When Capcom revealed their new IP Asura’s Wrath back at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, everyone assumed they were jumping on the action-adventure bandwagon. Most people, myself included, labeled the game as a God of War-rip-off set in Asian mythology. It wasn’t that the idea was a bad one, it just wasn’t an original one, or at least that is how it appeared. Little did we all know that what Capcom and developer Cyberconnect 2 had in store was something completely different and unlike anything we have seen. This isn’t a game; this is an over-the-top anime film that get to play a role in progressing from start to finish.
In this game, and I use that term loosely, the player witness the fall and rise of the great Asura. Once a member of the Eight Guardian Generals charged with protecting mankind, Asura falls from grace and embarks on a journey of redemption and revenge. Perhaps “falls from grace” isn’t the right term; it is more like kicked down to the bowels of Hell from grace because his descent was actually fueled by scandal and the ulterior motives of his fellow Generals.
Following a great battle in which Asura single-handedly destroys the sworn enemy of the Gohma, Asura is summoned to the chambers of the Emperor. He arrives only to find the Emperor murdered and after he catches the Emperor’s falling body, the blood is literally on his hands. The other Generals immediately accuse him of the murder, brand him as a traitor and turn the forces of Heaven against him. Asura immediately escapes back to his quarters where he finds his wife, Durga dying and his daughter missing. Obviously this is the act of whoever is behind this devilish scheme of murdering the Emperor. In her dying breath she asks Asura to rescue their daughter, Mithra, who is also the high-priestess of the land and one person who brings immeasurable power to the Eight Guardian Generals and their heavenly armies.
Asura immediately tracks his General peers, whom he knows played a hand in the scheme that has started unfolding. As he expected, he finds his daughter held captive by them and the true mastermind behind this evil plot, the God Deus. According to Deus, he has set these events in motion for the good of the people, in order bring about “the Great Rebirth”. Deus then defeats Asura in a brief battle and banishes him from the Heavens. Asura then awakens 12 millennia later hanging on the edge of reality, moments from falling into the depths of the Naraka (Hell) where his soul would be lost forever. You, as Asura, will then begin your climb back into the Heavens to not only avenge your wife and rescue your daughter, but learn of the treachery that has unfolded in your absence.
I won’t tell you anything more than that because doing so would ruin the experience. The story and events of Asura’s Wrath is the total experience, you just happen to be able to interact with the tale that unfolds. The manner in which it is presented is more on par with an insane anime than anything else; we are talking about Godlike warriors using swords that can stab through the Earth and normal-sized humans beings taking down beasts the size of planets with their bare hands. This story gets crazy at points but it never once loses its engaging charm. The “game” lays out the events of the story but gives you control of Asura as they are told. You will control him during his epic battles and interact with the various cut-scenes and dialog through the use of extensive quicktime events (QTE’s); if you aren’t a fan of the QTE-style gameplay, this game could possibly be your worst nightmare.
The core element of the gameplay revolves around filling and using Asura’s rage meter in the actual gameplay portions of the game. This meter, located at the top of the screen, is the key to progressing the story; as you play through the different scenarios, your goal is to fill up the meter so that you can trigger the “Burst” mode which will progress the game to the next scene. The meter fills up as you land successful attacks on your enemies, be it with hand to hand combat or projectiles. You will also be able to gain large chunks of meter by successfully completing one of the game’s many “quicktime events” that occur throughout battle. Once you activate the burst mode, the scene or battle will progress to its next phase or major moment; this concept is repeated through every chapter of the game.
The battles play out as a typical beat-em-up style action game with you having the ability to pummel your opponents with a variety of weak and strong attacks. Asura can also launch projectiles at his enemies both in rapid fire succession or when locked on using a targeting ability. There are really two main gameplay styles used in these areas of the game; you will either combat hordes of enemies and big bosses or partake in on-rails shooter styled sections. Regardless of the style used, the action is pushed forward at a breakneck speed and focuses on giving you an opportunity to fill up the Rage meter. Once you manage to fill it to the top, you can trigger the burst mode / sequence which will progress the scene forward to its next section
When you aren’t in direct control of Asura all of the time, you still maintain control of the game’s main camera during the down times. Even during the dialog filled cut scenes, you can move the camera slightly in any direction and even zoom in / out of the scene. You almost feel like a director, though the control that you have is quite limited. The game’s use of QTE’s is perhaps the best implementation of the concept that has been seen yet; while they are used extensively, they aren’t the focus of the gameplay. Instead, they are utilized in a manner that keeps you interacting with the game during times which most titles would have you simply watching and listening.
The result is an interactive experience, practically from start to finish. This is nice because it keeps you paying attention during times that you might normally find yourself not paying attention. Your participation is required to cue major events, such as when a character makes a movement to exit a scene or perhaps initiate an epic battle. Sure you can jump right in and get your fists dirty as the game prompts you to press the left and right analog sticks in a given direction, but perhaps you would rather sit back and let the banter between the characters play out and heighten the tension behind the oncoming battle. The choice is yours. Then again, other times you may need to react to a given prompt quickly or risk altering the manner in which the story plays out, although the changes that result are only slight and don’t dramatically impact the end result(s).
While I applaud the efforts of both Capcom and CyberConnect2 in crafting this new genre / means of story-telling, this isn’t exactly the best means of implementing it. It is really nothing more than an interactive movie, although an extremely enjoyable one. Each chapter or “episode” of the game is presented just like it was a television show. They all begin with credits and end with a brief glimpse to what is coming in the next chapter. This formula works but it grows old when you play them back to back.
The flow of this title would be much better if the chapters were broken up and disbursed to the players over time. Asura’s Wrath could have been a much better game if these episodes were split up into episodic content and distributed over time. Granted, there would have to be more changes to them, such as increasing their individual length (perhaps grouping a few of them together). I would be completely behind this series had it been released through digital means one chapter or episode at a time, using respectable price points of course. That would have made a lot more sense given its design and presentation.
All of this plays out using a gorgeous graphical / auditory presentation and an amazing art style. Throughout the adventure you will be treated to a number of original and unique gameplay perspectives that have not been used in a lot of games before. The resulting experience is one that feels more cinematic and engaging then the standard 3D adventure. This cinematic and dramatic experience is enhanced by the use of a moving and original score.
From an artistic perspective, the game lifts its visual style heavily from a combination of science-fiction and Asian mythology. The Generals and deities all reflect classic samurai style warriors, down to their armor and weapons, while the armies consist of high tech spaceships and robotic troops. Although the two worlds seem like they are miles apart, they actually blend together quite nicely in the game world. Thankfully, the developers recognize this and give you a plethora of galleries and videos which you can watch as you please through the game’s options after you have unlocked them. Completing each given chapter, unlocks a new grouping of artistic items which you can browse and examine at will for your own pleasure.
Asura’s Wrath is an extremely hard “game” to review. If you look at it strictly as a game, it comes up short. There isn’t a ton for you to do compared to other action games on the market and your options when you do get control are severely limited. On the other hand of things, the title tells an enjoyable and entertaining tales that keeps you invested from start to finish. The development team has crafted an amazing experience here, but unfortunately is doesn’t provide you with the “bang for your buck” we, as gamers, have come to expect in this modern age. The entire experience will be over in about 5-6 hours and there isn’t any reason to go back and play it again because seeing it once means seeing it all.
I really hope that we see this method of presentation used more in the future; it is a strange blend of gaming meets film / storytelling and I feel that I am better having experienced it than not. Unfortunately though, not everyone who takes the plunge is going to feel that way; if that artistic value is lost on the player, then they will feel shorted in terms of the overall experience. You should at least give it a try though because this game may have opened up an entirely new genre that could flourish on an episodic level.