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Review: Asura’s Wrath

Asura’s Wrath comes to us from the collaboration between CyberConnect2, creators of the .hack and Naruto games, and Capcom.  This game is quite distinct both in its artistic style as well as the way its combat is performed.  Stepping outside the box and taking chances like CyberConnect2 did can lead to a fresh and interesting experience, but can also lead to a game that just doesn’t work.  So, which path did Asura’s Wrath head down?

Asura’s Wrath’s mystical universe draws inspiration from Asian mythology and wonderfully merges it with science fiction.  This leads to mechanical beings with an eastern design living up in the Heavens, which is really in/on spaceships above the earth or as it is called in the game Gaea.

The game’s interesting design is heightened by its graphical style that combines the Unreal 3 engine with anime, so that rather than just being another glossy cell shaded game, which it easily could have been, it instead has been imbued with a level of detail that makes it stand out from all other anime inspired titles I’ve seen.  It is as if someone carefully painted on top of the cell shading to add more life and realism to the characters, leading to a gorgeous graphical aesthetic.

The story of Asura’s Wrath revolves around a demigod named Asura who is one of the Eight Guardian Generals who watch over Gaea and wage war against the destructive beasts known as Gohma, who roam the planet.  The game starts by placing you in an enormous space battle against an army of Gohma as one of the front line Generals as the others command the demigod fleet of spaceships and soldiers.  It is an amazing set piece to kick off the game and sets up the incredible since of scale and power that the game routinely puts on display.

The battle concludes with Asura defeating a Gohma called Vlitra, which burst from the core of Gaea and is about as large as a continent, by punching it in the face.  After defeating Vlitra, Asura is framed for the murder of Emperor Strada, who commands the Eight Generals, and is branded a traitor to the demigods.  The head General, Deus, then commands the murder of Asura’s wife and capture of his daughter because she has the ability to amplify Mantra, which is a source of power for the demigods generated by either prayers or the souls of mortals.  Deus then kills Asura, eliminating the last person in the way of his plans, and 12,000 years later Asuracomes back to life seeking revenge.

Since the game starts out so quickly and involves such ridiculously powerful characters and such large creatures it is easy to dismiss the game’s story as crazy and nonsensical, but as the game goes on it does a great job of steeping you in the world, making you care about the characters and understand their motivations.

Much of the back story for the characters is told after each episode using these beautiful drawings that detail what is going on with other characters and what happened to them prior to the events you witness first hand through combat and cutscenes.  Another nice touch that was added to the story telling comes before each episode where a narrator gives you a preview of what will happen in the next episode.  At first I didn’t like this because I felt like it was spoiling things, but it actually grew on me and got me excited for the next episode so that I would on continue on rather than taking a break.

The part of Asura’s Wrath that had me the most concerned going into it is the combat.  I know that is one heck of a concern to have, but luckily I found it played pretty well, for the most part.  The combat consists of three different styles of gameplay: QTEs (quick time events), 3rd person combat and on-rail shooting.  The QTEs are the main focus of the gameplay, sort of like it was in Heavy Rain for those of you who are familiar with that title.  However, rather than pressing a bunch of buttons in a row like in Heavy Rain, you just press one button at an impactful moment, which is fine because they do manage to make it still feel very kinetic and engaging.

The degree to which you time the QTEs right is mainly important to your overall score in the level and doesn’t have much effect on the way things play out, which is kind of annoying but keeps the game moving rather than forcing you to do the same button prompt over and over until you get it right.  Also the game really draws you in, or at least it did in my case, so I’m always trying to time it perfectly and I feel a lot of tension built up in those moments.  The other forms of gameplay are broken up into small sections.

The ground combat mechanics are solid and while there isn’t a lot of depth to it in terms of moves to discover and master, there is strategy and skill involved for learning the enemy’s moves and how to combat them, as well as timing your counters.  In the earlier stages on normal you can win pretty much through straight button mashing but by the end of the first act it gets more difficult and you really have to time your moves correctly and watch your enemies, especially when playing on hard mode.  One problem with the combat is that the lock-on is useless in any battle that isn’t 1on1 because it switches targets too often.  The final form of combat is the on-rail shooting, which is mostly used for aerial battles.  It is decent but consists mostly of sweeping around the screen with the left stick and then press Y or Triangle to fire your lock on blast because it’s so much stronger than your rapid fire.

The game took me between 6-7 hours to complete and a quarter of that was made up of the non QTE gameplay.  I was worried going in that there wouldn’t be enough gameplay and that it might feel unrewarding or poorly designed.  Instead I found it entertaining and liked that I was constantly going between cutscenes with QTEs, beating people up on the ground and blasting people in the sky.

It kept the game interesting and none of the sections dragged on to the point of feeling repetitive or boring.  Sometimes you play an action game like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden that is great and has better combat than Asura’s Wrath, but since that is the vast majority of what you do in the game by the end you get bored of it and only boss fights remain exhilarating.  In Asura’s Wrath every time I had a combat scene it was totally welcome.

I consider this game to be a unique experience and because of that I am very glad that Capcom chose to fund it.  The game is a little on the short side but a lot of fun and the frenetic energy it packs, as well as extras to make the game either easier or more challenging, offer a fair amount of replay ability.  The art is gorgeous and the music lends a lot of power to the epic story that unfolds.  However, before recommending it there is an unlockable ending that I feel I should mention.  The game ends well and includes a lose end to follow up on in a sequel, no big deal because plenty of games and movies do it.  Then it tells you that you can unlock the “true ending”, which expands on the final episode by about two minutes and just stops abruptly to set up DLC.

If you see it as the game’s actual ending then it sucks, but if you look at it as a teaser for more, presented after the ending, then it is bearable.  Just know that if you like this game you will want access to the DLC, so if you cannot connect to the internet and get it you may never get that content, since it probably won’t be released on a disk.  If that is your case you still might want to rent it.  If getting the DLC is an option for you then renting or buying the game is up to you based on whether you are ok buying the DLC and losing access to it upon returning the game or if you feel you might as well own it.  Asura’s Wrath is a fun and intense ride, definitely worth checking out, just know that you’re probably going to want some of the DLC.

(8/10)


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