Heaven Key, Earth Gate: PSP Hands-On
We go hands on with a Japanese version of SCEI's Tenchi no Mon, also known as Heaven Key, Earth Gate.
We recently had checked out a playable demo of Sony's upcoming PSP martial arts styled action-RPG title, Tenchi no Mon - which will perhaps be better known as Heaven Key, Earth Gate, should it see a western release...
While on the short side, the demo provided a nice little preview of what's to come in the Climax (Japan not UK)-developed action-RPG. It's an offering that puts players in the role of a young swordsman, who must navigate through an expansive and detailed 3D game world across ancient Chinese continents, showing off combat skills and gaining new magic spells.
As the game opens up players are taken to a short, real-time sequence of our hero performing some weapons-based Kata routine a top of a hill with the camera providing different viewpoints and showing off the surrounding scenery, which looks beautifully detailed. The opening sequence ends after particles of leaves swarm the swordsman during a brief but mysterious wind gust.
After the prelude scene, players are taken to another brief cutscene which shows the swordsman making his way to a nearby town. As he wanders through the fields, we're provided with the first bit of basic control over our character in the game's battle mode, where we had to save a damsel in distress from a group of enemy swordsmen. After a brief exchange with said damsel, we gained a new travel buddy as she then joined us on our journey.
Entering a small merchant-filled town we explored the luscious green town and interacted with NPCs standing, walking, and running about their business. While moving about in the game's exploration mode, you can use money to purchase items from the merchants - health replenishing items, more powerful weapons such as swords and bombs, moves scrolls, and such.
While browsing the inventory screen, certain items can be equipped and made easily accessible, via a real-time item selection feature. Just press the L button until the desired item is displayed in the upper left side of the screen, then hit the triangle button.
Players will then be able to put the swordsman's martial arts fighting skills to the test as they'll encounter groups of enemy swordsmen - they can either fight or flee, while making their way to the next storyline advancement point in the game. Your companion actually kicks quite a bit of ass, and makes herself quite useful out on the battlefield.
For the most part, the game controls well, and the swordsman runs around at a pretty zippy pace, making navigating from one area to another quick and painless. The real-time combat system is pretty fun, once you get used to some of its nuances.
Among the cool attack combos in your character's arsenal you have stuff like a power-slashing attack combo, a fancy kicking and slashing combo string, and one attack sequence that ended with the main character spinning around with his blade, slicing up any nearby enemies in the process. But players have access to various other types of combo attacks by pressing the right shoulder button to cycle through the different movesets. Even better, players can customize their fighting combos to add or subtract moves from a combo string.
Unfortunately the game lacks a blocking move, which isn't a big deal against the weaker enemies, since you can deflect their projectile attacks by smacking them with your sword, but the absence of a blocking move will probably have you throwing your PSP against the wall when pitted against much tougher and/or cheaper opponents like the young kid we squared off against in the arena before reaching the end of the demo...
The graphics are certainly bordering on the impressive side, with beautiful backdrops, lush, detailed environments, solid textures and lighting effects, and a decent level of interactivity with stuff in the environments.
The animations are pretty smooth as well, with subtle details like water splashing as your character runs through a puddle, dust trails, and a nice standing animation sequence whenever the controls are left idle. You know, the kind of stuff that wowed us all ten years ago and still looks and feeld great on a handheld system...
The audio is pretty solid with some quality music tracks and well-done sound effects. At certain points, the dialogue between characters is accompanied by speech. So that's nice too.
So, so far so good with Tenchi no Mon - everyting seems to be in place for a solid action-RPG experience, with just a few apparent minor flaws to be sorted out. Stay tuned for more.
Executive Editor, Kikizo Games