February 21, 2012
Remember Dragon’s Lair back in the day? It was a lush, arcade experience whereby a player simply had to memorise certain quick time events (certain brutally taxing events, that is) in order to avoid a grisly death and progress the story. In many ways Asura’s Wrath has a lot in common with that particular curio of yesteryear, as it's less an actual game and more of an interactive story. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends entirely on the player, but it certainly makes for one hell of a ride.
Asura starts pretty much how he means to go on, by plummeting straight towards an armada of foes and proceeding to beat on them single-handedly. When a basic ass-whupping is not enough, he simply sprouts a few extra arms and goes up a few notches. It is apparent from the off that the player’s role is going to be on the periphery, as lengthy cutscenes show the action unfolding with occasional quick time events popping up on screen to make you feel a part of things. In between times you can take part in some Space Harrier style shooting to blow a hole in your foes. As a prelude to events it's certainly impressive, with an epic battle against the backdrop of space being fought by beings of immeasurable power.
The opening episode certainly sets the tone and the whole game is presented in an episodic style reminiscent of classic shows like Samurai 7, or more mainstream fare like Dragonball and Naruto, with each segment having opening and closing segments and credits, plus a little sneak peek of what's coming next. It's certainly odd to play a game and be confronted by a ‘To be Continued’ graphic, only to see the next scene unfold literally seconds later. It's certainly a unique experience and helps to draw you into the storyline, which veers between the sublime and the ridiculous, with random bouts of offbeat humour for good measure, just like any good manga would do.
While the story is told in grand style it's occasionally a touch on the perplexing side. On a basic level players control Asura, who awakens from a 12,000 year power nap to take revenge on those who wronged him. Each of his former colleagues represent a certain style of behaviour, and it's up to Asura’s almighty wrath to pummel them all into submission and rescue his kidnapped daughter. Some episodes last less than a minute, some last about half an hour and some see you perving on hot tub attendants. All in a days work really, but the diverse nature of events and the strange structure make it like no other game you'll have played before, and that can only be a good thing.
With a unique art style that blends comic book chic with CG models to good effect, and some insane interactive cutscenes to boot, this is certainly a feast for the eyes. Plus it has a superb soundtrack that blends grand operatic music, with haunting spaghetti western melodies and a bit of rock sprinkled on top for good measure. As a package this is a superb advertisement for style over substance with an interesting story, vivid backdrop and epic score. It's only when you break things down and look at the gameplay side of things that the cracks begin to show.
Going back to Dragon’s Lair again, it was certainly a wonderful looking game but the reason it didn’t spawn a raft of popular imitators is because the level of interactivity was basically zero. The same holds true of Asura’s Wrath, outside of a seemingly endless array of cutscenes the actual player controlled action is limited. It's breathtaking at times, but still limited. Be it blasting foes apart in space, fighting your old mentor on the surface of the Moon, zooming through a giant monolith to stop an impending countdown, beating up a planet-sized foe or even taking on enemies with no arms (NO ARMS!!! That’s how badass this guy is) it's all good fun, but these sections often last mere minutes before the next big scene jumps in. It doesn’t help that even when you fail certain QTE’s you're never really penalised either. So while you may have fun with the combat and it’s range of combos, ranged attacks and ludicrous finishers, it only makes up a small fraction of the whole package and that’s a shame.
On the plus side it seems that some thought has been put into the achievements and getting all of the points on offer is a nice mix of progression-based objectives, funny little asides and combat challenges. The ability to shut up your foes while they are engaged in a waffling monologue is a fun touch, and being rewarded with some points makes it all the more satisfying. The same goes for catching a bunch of peeping toms, getting blind drunk, achieving excellent timing on certain QTE moments and so on. The challenge will come in S ranking all missions on both Normal and Hard difficulty, plus having to complete the entire game with no health/skill gauges on screen or pretty much no health at all. It will certainly require a few attempts, but as you can skip cutscenes at will then it should be no real hardship for the dedicated.
What we have here then is an oddity that fans of bombastic anime shows will undoubtedly lap up. There's still plenty here for non-fans to enjoy but the overwhelming reliance on QTE’s and cutscenes may leave people wondering if they got their money’s worth. What you're guaranteed is plenty of fun, but with a short running time, limited actual gameplay and no real reason to go back unless you want to unlock the hidden ending or all of the achievements, then Asura's Wrath is certainly not for everyone. Still any game that takes a unique approach can only be a good thing so it would be a shame for people not to give Asura's Wrath a chance. Sit back, switch off and enjoy some mindless, wrath fuelled, shenanigans.
An eclectic blend of rock, orchestral score and haunting Ennio Morricone style western themes. A musical triumph to be sure.
Considering the game is made up of over the top cutscenes you'd expect Asura's Wrath to look good and on that front it certainly delivers, with wonderful visuals for the most part. There's the occasional instance of texture pop-up, but it's few and far between.
Simplistic fight sequences sandwiched between an endless array of quick time events and cutscenes. This is an interactive manga show at its finest, though whether that makes for a fun game is debatable.
Over the top craziness, stylised visuals and plenty of interesting ideas make for a unique and compelling experience, while it lasts.
A good list from Capcom? Perish the thought. Still with a neat mix of progression, combat requirements and straight up humour, this is a thousand points that will equal parts entertain and infuriate.
This is a game in only the loosest sense of the word, but is an intriguing proposition nonetheless, especially for those with a penchant for action based manga series. Asura’s Wrath is an original, engaging and occasionally ridiculous game and as a result is certainly a novel experience, though whether it’s an experience that most gamers will be happy paying top dollar for is another matter.