Asura’s Wrath Review
Game: Asura’s Wrath
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
We all know that Capcom are big hitters, who more often than not will simply strike out on their own, banging out their own mega-releases fashioned by their very own internal games studios. Which is why it came as a surprise to hear that they were due to team up with CyberConnect2 for a mystery project. You see, apart from the slept-on (and well worth checking out) PlayStation title Silent Bomber, and cartoony oddities like Tail Concerto and Solatorobo, the Fukuoka based firm are primarily associated with the .hack RPG series, and their long running deal to create video games based around the Naruto animé.
We have seen Capcom influenced by animé before, sure, but never quite to this extent because, for want of a better way of putting it, Asura’s Wrath is probably the most Japanese Western-released, big name game I have ever played. It is completely insane from the very beginning to the bitter end, and plays out like a fully interactive animé movie, with all of the OTT bells and whistles you would expect from such a premise. It screams “NICHE!” from the rooftops. If there is a more oddball, original game from a major firm this year, I will be surprised. It is also one of the most difficult games I have ever found myself in the position of reviewing, given it is just so unconventional, and is a compelling, unique experience I do not really want to spoil for those who haven’t played it. So bear that in mind as you proceed. Strap yourself in…it is going to be a crazy journey….
STORY: Asura is extremely cool. He is a muscled demigod, with really awesome spiky hair, who looks like he could easily be battling Akuma in Street Fighter. He exists in an awesome mystical dimension that fuses bombastic space opera with Japanese mythology. As well as being a heroic warrior who lines up alongside seven other really cool god-dudes to protect Heaven and Earth from a bunch of intergalactic ne’er do wells called the Gohma, Asura is also a family man, who dotes on his missus Durga and his lovely daughter Mithra.
After a particularly bad day at the office, during which he has had to engage in combat against giant squid like creatures and enormous, malevolent entities in a completely bonkers space shootout, Asura returns home to find that the Emperor has been killed, his mates have turned on him, pinning the murder on him, wasted his wife, and taken his kiddy hostage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then ends up getting the crap beaten out of him, and banished to some hellish nether-world, twelve thousand years later. Talk about your tough breaks. The game tells the story, in an episodic fashion, of how Asura exacts his extremely angry revenge on those who have wronged him. GAME ON!
GRAPHICS: This is one beautiful looking game. Interactive animé is a description that has been bandied about, and with good reason. At times this looks like a high-class CGI movie, but a movie you are actually playing, and not in the bad Dragon’s Lair sense, either. The selection of deities that the story revolves around are expertly designed, each of them brimming with character; not to mention rippling muscles, and glowering menace. However, the rest of the graphics merely serves as a backdrop to the main man. This is Asura’s world; we all just live in it. Asura is one of the best video game creations since (lazy comparison alert) chain wielding olden-days Greek badass Kratos. His anger is a crucial part of the game, and it manifests itself in how he appears on-screen. One minute he is all doe-eyed, having cuddles from Mithra, the next minute he is a white-eyeballed, demonic monster who has just gone and sprouted two more sets of goddamn arms. Rarrrgh!
Superlative in-game graphics are accompanied by some wonderful hand-drawn cutscenes, and a selection of truly wonderful unlockable artwork; probably the only in-game artwork I have ever found myself being bothered to unlock.
SOUND: Like all the best animé movies, Asura’s Wrath comes correct with the Japanese-style sonic assault. Dodgy voice acting, wailing guitars, mournful, traditional stuff, crunching sound effects, the gang is all here. Did I mention there is a lot of screaming and shouting? Well, there is. There is also a smooth-talking spider made of gold. Top stuff.
GAMEPLAY: Straddling a balance beam between straight up third person action game, rail shooter and interactive movie, with a ton of Quick Time Events and cutscenes that would make Solid Snake blush, not the mention that the whole thing is cut down into twenty minutes-long bite sized chunks. This sentence doesn’t begin to do justice to what constitutes “gameplay” for this bad boy.
There are eighteen stages, each one bookended by an introduction and a concluding series of illustrations. I do not wish to give too much away here, as the game itself is only about 6-8 hours long at best, and what game time you get is sadly limited, but what you do get is sublime, and extremely rewarding in nature. You kick things off with an into-the-screen, lock-on style space shooter, which quickly devolves into a series of button pressing, stick-rotating QTE battles with some scary Gohma behemoths. A little later, you play a conventional action game, arguably the most enjoyable part of proceedings, which plays out a lot like God of War, or even Capcom’s own Devil May Cry. You face off against the gauntlet of Asura’s enemies over a storyline spanning twelve millennia. There is much use of a chargeable “Burst” gauge which can be employed in a number of situations, and amplifies your vengeful rage into a devastating attack. You can unlock new gauges to play around with and customise the way you play. There are some frankly stunning, shocking sequences where you will feel god-like with each button press; such is the crazy scale of the damn thing.
LONGEVITY: Do not expect to be playing much longer than six hours. This is a short and sweet affair, with some sections of the game not even requiring you to do anything for the most part in order to proceed. The lack of action will completely baffle and alienate most gamers yet, if like me you are a sucker for all things animé, the way you are drip-fed each new action spectacular was enough to keep me gripped and to finish the whole thing in one frenetic session. Downloadable content has been mentioned, and this would certainly be welcome, however this is likely to stick in the craw of gamers who feel already short changed by a relative lack of gaming.
VERDICT: Asura’s Wrath is a very brave release in the West. It will sell like gangbusters in Japan, where understandably the press have gone crazy over it. But it will definitely split people in a Marmite style over here. I’d find it difficult to recommend based upon the quantity of gaming time on offer, but I can recommend it for challenging the conceptions of what a game should be, providing a truly original experience that doubles up as a mighty fine animé revenge fantasy.
Like their hardcore beat ‘em up God Hand and mental health-centric cartoon tie in Gregory Horror Show, this is destined to become a Capcom cult classic, and is something I think that everyone should try; it is genuinely like nothing else you have ever played.