Once in awhile I come across a game that shouldn’t be appealing. For all intents and purposes, Asura’s Wrath is one of those games. The demo disgusted me with its awkward combat and numerous quick time events, making me wonder why such a game would ever get the green light. Who actually wants lame fighting and an abundance of “press X to not die” moments? Some of these complaints hold water when tested in the full game, but Asura’s Wrath is surprisingly better than the sum of its seemingly broken parts.
Taking a loose interpretation of Hindu mythology and mashing it with science fiction, Asura’s story is both unique and bit familiar to anyone well-versed in the religious teachings. Asura is one of the world’s eight deities. That is until he gets betrayed and framed, casting him into exile and killing him in the process. Awakening many, many millennia later within the depths of Naraka, Asura has a small bout of amnesia during his climb out of Hell. However, he quickly remembers being betrayed along with learning that his daughter is being tortured in order to fulfill the gods’ dirty wishes. Thus, begins a wrath-induced Asura in his quest for revenge for all involved, along with other politics that consistently get introduced.
I’ll cop to not being an anime fan, but even Asura’s Wrath‘s narrative had me engaged in every cutscene. That says a lot, given the sheer volume of them. Having a lot of cutscenes (mostly) works in the game’s favor because it allows the game to have enough interesting events along with giving the characters enough screen time to become important.
Asura is similar to God of War‘s Kratos in that they are both angry beyond all belief, but they still remain characters worth paying attention to. Tragedy-stricken at almost every turn, Asura is humanized in a way that gives an excuse to his excessive anger. Asura’s Wrath is no misnomer either. When I say he gets angry, boy does he make that seem like an understatement. It sometimes makes Kratos’ temper tantrums look like those of spoiled infant.
Other roles aren’t phoned in either. Asura’s many antagonists and friends also bring convincing, if a little corny at times, performances that give every character… erm… character. Action games don’t usually bring stories worth a damn or characters memorable for more than few minutes, so it is a stark, refreshing contrast from most of its brethren.
I was always absorbed during the game’s cinematics not only because of their significance to the ever-so-interesting plot, but also because of the frequency of the quick time events. Yes, you heard right; there are a lot of these moments sprinkled in almost every facet of the game. Saying that these are cheap ways to interact with any game would be such a reductive way of handling such an issue within this specific game. In reality, yes, you aren’t actually doing much besides hitting a few key buttons, but the on-screen actions that result make for some of gaming’s most outrageous moments. Animation is fantastic in the whole game, but these action moments (usually with a healthy dose of slow motion) exemplify how fluidly everything moves and further sells how insane it all is. I want you to witness these for yourself, but if you don’t say “What the Hell?” and consequently chuckle multiple times during the game, you must be doing it wrong.
Although the boss fights and other less meaningful brawls have an awesome payoff for building up the game’s Burst gauge, the time earning said gauge doesn’t quite hit the mark. In the sparse moments where you are actually playing Asura’s Wrath, the game does its best to emulate a melee-focused action game. If only it evolved past mediocrity.
Combat has a few of the usual tricks like light attack and heavy attack, but it isn’t deep enough to become a facet of the game to look forward to. No juggles or combos, there is only mashing to be had. A wonky camera and a finicky dodge mechanic also inhibit already anemic combat, making everything fairly straightforward. It never really demands precision (I only died once in the whole game), which just demonstrates that the developers probably knew the limitations of the controls.
Fighting doesn’t hit the desired target and unfortunately neither does the shooting. When Asura isn’t punching things in slow motion, he’s usually shooting lasers out of his many arms in Panzer Dragoon-like rail-shooter sequences. Scale on these short instances are always grandiose, but, like the combat, actually playing these scenarios isn’t ever fun. When you are pushed into shooting, it becomes mindless but not terrible. You’re really working for the payoff of the Burst meter, making the journey there somewhat dull.
Dullness may invade the gameplay, but thankfully the graphics don’t ever collide with that issue. Asura’s Wrath has an art direction that is all its own that is always beautiful. Colors are vibrant and the art style is a stylish mix of cel-shaded and realisitc graphics, looking like a cartoon. If its aim was to look like an anime series but still look like a video game, then it gracefully succeeded.
Not only does it visually resemble an anime series, but it functions like one as well. Credits roll before every chapter and a “To Be Continued…” arises at every episode’s finale. While odd at first, they do a fantastic job of tantalizing the player on what is going to happen, leading to “just one more” syndrome. It even halfway spoils what is going to happen in the teaser before each episode, but does it intelligently enough to pique your interest and make you move on.
I had an epiphany while I was playing Asura’s Wrath. If it had combat that was on par with Devil May Cry, God of War, or Bayonetta, it would be a classic in its genre. Housing some of the most pleasantly stupid action moments, a gripping narrative, and a style all its own, it would have been regarded in an almost unanimously positive light. Alas, playing it doesn’t even hold a candle to those games mentioned, casting it in the circle of games that are more fun to watch. It may be more video than game, but I’ll be damned if those videos aren’t reason enough to experience Asura’s Wrath.
+Striking graphical style, animation, and presentation
+Story is filled with likable characters and hosts a compelling story arc
+Spectacular action moments that defy physics and drop jaws
-Not enough gameplay…
-…But the gameplay present isn’t really ever gratifying
Final Score: 7.5/10