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Review: Asura's Wrath
by Peter Kratz

Twelve thousand years ago, after the War of Creation, the demigod general Asura assassinated his emperor in an attempt to take the throne. The seven remaining generals retaliated, killing Asura and then taking their place as the Seven Deities, to protect Earth and its people and cleanse the world of demons.

Or so the legends go. In reality, Asura was framed by the other generals, his wife killed, and his daughter kidnapped for her magical abilities. Now that he's escaped from the underworld, you can probably guess that he's a little bit pissed.

Asura's Wrath tells its story like a TV show; it's broken up into episodes, akin to games like Alan Wake and Alone in the Dark, which also take a similar approach in terms of their format. Asura takes it a few steps further, though. There's a heavy focus on presentation, trying to make the game as fun to watch as it is to play. Each episode has opening credits, a preview of the next episode and even commercial bumpers like in an animé. Episodes are even designed to clock in at around 20 minutes each, including their cutscenes.

There are two types of action sequence within the game. One is the typical third-person brawler, relatively simple but satisfying, with cool little touches like counter-attacks and finishing moves to use on stunned enemies. The second is on-rails shooting; again, simple, but entertaining. The remainder of the action is handled in quick-time events. QTEs are often maligned by critics, but Asura's Wrath is an example of doing them well; they're very frequent, so they never feel cheap, and the vast majority of them won't kill you if you fail, instead just costing you a chunk of health. The game really shines during its one-on-one boss fights, where your goal isn't to decrease the enemy's health but to fill Asura's 'burst' meter and trigger a cinematic special move, which usually boils down to punching your enemy really hard, sometimes with three arms at once. Don't get me wrong, it's really cool the first couple of times that you see it, but for a game that values presentation so much, it would have been good to see more variety.

Bosses steal the show, but normal enemies like this one can still pose a challenge

Still, though, the game could have been more interactive. I'm usually pretty open to games like this, such as Heavy Rain, where you the large majority is simply watching, but at least in Heavy Rain you were in charge of nearly every action your characters took; you're normally not in control of Asura until the punches start flying. There is an interesting exception, in an episode where you just relax and have a drink in a hot spring while reminiscing with another of the characters, and you fill your burst meter by taking shots instead of fighting. Then it's just back to having fistfights for the rest of the game. Not that that isn't fun, but from a story perspective, it started to feel padded with fights because the game couldn't do anything else. There are even a number of flashbacks to fights in Asura's past that are clearly just there for the sake of inserting some action into an episode.

Asura's story is pretty straightforward. Thousands of years after his betrayal, he emerges from the underworld to exact revenge against his former comrades. It certainly invites comparison to the God of War sequels, but the difference is that Asura is much more sympathetic compared to his Greek counterpart. The problem with Kratos was that he more or less got what was coming to him when the gods betrayed him. His reasons for fighting for were entirely selfish, and it became very difficult to root for him when his deicide started destroying the earth in God of War 3. In Asura's Wrath, however, the gods are actually extremely easy to dislike, killing as they do innocent mortals in order to use their souls as power against demons, so watching Asura punch new holes in their heads is much more satisfying.

Having sound in space is the least impossible thing to happen in this game

That isn't to say that the conflict is black-and-white, though. The writing does a fairly good job of making Asura a little more flawed as a character, and the deities perhaps more misguided than evil. Some of them take a little too much pleasure from killing innocent people, but they each have their own motivation, and the writing maintains that (though brutal) it may be a necessary evil to stop the demons once and for all.

Asura's Wrath has a one-of-a-kind aesthetic, beautifully blending together eastern mythology and sci-fi. Considering the game is at least half cutscenes and QTEs, it's a good thing that they all look extremely pretty, boasting terrific cinematography and animation. The action scenes are like something an eight-year-old would come up with when high on sugar and having just finished a Dragonball Z marathon (one of the highest compliments I can give an action game). It throws physics and reason to the wind and just lets awesome things happen. Enemies the size of a planet? Check. Flying motorcycles? Check. Characters and spaceships that are designed simply to look cool? Oh goodness me, yes.


As for the music, you might think that such an over-the-top action game would be fuelled by cheesy rock songs, but the game takes a classier route with a more orchestral feel. There is a guitar-twanging track or two that wouldn't sound out of place in God Hand, but some of the fight background music is downright serene, and it works surprisingly well. It's a very good soundtrack with top-notch voice-acting to match, featuring big-name voice actors like Liam O'Brien and Steve Blum.

Great presentation, solid action, and a pretty decent story given the genre. Why am I not telling you to go and buy this right now? Well, the ending is sold separately, that's why. The last four episodes of Asura's Wrath were just released a few weeks ago as DLC. For $8. And this wasn't like ME3, where they 'botched' the ending and decided to change it for the fans. The game has a 'true ending' which isn't an ending at all, but instead just throws in a plot twist from way out of left field - "remember that enigmatic but fairly insignificant character from the first part? Yup. He's evil. And behind the whole thing". The obvious question is: "why didn't they just throw in another ten-minute boss fight?" But I'd like to ask: "why wasn't the whole game sold in chunks like that?"

Episodic content is a good business model that triple-A developers should be trying more. Consumers don't have to make that massive $60 investment in a whole game, and developers can get feedback and try to improve the game as they make it. The game is already split into three parts, the DLC being the fourth. Capcom easily could have sold each part for $10-15 each. Plus, if it were downloadable, they wouldn't have to worry about losing sales to the used market. Instead, however, publishers choose to make online passes look like outstanding customer service.

I can't support that kind of consumer milking - and, believe me, I have a high endurance for getting milked - so I can't really recommend buying Asura's Wrath, but I do believe in giving the devil his due: it's an interesting experiment in blending together TV-esque storytelling and gaming that, for the most, part works very well. In terms of gameplay, it's simple, but provides a satisfying challenge and it puts on a hell of a show while it's at it. It's worth a rental if the idea of an interactive animé piques your interest, and as for the ending: eh, you can always YouTube it.

7/10 [?]

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- Peter Kratz

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