Heavenly Sword

Darwin Hang

In a genre so dominated by men, it is refreshing to see a game where the girls get to kick butt in a land where nearly everyone else is male.

Publisher: Sony
Genres: Action
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: Heavenly Sword
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Ninja Theory
US release date: 2007-09-12
Amazon UK affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Developer website

In middle school, we were taught to look for the underlying theme of a work. The search for meaning through the analysis of artistic expression was supposed to make us better human beings. The newfound appreciation and insight would aid us through high school and beyond. That's what my reading teacher would tell us when we asked why we had to "read that stupid book." I don't know if gaming makes you a better person, but I do consider it a form of art. Being art, there is a theme to be found in Heavenly Sword. That theme is fusion.

Nariko is the central character of Heavenly Sword. Her eyes have Asian features, but she is otherwise a skimpily-dressed white redhead. Her clansmen have exaggerated Asian eye features and are dressed in a way that vaguely resembles older East Asian culture while defending forts that are mixtures of European and Asian styles. Her father, Shen, who is the initial leader of the clan, looks straight up like the wise kung-fu master with the hanging goatee and ponytail. The hybridization doesn't stop at the good guys. While the good guys are a hybridization of cultures, the bad guys are a varied cast of human-animal hybrids. King Bohan has a secret to his power, but otherwise looks like a king from Lord of the Rings. That reference will come in handy later. Whiptail is a sensual woman-serpent hybrid. His son, Roach, is a giant baby with an exoskeletal backbone. General Fox is a very shady dude with insect-like wings.

I put an emphasis on character design because this game is gorgeous. The movement of each character is fluid and distinct, sometimes following the rules of physics and sometimes not. In between battles I would stop and take in the scenery, partly because it was breathtaking, and also because that is how the camera controls are best used. The game looks so amazing that it's difficult to tell when you can and can't pick something up to throw. For example, the tall blade of grass swaying in the wind can't be plucked from the ground. Almost everything else, such as the bodies of fallen enemies, is fair game for chucking.

Still, beautiful games, like beautiful people, need more than looks to get by. The developers have put some thought into the story presentation. This is a linear action/adventure game, so it is the developers, and not the players, who control how Nariko and Co.'s story unfolds. When we are first introduced to Nariko, she is a bona fide badass, slicing through King Bohan's army. Who is this King Bohan? Why is this woman fighting a whole army by herself? What the heck is the Heavenly Sword? Well, eventually, the sword consumes Nariko and the story unfolds.

The early take on this game was that it was going to be very similar to another game that Sony Computer Entertainment of America released. It was a game involving confused knives or the Olympics or something. Anyway, based on the original preview and the hyperactive gamer forum community a lot of people bought into the rumor that Heavenly Sword was going to be that game, but with a girl. It's not. It doesn't have the largeness of the other game. Heavenly Sword focuses on familial struggles and humanity instead of the grandeur of the gods. Also, there is an additional playable character: Kai, Nariko's adopted sister, is a strange girl suffering from arrested development.

The gorgeous scenery is a sight to behold.

Besides being playable characters a video game, Nariko and Kai have a lot in common. Both have lost their mothers, both grow throughout the game, and both only have each other to love (a familial love). Though they have their similarities, Nariko and Kai play differently. The difference in styles makes the game more interesting, because it gives the game two perspectives. Nariko is the main character, so most of the game is played through her and she is the one telling the story after being taken by the sword. She wields the Heavenly Sword and has all the cool and destructive combos, while Kai is strictly a long-distance dialer. This and some cannon-based levels add variation to what could otherwise turn into a run-of-the-mill beat ‘em up.

It is nice to see a game led by two girls for a change. Usually it's a girl/guy type thing, but since games are so dominated by men, it is refreshing to see a game where the girls get to kick butt in a land where everyone else, aside from the serpent lady and maybe some ninjas, is male. It's all about the guys. Even Nariko's father and clan were disappointed that she was born a girl instead of a boy, because the prophecy said that she was supposed to be a he and that he was going to be the one to wield the Heavenly Sword and restore glory to the clan. However, since it can be assumed that most people who are going to be playing this game are males, Nariko has been sexed up. Bohan notices her sexual appeal throughout the game, making comments like, "...beautiful girl..." and basically asking her to make babies with him.

While Bohan is all about power and forcefulness, Nariko plays best when acting swiftly and defensive. Kai plays best when enemies are far away, which makes the less spacious levels difficult. Though challenging at times, the game is short. It is divided into six chapters, one chapter for each day Nariko possess the sword, but the chapters are short and some of them seem to last a mere few minutes. If there was more game to be played, it would have been easier to get immersed in the story. Sometimes things would just happen, such as Shen being captured. I would just accept it for the sake of move along in the game, not because I wanted to kick some butt and get revenge for the capture of Nariko's father.

Obviously, Nariko's a fan of 300.

Wait, did someone mention Lord of the Rings? Great, because Andy Serkis, the voice and motion capture actor for Gollum, voices King Bohan. The voice acting in Heavenly Sword is good all around, but Serkis' voicework shows the difference that great voice acting makes in a game, especially now that the facial expressions of characters are becoming so realistic.

There is not any online content, so maybe if there was an arena fighter element, there would be a higher replayability value. This is a bit ironic because one of the things that people worried about was that this game was going to be an arena fighter before they started worrying about Heavenly Sword being a God of War clone. There, I said it.

That said, Heavenly Sword is a very good game and the developers should get props for putting this sort of effort into the writing and making the presentation gorgeous and then making the gameplay so smooth. Besides length, we haven't been shortchanged on any front, and that is something to say when so many games recently (like a certain one involving a dragon) have been disappointments.





By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.