Heavenly Sword’s Thematic Resonance

This was supposed to go up last Thursday, but it was an absolute mess. It wasn’t until over the weekend did I realize the problem with the original draft. It was three essays worth of content in one. It was a mess to create a cohesive argument in all of that. Now the version that is up is only two essays in one. I managed to smooth things out so one essay in smack dab in the middle of the other and is necessary to make my argument. The thing is, both pieces are something I’ve wanted to write for a long time, some longer than others.

Originally it was supposed to be a supplemental piece to my Enslaved essay all the way back in March to compare and contrast where Heavenly Sword succeeded where Enslaved failed. In a way it would have further highlighted why I was so let down by Enslaved and Ninja Theory. That is that a big part of the distraction to Enslaved was the combat. It made sense on some levels and left me scratching my head at others and in the end what is supported, the savage land/post-apocalyptic setting, was less important than the relationship and the philosophical journey. The combat was, while it played better than Heavenly Sword’s, it was a real flow breaker to the game overall. Though having played Heavenly Sword again for the purposes of this essay I realize that’s not true. Everyone at the time played it as if it were a button masher and it isn’t. The game does lead to frustration down that path. It’s a timing based combat. In a way it’s a rhythm game requiring timing and noticing of the cues to achieve victory. Once you start thinking like that the entire game opens up and realizing this just makes me like the game even more. It reinforces the martial arts movie aesthetic that it’s going for. God of War this is not.

That’s the other piece I’ve wanted to write about this game for a long time, even longer than the Enslaved response piece. That essay goes all the way back to when I first played the game back in the spring/summer of 2009, but I kept pushing it back never having the will to write it. Heavenly Sword is a cinematic game and having played a few cinematic games, both good and bad, I’ve realized what the purpose of this genre is and it’s brilliant when it gets it right. It’s stupid when it gets it wrong. Heavenly Sword is a game that puts you in the shoes of a Wuxia martial arts heroine. You are part of the movie, you get to experience it from the inside. That’s the key. Not imitate the trappings cinima set pieces, but to place the player int he middle of them. They want to be James Bond, Indiana Jones, Jet Li, etc, not watch them in between dull segments. The best parts of Metal Gear Solid 4 did just that and the worst of it was just going through the motions or making us watch a cinematic action game rather than play one.

Another thing I noticed on this second go around with regard to themes, is how much is actually packed into Heavenly Sword. Themes of revenge and redemption are obvious and have the most material to them, but there is plenty of smaller themes hanging on. Stuff I want to get into next time as a sort of catch all, but mostly I just want to gab on the game around the water cooler with someone. There are so many great moments and character quirks that don’t mean really anything outside of their own enjoyment. Most of which comes from Andy Serkies as King Bohan and his crew of villainous henchmen.

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