Asura’s Wrath Preview
Nestled on two screens inside the Capcom E3 booth, near to some west coast fighting game pros testing the current limits of Street Fighter X Tekken and more Resident Evil booths than it is easy to count, is Asura’s Wrath. Developed by CyberConnect2, of .hack and Naruto fame, Asura’s Wrath is a bundle of contradictions; a game of insane excess, where gods the size of planets are punched until they explode, but with a relatively tiny playable presence on the show floor. Despite this, Asura’s Wrath is quietly developing a strong following, picking up a handful of E3 award nominations along the way.
In honour of a game this over-the-top, for the rest of this preview I will be shouting rather than writing.
We got a short, fifteen-minute playthrough of a fight with one of the game’s seven deities, presumably a group of boss characters. This one was a portly old soldier, styled like a mustachioed fat Buddha called Wyzen. As Asura, a hindu demi-god who seems to be made of stone and has a mysterious past, the player’s job is to beat seven shades of crap out of his stout adversary. This explains one of the main mechanics shown in this demo; boss fights in Asura’s Wrath aren’t about chipping away at your opponents health, hoping to wear them down in a war of attrition. Bosses are beaten by filling Asura’s anger gauge until you can pull off a “burst” move. These burst moves are over the top sequences, all played out in some version of quick time event.
It doesn’t take long for Asura’s anger to build. Called a traitor by Wyzen and taunted about the whereabouts and allegiances of his daughter, as well as his inability to remember these key facets of his life, the player is soon locked in combat, throwing the boss over a cliff, only to see him return now as tall as a mountain. The short fighting sequence (using a simple light attack, heavy attack, projectile attack gameplay mechanic) now shifts into a quick time event, the player catching projectiles thrown by Wyzen whilst simultaneously releasing fireballs of their own. It’s thrilling stuff, the crazy art style and visual direction complementing beautifully the tension of watching the burst gauge creep up whilst your life slowly diminishes under fire.
Success is amply rewarded in Asura’s Wrath, with the next Burst attack seeing the now six-armed Asura punch Wyzen so hard that he launches out of the planet’s atmosphere into space, sailing across the cosmos as the result of one final haymaker. Again he responds, however, this time transforming into a God the size of a planet (in a sequence instantly familiar to those who saw the game’s initial teaser trailer) and starts trying to crush Asura with his city-sized finger tip. Another QTE, this one particularly Heavy Rain like, with the the player performing joystick moves that mirror the on screen actions. Asura lifts the God’s finger and with one more blaze of six-armed punching, obliterates Wyzen. The god explodes and we are left with a shot of Asura, back in a powered-down state, arms fallen off lying unconscious on the floor.
As spectacular as Asura’s fight with planet-sized Wyzen was, the demonstration of the game did not reveal a great deal about the core mechanics, fighting strategy and how the game will live up the its incredible boss battles during the levels. God of War (which seems to be a reasonable western analogy of Asura’s Wrath) packs in skillful combat, tonnes of weapons and plenty of smaller set-pieces during during its levels. It was hard to tell what core gameplay will underpin Asura’s Wrath and, until we do, it is also hard to get too excited about the proposition. With very few exceptions, games that have spectacular quick-time events but no core gameplay are like trips to McDonald’s; satisfying in the short-term, but with a tendency to leave you unfulfilled and hungry for something more substantial in the long term. If the game is a heavily QTE-based affair, more in the style of Heavy Rain, then it is going to have to offer a substantial story to fill the gaps that could be left by a lightweight combat engine.
And that is the problem with Asura’s Wrath as it stands: we still don’t know exactly what it is yet. The game is brimming with potential; the fight against Wyzen’s separate forms, with Asura powering up, growing new arms, learning how to fight a god the size of a planet, was spectacular. The unique art style and utterly insane conclusion to the boss encounter were so original and imaginative that games like Battlefield and Modern Warfare should be ashamed of how safe they are. However, we know what those two shooters are going to be. We are comfortable with what we are going to get and the skill of their execution.
It is not clear at this stage what Asura’s Wrath is or can be. That is probably the fault of the chosen demonstration level as much as anything else but, until we see some flesh on this thrilling game’s bones, Asura’s Wrath is just an electrifying light and sound show, albeit a very original one.
Asura’s Wrath is due out in 2012 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.