When Asura’s Wrath was first announced, I had very high hopes for the title. Early trailers showcased a brutal and over-the-top brawler that perfectly captured the essence of action-packed anime: A wounded Herculean protagonist who loves to scream and punch everything in sight, an evil legion of Buddhist statues that served as cannon fodder, and wild and devastating acts of violence that blasted enemies all over the place. It also had the weirdness typical of anime too: A transformation that grants the main character six arms, and one planet-sized Buddhist statue who apparently liked squishing people with his index finger from outer space. All this was gorgeously animated and presented with dynamic camera angles, jump cuts, and a heart-thumping soundtrack.
It was the most outrageous thing I had seen, and I honestly loved every second of it. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game.
But now, having completed it, I feel a tinge of disappointment and regret. Some of the promised magic was lost in the translation from trailer to full game. Gone was the brawler that I had expected to play. In its place remained something else entirely.
I expected much more.
After an evil race of creatures known as the Gohma begin to terrorize earth, Asura and the rest of the Eight Guardian Generals fight to protect it. Successfully defeating the enemy and driving them back, Asura returns to the heavens with pride, only to find the emperor slain and the murder pinned on him. Finding his wife dead and his daughter Mithra kidnapped by the very gods that joined him in battle not long ago, Asura finds out that Deus, leader of the Generals, was responsible for the murder. Planning the rebirth of the world, Deus kills Asura on the spot, sending him to the underworld known as Naraka. 12,000 years later, Asura awakes, hell-bent on vengeance against those who wronged him and his family.
The story is an amazing adventure, full of exciting characters and awe-inspiring moments. Thanks to the strong writing, excellent voice-acting and incredible graphics, the tale is just like a movie or TV series. Full of character development, plot twists, and zany action, the characters come to life, permitting players to invest in them greatly. As angry god Asura goes to hell and back for his daughter and his revenge, players will gladly go along for the ride as he sees his mission through. It’s one of the best stories of the year.
Too bad the same can’t be said for the game.
Spread across eighteen episodes (each complete with intro credits and a “on the next episode!” preview at the end!), Asura’s Wrath proves to be quite a unique experience. As players guide demigod Asura on a quest for revenge and redemption, you realize just how different the game is from everything else on the market, and not in a good way.
How different? For starters, the game, in an attempt to become a truly cinematic experience, has mostly become one huge QTE (Quick Time Event). By pressing a button (or buttons) when prompted on-screen, the player can alter the outcome of various in-game cutscenes. If performed well, the game continues with the excellent and engaging story, and showcases some of the best action sequences in the industry. If performed badly, Asura will lose health and possibly fail the scene.
Asura will carry out amazing feats of courage and strength, defy physics and death, and take opponents apart piece by piece in lengthy cutscenes. All with just the tap of a couple of buttons.
And this what the player does for most of the game. Seriously.
Occasionally, the game provides other activities in order to avoid repetition. When Asura’s not murdering people and surviving the craziest odds at the tap of a button, players can enjoy two other gameplay types: a beat-em-up section where players take control of the always angry god and destroy his enemies, or a somewhat on-rails segment where Asura can dash or fly towards opponents in a berserk rage shooting energy projectiles (akin to Space Harrier or Devil May Cry’s last stage). Neither mode is particularly any good; the fighting is quite repetitive and lackluster, with a limited selection of options and combos to use to take down your enemies; and the shooting gets boring quickly, as it feels like Asura’s projectiles have no real effect on enemies other than the common grunts. You can riddle a boss or a large enemy with an infinite spray of bullets and they won’t even feel it.
Both gameplay variations also serve no other purpose than to lead into more QTE’s. Once the rage meter is filled and activated (Neither gameplay section will end until the player does so!), the game will usually cut to Asura going into a fit of uncontrollable rage and then lead into a playable cinematic once more.
Both gameplay variations quickly lose their luster, eventually proving to be more a distraction than a fun implementation.
In another effort to provide variety, the game offers control over another character during the latter part of the game. As welcoming as it is (the character has different animations, attacks, a storyline, etc.), the addition does little to alter the overall experience.
Once the game is finished, little remains to keep the player enticed. Episodes can be replayed to obtain a higher score, determined by the accuracy of inputs during the QTE’s and the player’s battle prowess. Doing so can unlock an alternative eighteenth episode. The extras are also quite thin, with the standard art galleries and character biographies, and trailers. The only worthwhile extras are the unlockable bumpers, which are alternative life-bars that can be selected to alter the main game experience. Some make Asura more resistant to damage, others make his rage meter fill faster. Some achievements/trophies can only be obtained this way.
I’m not saying Asura’s Wrath is a bad game. It just could have been better. If the game is taken solely as a cinematic experience, it works quite well. The plot is well done and emotional, and is quite a spectacle to behold. It’s a real thrill-ride from start to finish. It’s only when you look past the story that it fails and shows what its true colors: It’s a lackluster game.
I guess it depends on what angle it’s looked at.