Asura’s Wrath for Xbox 360 and PS3
Asura’s Wrath is one of the silliest games that I’ve ever played, an utterly ridiculous and over the top experience which perfectly captures the excesses of a certain kind of anime. If I were forced to make comparisons, I’d say that Asura’s Wrath is like Dragon Ball Z fused with Hindu mythology, but the aesthetic and style of Asura’s Wrath is unlike any other. Oddly enough, the fact that the actual gameplay is severely underwhelming does little to detract from the overall experience.
Asura’s Wrath takes place primarily on the planet Gaea, an Earth-like planet populated by human tribes, which is under attack from the corrupting force from beneath the earth known as the Gohma. To defend Gaea there are a civilisation of demi-Gods, who fight off the Gohma using their fleet of space craft and the Eight Guardian Generals, hugely powerful beings who can defeat scores of Gohma with their bare hands. The titular Asura is one of the Eight Guardian Generals, and is instrumental in a successful battle where the most powerful Gohma, Vlitra, is defeated and sealed away for millennia.
After the battle, Asura returns to the space station where the demi-Gods make their home, to find his wife murdered and his daughter kidnapped, after discovering that he has been framed for the murder of the Emperor. Asura is thrown from the space station to Gaea and dies. He awakens in Naraka, the realm between life and death, 12,000 years later, with the help of a mysterious Golden Spider, and makes his way back to the realm of the living. Here he finds a world where humanity has been enslaved by the demi-Gods, now known as Seven Deities, and are harvesting their souls to power their weaponry, and using Asura’s daughter as a conduit. Asura sets out to rescue his daughter and free humanity from the clutches of his former allies, taking out the Seven Deities on the way.
It’s your classic tournament Bleach-esque anime structure, but I’ve never seen this done properly in a videogame before. The closest would be in Japanese fighting games such as Tekken, but they never quite capture the ridiculous scale that these anime can have, and dear lord does Asura’s Wrath capture that scale. The first boss grows to the size of the moon and tries to crush Asura with his finger (the first boss!) and it only gets more insane from there. The game is split into chapters which are about the length of an anime episode, reinforcing the link. Asura’s loving motivation to save his daughter isn’t particularly convincing, any emotion from Asura but unbridled rage doesn’t really work, but it does give the carnage a slightly more human element. The mythology is confusing nonsense, but it’s fairly internally consistent and used to great visual effect, which is the important thing. The supporting cast of the Seven Deities are highly entertaining and well established, if not particularly complex or nuanced. In fact, Asura’s Wrath may be the least nuanced game ever. At the end of the day, despite (or perhaps because of) all of its myriad flaws, the plot kept me entertained and interested throughout, and this experiment in anime style storytelling in a videogame really works.
Now, there’s one element of Asura’s Wrath which will immediately alienate a large number of players, so I’ll get that out of the way first; Quick Time Events. There’re a lot of them. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is a game mostly comprised of Quick Time Events. They may be the best implemented QTEs I’ve ever seen, but QTEs they are. They mesh with the action really well, and genuinely add to the excitement rather than detracting from it as most QTEs do. The actual gameplay parts are, in a case I suspect is unique to this game, actually weaker. The insane action of the cutscenes/QTEs devolved into sluggish, dull melee combat, with your standard fast/strong attack types and little in the way of strategy or nuance. The replacement of the traditional health gauge for enemies with the ‘burst gauge’, which activates the next cutscene where Asura either finished off his foe or moves on to the next stage of the fight, really changes nothing and has absolutely zero effect on how the fights are fought. The other main gameplay sections are some quite dire rail shooter segments, which while visually stunning, are highly dull and again just become mindless blasting. It’s a shame that the bread and butter gameplay couldn’t live up to madness of the story and the presentation, but as I said it ends up not being a huge issue.
Asura’s Wrath is an absolutely stunning game, with its mixture of science fiction with Hindu and Buddhist imagery creating a world unlike any other. The fights are very well choreographed, and are a joy to watch (I won’t count the QTEs as actually playing). The voice acting is extremely hammy, but that’s a classic part of the anime experience and it all ends up working. The sound track is lovely too, with some tracks that are genuinely beautiful, with the juxtaposition of these gorgeous and haunting melodies with the carnage being unleashed giving me some real frissons. The sound mixing isn’t great overall though, particularly when it comes to character voices, which often cannot be heard over the sound of the music or other sound effects. It’s a problem which lasts all the way through the game, and mars the entire experience, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Finally, I’m going to address the elephant in the room; the DLC. Asura’s Wrath ends on a pretty massive cliffhanger, and generated huge controversy for selling the final chapter as DLC. I…really can’t defend this. The final chapter is excellent, and I couldn’t imagine the game without it, but that makes the whole thing worse, not better. I picked up Asura’s Wrath and the DLC in a digital sale for a pittance, so it wasn’t an issue for me, but this may understandably put a lot of people off.
If you can get past the QTEs, the poor gameplay and the sickening DLC practises, Asura’s Wrath is an amazing experience. Put like that it rings a bit hollow doesn’t it? If approached as a videogame, you may find Asura’s Wrath wanting, but as a multimedia experience it’s fascinating, and highly entertaining. There’s really nothing else like it, and if you can pick it up for a decent price I really recommend giving it a go.