Key of Heaven
Shinbu lives a quiet life in a Japanese village ever since he was exiled from the Seiryu clan. However, one day, a young girl named Sui Lin asks for his help because Shinbu’s former clan has been completely wiped out. It’s up to him to find out who did it and why.
So tells the prelude of Key of Heaven (Kingdom of Paradise in the US), Sony’s latest hack ‘n’ slash RPG for the PSP handheld. Finally some new intellectual property, which is a true relief after all the pots and remakes we’ve gotten over the last few months.
Unfortunately, the game never stretches the borders of the genre. This implies simple, linear quests, an onslaught of adversaries and a pretty shallow storyline. Luckily, Key of Heaven also has a lot of strong points. The most important one is the well devised battle system. You start the game with only some basic sword moves and you’ll gain new attacks by collecting Kenpu. Kenpu needs to be placed on so-called Bugei scrolls. A completed scroll earns you a more advanced sword technique.
Kenpu-attacks come in five elements (wood, fire, water, metal, earth). Each type has one strength and one weakness versus the other ones. Therefore it’s important to change your fighting style depending on your opponent. As you chop enemies to pieces and gain experience, your level will go up, which earns you more hit points and better stats. Next to that, you’ll reach higher Chi-levels as time passes.
Chi comes in the same five types as Kenpu. If you charge your Chi during a battle, you can unleash a ferocious special attack. The longer you charge it, the more powerful it becomes. All the different possibilities make Key of Heaven’s combat very refreshing, so it doesn’t get tedious.
The use of menus and especially that of the world map could have used some more polish. The menus are a bit too clumsy for a simple hack ‘n’ slash game. They demand quite some time getting used to before you can navigate them fluently. The map isn’t very clear and doesn’t show enough useful information. Important locations such as shops or resting places aren’t even marked.
And while we’re whining over flaws: the music and sound are a serious downer. Though the eastern tunes fit the setting, they quickly get on your nerves. The English voices are poorly cast; the two leads give a brand new meaning to the world over-acting.
The game’s graphics fare way better. The characters are well detailed and the framerate never dips, not even when there are ten different enemies on-screen. The drawing distance is huge, you can literally see cities coming from a mile away. The special effects of your Chi-attacks also deserve a mention. The levels are very atmospheric and have a typically Japanese feel to them. It’s becoming comoonplace, but the PSP can definitely compete with the current-gen consoles as far as graphics are concerned.
With a lifespan of around 20 hours, Key of Heaven offers a lengthy portion of gameplay and thus delivers quite a lot of value for money. Furthermore, it contains a multiplayer mode (Ad Hoc) that actually offers no real thrills. The stress is clearly on the singleplayer part of the game.
Key of Heaven has turned out to be a pretty good game, though it’s still far from being legendary, since it still has quite a few rough edges. Nevertheless, the game offers amusing gameplay, nice graphics and a long storyline. Fans of the genre will certainly enjoy it. For the others, it’s a fine one to rent.