Strength of the Sword 3 PS3 Review
Playing Strength of the Sword 3 got me thinking about how during these past few years, my passion for a particular type of game has changed, shifted and mutated into cravings for a brutal challenge, where only the famously difficult games and hardest difficulty settings can bring a worthy adversary. For me at least, difficult games have created their own genre in the way that I no longer care if the game is a FPS, platformer or even a horror game – if I’m in the mood for a challenge, that is. And so, when I learned that Strength of the Sword 3 developers Ivent focused little on narrative and a great deal on creating a challenge, I was sold.
Making me grin within the first few minutes is a very cool animation showing a map of a large kingdom being attacked by sinister monsters rising from the fiery edges of the map. Squashing and stretching their way towards the castle, the 2D characters are then introduced to an enemy warrior (that’s you) and protector of the kingdom who will, after every level, cut through these bouncing icons and move closer to the enemy nest.
Level one then begins as you are introduced to your first enemy with the words ‘not as easy as you think’ floating above the goblin’s head. Don’t be fooled by the cute little fella, though – this is not only the first level, but the first lesson in how even the smallest of enemies can take down the majority of your life in a single combo. Landing hits on these fast enemies without taking damage yourself requires concentration and good timing. More often than not, you will need to abandon the rest of your incredible combo to avoid a small yet significant hit, as enemies rarely notice if their face is being smashed in and attack anyway.
Each of the ten levels are little more than arenas in which three or four groups of enemies must be defeated to progress to the next. Having said that, the arenas are beautifully well-designed with a variety of enemy types that suit each area well and keep each challenge feeling fresh. The center of each arena – the fighting area – is almost always empty and flat, which works for me. I’d hate to get killed because there is rubble, a chariot or a dead horse in my way. The surrounding area is rich in details that include burning piles of rubble, caricatured architecture and interactive hazards, such as large rotating gears that will pull you in and crush you if you get to close, ending the battle instantly.
As you progress through the game, you will unlock new swords and shields that will be chosen at the start of each challenge. Each sword and shield has its own unique effect on the player, such as alterations to strength, speed, defence and moves. Certain attacks and actions require ‘Mana,’ which can be generated when stationary. R2 acts as a dash button allowing you to roll, sprint and leap into new combos and avoid attacks. Shields have different durability and weight and should be carefully chosen based on the amount of use it will get amongst other effects they may possess. Players that prefer to roll and avoid other than blocking may wish to pick a light-weight shield that boosts attack or a shield that reduces Mana consumption, sacrificing the ability to block in the process.
As well as new equipment, you will often learn new abilities after the defeat of a new enemy. Most are weapons such as grenades and rocket launchers with ammo that will increase as weapons level-up through use (think Ratchet and Clank), but there are also abilities that recover some health or Mana. By selecting the ability from a wheel using the right analogue stick, you can quickly use the selected weapon by pressing the L2 Button. Ivent have clearly spent time designing the controls in such a way that feels natural and fluid, making every battle fun and constant. Even when selecting an ability from the wheel, enemies will continue to approach you in super slow-mo. I tried not to use the abilities a great deal because I found that they made the game much easier due to their sheer power; you could easily get a few kills with the weapons at your disposal, and when fighting a boss, the abilities could get your enemy’s life down to half without breaking a sweat. All ammo is refilled when a new level begins, meaning you will only ever really run out of ammo when half of the enemies are already dead. Given that the levels are fairly short, I think ammo is too generously given for the damage they deal out.
If you fancy something other than the story mode, there is a Challenge Pit where you may choose the difficulty setting and try to gain as many points as possible within a set time limit. To make things more interesting, you can spend points on health refills, ammo refills and extra time. Trying to beat previous scores and reach number one on the leaderboard will keep you coming back again and again.
So many things about Strength of the Sword 3 work wonders. It’s beautiful, elegant and fun, with details in all the right places. But as a game developed with creating a challenging experience in mind, it just isn’t quite hard enough. A player with average gaming skills should take no longer than five hours to finish the game’s ten small levels, but I guarantee that most would thoroughly enjoy it. I hope that Ivent release DLC soon (and not the ‘additional clothing’ kind), because I am left wanting more – much more.