Next-Gen Gamer

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Heavenly Sword Week, Day 3

Posted by Jay on Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Heavenly goodness, straight from GamePro! This one’s called “Hands on with Heavenly Sword’s 3 Fighting Styles”, and it has many details on controls, the super style meter, and hero sequences. Read on for the full details!

As you’ll remember from our exclusive story yesterday, Heavenly Sword pits Nariko, a ferocious warrior with crimson hair, against the legions of a genocidal invading King. The titular Heavenly Sword was once in the possession of a god-like force, but has since fallen to the mortal world only to be picked up by Nariko. Although the sword is a gift to effect massive change, this blessing comes with a sacrifice: those who carry the sword sign their own death sentence. In fact, Nariko has only hours left to live when the game opens.
Mistress of the Blade

Nariko’s Heavenly Sword can change its physical form in mid-attack, allowing you to string together massive custom combos. Here are the three key battle styles you’ll use to crush your foes.

* Speed Style: Nariko’s default battle stance lets her slash nearby foes with rapid short-sword strikes. It’s your best defense for close encounters.

* Ranged Style: Much like Kratos’s Blades of Athena from God of War, these chain swords let you pick off distant foes, or hook one and slam him into the ground.

* Power Style: In this broad-sword form, the Heavenly Sword dishes out mammoth damage to nearby enemies. It’s slow, but deadly.

Since the sword feeds on your life, your challenge is to stay alive long enough to finish your quest. As attacking enemies temporarily replenishes your health, continuous action is your lifeblood. There are no platforming or extended combat-free zones, as Heavenly Sword intends to deliver relentless battles and unceasing action. Even the cinematics take place during gameplay, with villains exchanging threats with Nariko via a slick picture-in-picture window.

The true power of the sword lies in its ability to transform instantly at the flick of a button. In your normal stance, known as the “speed style,” you have two agile short swords. With taps of the attack buttons, you can unleash flurries of quick slashes. Holding down the L1 button, however, switches you to the “ranged style,” where the short swords morph into chain blades similar to those in God of War. This style allows for farther reaching attacks, including huge sweeping twirls and whiplash strikes. Holding down the R1 button transforms the weapons into a single massive sword. With this “power style,” you can execute deadly wounds on foes, but this style is balanced by its short range and slow wind-up.

So what’s the big deal? What makes Heavenly Sword special is that you can transform the sword at any time, on the fly, in the middle of combos. With the convenient hold-and-release method for using the shoulder buttons, it’s easy to jump in and invent your own eye-popping combos on the fly. After a few moments of testing out the basic moves, we were able to throw a few quick slashes at an enemy while in speed style, follow up by morphing to the chain blades and swinging the poor sap around, then finally switching to the broad sword for a finishing blow.

As you decimate legions of enemies, you build up your “super style” meter. With each successive level on the meter, your grabs and throws become increasingly spectacular. You can increase the meter faster if you perform impressive and stylish combos, so being creative and looking like a badass has a tangible reward. Of course, you can also combo into a “super style” grab for even more devastating results.
Control Freak

The controls as a whole feel intuitive. For example, Nariko auto-blocks incoming attacks simply by standing still. She can also execute counter attacks if you time a strike to coincide with an opponent’s, as well as dodge incoming blows with flicks of the right analog stick. The Sixaxis’s motion sensing gets a workout, too, enabling you to re-position the camera by tilting the controller. You can also pick up just about any object and throw it. The camera then swoops in behind the object as it flies in slow motion (with beautiful blur effects). You can influence the projectile’s trajectory with the Bullet Time-inspired “after touch” feature, adjusting the flight path by tilting the controller or moving the analog stick. Another neat touch: the camera tilts and leans to follow the flight path of the object.

The Sixaxis motion sensing responded respectably, but it wasn’t a central part of the action just yet, a fact that may change as the game progresses. Multiplayer also remains a major question mark, with the developers at Ninja Theory unwilling to confirm or deny it for the final version.

Heroic Exploits

Aside from the main-course fighting, Nariko sometimes encounter “hero sequences” where you must react to onscreen prompts to survive. We played a sequence where we sprinted along a huge rope that bridged a chasm. Enemies at the other end shook the rope and sent waves down it, eventually slashed it, and we had to leap to another rope, run down it, and fly into a group of enemies to deliver a death-from-above smash attack. There was also a sequence where Nariko mans a cannon on a rampart and fends off an advancing army. When firing a cannon, Nariko can influence the trajectory of the projectile using the Sixaxis. Ninja Theory claims it needs the Cell to handle these complex calculations. With the use of after-touch to steer the cannon balls, siege towers erupted in lovely fountains of dust and debris.

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