More Sword: Heavenly Sword Addendum

Eugene was kind enough to lend me his copy of Heavenly Sword, and I played through the entire thing in a day. Eugene’s excellent review was thorough and spot-on, so no need to rehash the entire game in my own post. I would like to touch on a few points, though.

Sixaxis? More Like Sixasskiss

In just about every post I’ve made — or conversation I’ve had — mentioning the topic, I’ve railed against the PS3’s Sixaxis controller. At its worst (e.g., Ratchet and Clank’s laser-cutting connect-the-dots tasks), it’s almost pushed me to quit otherwise great games. At its best (Folklore’s system of yanking souls from defeated enemies), it’s been tolerable but unnecessary.

Over the course of playing Heavenly Sword, I underwent a transformation not unlike Winston Smith’s in 1984. My loathing of the Sixaxis wasn’t far off from the hate Winston initially harbored for Big Brother, the fascist figurehead of Oceania.

But just as Winston “won the victory over himself” by the novel’s end, Heavenly Sword helped me achieve my own sort of enlightenment. I learned to embrace the enemy. I loved the Sixaxis.

Though most of Heavenly Sword’s combat is hand-to-hand, there are some extended sequences in which you must use projectiles, like arrows or cannonballs. In these situations, you can just aim your weapon, launch your missile, and let it land where it may — Sixaxis-free.

Or, if you prefer, you can be the projectile: time slows down, and you get a first-person view of flying through the air. It’s like a camera shot from a Sam Raimi movie. During flight, you tilt your controller and guide the missile toward your intended target. If you’re really good, you can aim for specific body parts.

The Sixaxis controls in these sections are fun because the developers were smart enough to try a novel approach to game design: eliminate frustration and add forgiveness.

During the most difficult projectile weapon sequences, your character isn’t personally under attack. Because your only opponent is the clock, you can concentrate solely on your shots. And, for those sequences when you are under attack, the clock slows down enough during missile flight that you don’t have to worry too much about getting annihilated — at least not until your attack is over and the camera perspective returns to third person.

The slow motion adds another advantage. Because the flight of each projectile takes so long, you have plenty of time to compensate for minor steering errors along the way. It may not be realistic for a cannonball to curve upward at the last second, after skimming along the ground for hundreds of meters, but it sure is fun. And if, at any point, you realize that your shot has gone too far off-target to recover, you can bail out and shoot another missile, immediately.

Though Heavenly Sword didn’t make a huge impact on the gaming community as a whole — and Sony has already scrapped plans for a sequel — I hope some developers will internalize what did work about the game’s use of the Sixaxis.

Other Thoughts On The Game

The voice acting and character animations were fantastic. Presentation counts, as these aspects alone got me emotionally invested in a story that was decent, but lean and predictable.

I loved that Heavenly Sword was start-to-finish combat. There was no platforming, where you had to worry about falling off a ledge or restarting your game twenty times to do a single jump. And there were no braindead-easy puzzles to solve or quests where you had to backtrack and fetch a certain item before moving on.

The length was perfect for me. I can’t argue with anyone who feels it was too short, but I loved being able to blast through it in a single day. I played through an entire videogame, and yet it didn’t even blow my whole weekend.

My one gripe about Heavenly Sword is that the boss battles were boring, compared to the regular combat. Each boss battle — including all three segments of the final boss battle — consisted of nothing more than finding a successful attack-defend-attack pattern and sticking with it. The battles against waves of regular enemies were more challenging, diverse, and fun.

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