Heavenly Sword also contributed to this rise. A lot of hype surrounded its beautiful graphics and interesting gameplay style.
Heavenly Sword tells the story of Nariko, a young woman who is born into a tribe that fears and shuns her, regarding her as a curse. This is because, according to a long held prophecy, Nariko's mother was to give birth to a male, who would wield the clan's heirloom, the Heavenly Sword, and lead them to greatness. When Nariko, instead a female, was born, everyone thought the clan had been cursed. Since then, Nariko has grown up with only Kai, her friend and adoptive sister to call a companion. Her mother died giving birth and her father is formal with her, being her tutor first and her father second.
Her clan is made up of skillful warriors, and though they enjoyed a long time of peace, this was shattered by the appearance of King Bohan and his army, who have been constantly tracking Nariko and her tribe in order to take the Heavenly Sword, an incredible weapon that is said to have descended from heaven. However, wielding the sword leads to inevitable death, as the sword feeds on the life force of its user. However, when the rest of her tribe is captured, Nariko is forced to wield it anyway, sacrificing her life to fight for her people.
Starting a new game, you are immediately given control of Nariko as she fights hundreds of thousands of troops in the last few minutes of her life. Enemies will come at you in huge swarms, but she'll fight on, eventually prompting a cutscene that shows her finally collapsing in battle, the sword having taken all of her life force.
The game then shows her waking up in an after life of sorts. She begs the sword to give her just a little more time, prompting it to raise a huge monolith from the ground behind her. The game proceeds in this way, with each monolith representing a chapter in the last few days of her life before she died.
Heavenly Sword is primarily a hack n slash game, similar to the likes of God of War and Ninja Gaiden. Though I haven't played much of either series, I like the game's control scheme. The Heavenly Sword has three forms, or "stances". Speed stance is the default, where Nariko wields two short blades and specializes in quick blows and counters in quick succession. Holding R1 switches to the Power stance, where the sword combines into one big sword. This form is really powerful, but of course is slower. You can dispatch most enemies (if you catch them off guard) in just a couple hits in Power stance. Holding L1 switches to Range stance, where the sword becomes a chain blade similar to what Kratos from God of War wields. The Ranged stance does very little damage, and is basically only useful for crowd control (that is, if enemies get a little too close for comfort), but it also inexplicable creates whirlwinds around Nariko when used, and its always amusing to see an enemy try his best to block the onslaught of chain blades, only to get swept off his feet by a sudden gust of wind.
Combat is executed in some form or another with all four of the symbol buttons. The square and triangle buttons are the primary attack buttons. Tapping triangle at the right time will execute a counter that will immediately kill the enemy. Some of these are pretty brutal. Examples include Nariko acrobatically grabbing an enemy and flicking him away, or knocking him down before placing her feet on each side of his neck, then twisting her legs, snapping it. The circle button is used to activate Super styles, which are impressive special attacks that defeat mostly everyone around Nariko in a wide radius. One such attack has Nariko grabbing a target and jumping into the air before flipping him over, standing in between his legs (ouch!), and slamming down to the ground, which sends out a tremendous shockwave that sends anyone close enough flying. Super styles are also used during some boss fights as interactive cut scenes of sorts. The X button is used to pick up and throw objects, such as fallen enemies and weapons. Holding X instead just tapping it lets you influence the object's path with the SIXAXIS motion sensing via a cool feature called Aftertouch.
As the controls would indicate, this game is really all about its combat. There's no jump button or crouch button or any typical action you'd find in a platformer or action adventure. However, the game is presented well, and combat holds up well for the most part. There will be times here and there where it will get repetitive, but there's enough variety thrown into the mix to keep it from becoming frustrating.
Speaking of variety, you won't actually play through the whole game as Nariko. You'll also spend a fair amount of time controlling Kai, who wields a huge crossbow. Though its a strange change of pace, Kai's segments are just as fun and amusing as Nariko. In stark contrast to Nariko's fierce, no nonsense personality, Kai is very playful and likes to play jokes on her enemies. There were a few parts where I couldn't help but chuckle (the poor guard being trapped in a building with fireworks going off inside comes to mind). Kai doesn't fair well in close quarters combat, so you'll have more fun picking enemies off from a distance. Or rather, you'll have lots of fun. Using the Aftertouch feature, picking enemies off with Kai's crossbow can be riot. Though it's generally a one hit kill wherever you hit them, enemies respond differently depending on where the arrow lands. A headshot will stop them in their tracks as they arc backwards suddenly with the force of the arrow slamming into their skull nearly tipping them over. They'll groan and stutter for some time before falling backward. I don't know why, maybe I'm overly sadistic, but I found experimenting with them to be hilarous. All the while, Kai will occasionally make comments on particularly painful looking hits, like "Ouch, that's gotta hurt".
The whole game is fun to playthrough, and though there are a few times where puzzles seemed out of place or overly frustrating, the overall feeling is that Heavenly Sword was a well polished game. My largest complaint is shared with most others who have played the game, which is that its incredibly short. I was able to play through about 85% of the story and get most of the unlockables along the way in an evening. Its hard to justify paying more than $50 for it.
However, the game is most certainly worth a rent. With its easy controls, good story, and awesome graphics, this is a great game for anyone who likes hack and slash games to have. An 8/10.