relentless, certain of the cause for which she fights; and then there is Kai.

When first met, Kai is asking Nariko to choose which she wants to eat – a worm or a ferret. When Nariko does not make a choice, Kai munches on the worm.

Kai was there when the village was attacked.

“Did you hide?” asks Nariko, indicating this was something Kai was supposed to do.

“Yes,” the girl, with cat-like make-up on her face, responds, then “ … no … I was bored, so I climbed a tree.” That makes, of course, little sense to anyone but Kai, but then she talks to nothing, which seems to be sitting in her hand.

Perhaps that is one of the factors that makes Heavenly Sword so compelling. The characters are alive and even if you are a jaded gamer, you will care about them. And the graphics are there to support that immersion factor. They are what next generation gaming should be, a seamless blend between cutscene and live action, glorious animation in a wonderful setting.

Yes, the game is somewhat linear, but the story is one you wish to see told. Even in the bit of chapter presented, there were plot points and twists that were not expected.

The game has some elements that were expected – serious button pounding during massive battles with dodging and powering up to very impressive finishing attacks. This comes complete with combo moves and a destructible environment that contains health potions – which But there were other elements that were not expected – such as ranged attacks that require you to hold down the button that launched the attack and then use the SIXAXIS controller to maneuver the airborne projectile to its target. Kai gets into the act in a ‘protect’ level with her crossbow – a game she calls twin-twang.

The control scheme seems to be easy to learn, and the sound is just as impressive as the game’s graphical elements.

Due out in early September, Heavenly Sword is a game that is a wondrous action adventure, deliciously rendered with compelling dialogue and music. This is what next-gen gaming is supposed to be about.

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