And all should cry, Beware! Beware! Her flashing eyes, her floating hair!
Thus, while blitzed on opium, did the poet Coleridge describe Kubla Khan
, who built his dream palace in Xanadu. And faced with Sony’s new demigoddess, that line kept returning to me over and over. The developers at Ninja Theory decreed the construction their own dream in Heavenly Sword
, and Nariko’s eyes flash, and her hair floats
, but does it measure up to a pleasure dome
?Devil May Cry
first epitomized the experience of being one seriously unstoppable badass engine of destruction. Then Sony seized the throne from Konami with their God of War
, becoming not just the king
off asskicking, but the god
Not content to rest upon their Grecian laurels, Sony is challenging their very own Kratos for the top title with Heavenly Sword
. And while Kratos does wear a skirt (don’t hurt me, Kratos, please) he’s not exactly what you’d call feminine. That’s fine with our heroine Nariko who has hotsexy enough for the both of them.
Unfortunately, Nariko’s clan also possesses the Heavenly Sword
which they guard through the generations as they wait for the return of the god who can wield it. Humans who use the sword gain immense power from it, but death and destruction follow in their wake, and eventually they are consumed by the sword itself. So nobody is allowed to use it.
Meanwhile, King Bohan has crushed all the other clans, one by one, bringing them into his empire, and Nariko’s clan is next on his to-do list. He wants the Heavenly Sword
as a museum piece, to add to his treasures and prove his dominance over all the clans. Nariko’s choice is no easy one - to wield the sword is to break every taboo, to be shunned by the very people she wishes to save, and then to die.
The story, told through in-game cut scenes, is just one of the places that Heavenly Sword
excels. In no small part this is due to the terrific voice acting and the incredible motion capture led by Andy Serkis
, famous for his motion captured portrayal of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
. Many of these scenes happen in a revolutionary picture-in-picture format, so you never leave gameplay at all. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of this in the future.
I can not remember the last time I cared so much about the characters in an action game, and not just the heroes, the villains as well. Like Gollum, even the bad guys have complex motivations. The facial expressions, body language, and the lip synch are so spot-on it’s uncanny. I found myself actually excited for more story exposition, rather than disappointed I was dropping out of the action.
And that’s surprising because the action is damn good as well. Nariko filps, spins and twirls with the deadly precision of Nadia Comaneci
finding the Matrix
. She has three important combat stances that allow her to spin her swords on long chains, go two-fisted with both blades, or combine the blades together into a longer single sword for slower, devastating attacks.
But it’s really all about the counters. Well timed counter-attacks are cinematic, brutal, and charge up Nariko’s power for some truly intense destruction. At times, you also play as Nariko’s friend, the little insane girl Kai. Kai can’t fight hand-to-hand but she’s gracefully nimble and has a nasty repeating crossbow, made more effective by the best use of the sixaxis controller yet.
Any projectile in the game, from an arrow, to a cannonball, to a thrown turkey leg, can be steered by tilting the controller. Time slows down when you do this, making it a bit like bullet-time where you are the bullet
And all this action can happen on battlefields where literally hundreds of soldiers are running around in real time, making the large battles in Genji
and Samurai Warriors
look like a joke. But even when the battles are smaller, the backdrops themselves are almost as beautiful as Nariko.
However, while Heavenly Sword
has a lot of art, including tons of unlockable art and even animated cartoons, it’s comes up a little thin in the game department. Nariko discovers lots of new combo moves, but has no control over her own destiny, unable to choose what skills to enhance, like Kratos can.
And Nariko hardly needs to enhance her skills, because she kicks so much ass, you’ll unfortunately blast through the whole game in about 7 hours. There’s still more art to unlock and a new “Hell Mode” difficulty, but boy that sure seems short for a $60 price tag.
On the other hand, this is one of the few games I’ve felt the urge to replay on a harder difficulty, just because those 7 hours were so sweet. Nariko’s time on earth might be cut short prematurely, but she does offer a small taste of the milk of paradise.