Asura’s Wrath: Review

A few weeks back, when previewing the game, I wrote that Asura’s Wrath inhabited the same sort of gaming spectrum as “Don’t take it personally…” By that I meant these games were focused on narrative with only a modicum of interactivity.

Having written that I realise now why so many previews are essentially fluff pieces with very little information. Either they focus on a tiny facet of the gaming whole or they talk about what the game might be, without being completely clear on what it is.

The problem is that by writing that preview for Asura’s Wrath I have left myself very little to work with for the full review. In essence the full game is the preview, only longer. I don’t know how I am going to extend this piece into something approximating a thousand words.

[Here AJ originally embarked on a long, rambling piece about the nature of games. He pulled in some Nietzsche references (as if AJ knew anything about him) and then went on to to talk about the recent 6 Nations Rugby matches, with liner notes suggesting that this might be only work of his read by his sister all year. After that he made this entirely fictitious editor’s note so as to bump up the word count. True story. – Ed]

By most people’s standards – mine included – Asura’s Wrath is barely a game. It consists of long rambling cutscenes that would make Hideo Kojima blush. These are built around the idea that you are watching an animated television show about a very annoyed demi-god. There is often nary a button press in sight for more than 10 minutes and even then the interactive sections are dominated by extended Quick Time Events – i.e. a few button presses while a cutscene carries on in the background.

Disclaimer: No feet were harmed during the capturing of these screenshots.

When the game does attempt to present you with some sections of actual gameplay they are bite-sized: a few seconds of button spamming in a 3D brawler and then some very light Panzer Dragoon-esque sections.

As a concept it is pretty loathsome, but the focus – to create a game that is essentially an interactive cartoon series – is so concentrated on generating a specific type of experience that it is hard to hate the execution. You cannot judge it on the conventions of other games. This is not Devil May Cry or Bayonetta; it has more in common with the anime series Dragonball and Sword of the Beserk. The overall result is that developers CyberConnect2 have made one of the best animated shows ever committed to polygons.

The extended periods of minimal activity with fairly few fail states tie into the fiction. Asura is powerful enough to punch through giant space ships; it stands to reason that he would find it effortless to launch himself into the stratosphere and then punch fat Buddha-like characters, or squash a star fighter with his bare hands while you repeatedly tap the B button. Between the limited gameplay and these entertaining visual setpieces I found myself with a game that this isn’t really a game and was left wondering if the story was actually any good.

The answer is not really. It starts off strong with Asura smashing things everywhere he goes and generally being quite narked by everyone he meets. The violence and insanity escalates pretty satisfyingly until about chapter 10 when Asura is forced to confront Augus, his mentor. At this point they are fighting on a moon with Augus going on about how much he prefers drawing his blade to shagging maidens (while devastating large portions of the planetoid). Then he guts Asura while simultaneous piercing the entire planet. Obviously Asura goes pretty ape-shit and vaporises him.

Loss of arms and even apparent death just make Asura more pugnacious.

When it is all over it is hard not to find yourself grinning. After all, you have fought an ever more ridiculous series of gods and it seems that it couldn’t possibly get any crazier.

And it doesn’t.

Mechanically the game does not deviate from its template of random punchy moments, QTEs and on-rails shooter sections. But narratively, after the Augus fight, Asura’s Wrath loses its way and starts to get kind of dull. It stumbles on for another 8 and a bit more episodes yet never quite presents enough spectacle after that high point, with the scenarios repeated and the stand-offs and set pieces not inspiring enough to distract you from the repetitive button presses the game only half-heartedly makes you press. There are several sections where the game will simply wait patiently for you to push the prompt, or worse still reward you with a ‘good’ notification even when you missed the prompt by a mile.

On top of that, after Augus is wasted none of the other characters have the strength to stand beside Asura’s madness and make any kind of impact. I would definitely say that there are still some awesome bits worth playing but when they drag in another character – Yasha – it doesn’t work to the games strengths. I want to be stumbling through the sand head-butting enemies because I have lost all six of my arms and I am too pissed to give a fuck; I do not want to be a wet flannel like Yasha, all eyeliner and posturing.

Not to mention he has a really dumb mask too.

The ultimate insult is that to see the true ending the game forces you to replay the last level again even if you have already met the prerequisites (five S ranks in any five episodes) before you reach that point. The last level isn’t that fun, so doing it twice with the same sequences and boss fights feels a little insulting.

That is not to say that it is all bad. The game truly is a spectacle and a strong first step in a direction that, although not appealing to me, will appeal to others. The production values are through the roof when it comes to both the presentation and voice acting, to the point where I would say there aren’t many cartoons that could rival it.

Your tolerance for this sort of stuff may extend past mine, and with good reason. The joy of watching the main character punch gods is not likely to get old for some. Asura is also the angriest character ever committed to fiction, to the point where the Incredible Hulk appears a sombre and reserved fellow by contrast.

He will stop at nothing to punch giant molten turtle-creatures.

That everyone’s experience will be the same, and that there is little to do on a second playthrough other than hunt for achievements, is unlikely to trouble most who play this game. The spectacle is what this game was designed to cater for and that honesty, coupled with the fact that at least Asura’s Wrath isn’t another awful, linear first person shooter, should be commended.