Review: Asura’s Wrath

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Rage is the fuel that drives many video game characters, Kratos of God of War being the first to come to mind. But not even Kratos’ anger reaches the godly heights of Asura’s from Asura’s Wrath. See, his anger actually gets top billing in the game’s title!

Asura is one pissed-off demigod, and he has every right to be. He’s been framed for the assassination of the Emperor, his wife has been murdered, and his daughter taken. Seriously, he’s so irritable he makes The Incredible Hulk look tame by comparison. Instead of turning green and bulging out of his clothes when he gets mad, though, Asura sprouts six arms and lets out this odd groaning noise that sounds like a floorboard creak echoing from heaven. Or something like that.

Underlying Asura’s quest for revenge is a seemingly never-ending conflict between the demigods and the Gohma, the defense force of Earth’s mother, Gaea, manifesting as giant mutant animals, like rhinos, elephants, gorillas, snapping turtles and flying fish. Yes, as you may have guessed by now, Asura’s Wrath is an indescribably crazy game abounding with equally crazy characters.

Despite all the grunting and growling, Asura is a likeable hero you will grow to care and pull for. The story blends anime sci-fi with Asian mythology to produce one weird yet completely enthralling narrative that’s over the top and artistically striking enough to entertain on the same level as watching a favorite animated show or reading a comic book. You can expect typical anime melodrama and plenty of wildly exaggerated action, balanced out nicely by some truly touching moments and a score that beautifully plays to the interplanetary scale of the game’s demigod-on-demigod violence.

By watching trailers or looking at screenshots, you may fall under the impression that Asura’s Wrath is an action game equivalent to a God of War or Devil May Cry. It has those elements, sure, but it’s also totally different. With this game, developer CyberConnect2 attempts to simulate a full-season anime series in an interactive form. The story is divided into 18 episodes, and each episode begins with a text interlude and a prelude video giving a sneak peek at the events to come. Authentic to the anime/cartoon TV series format, credits play over the screen as each episode begins, still pieces of artwork function as in-game commercial “bumpers” at the halfway mark of each episode, and episodes typically end with “to be continued…” cliffhangers that drive you to see what happens next. Groups of episodes are also treated like individual seasons, with ending credit sequences rolling to close off one chunk of the story before the next act begins.

This setup is cool in theory and shows numerous flashes of brilliance, but the overall execution of the episodic structure doesn’t quite live up to the concept’s full potential. In the context of a video game, the experience comes across as choppy and fragmented at times, which in turn leads to a jumbled flow of story and gameplay. It also means you’re watching the game and waiting for QTE prompts to pop far more than you’re directly controlling anything. At least the presentation is on point though. Expressive character animations and cinema-quality camerawork make the viewing experience a true delight, as does the distinct art direction which pushes the commonly colorless Unreal Engine to new artistic horizons.

Each episode runs 15-20 minutes long on average, and of that actual gameplay time rarely breaks the five-minute threshold. Shoot, I’ve completed many chapters in less than a minute on the gameplay clock. The bulk of the game is, in fact, dominated by cutscenes and QTEs that follow familiar patterns the whole way through. Every time Asura is on the verge of defeat or seems ready to throw in the towel, a flashback plays in his head or something is said that triggers his inner rage, and, like Sylvester Stallone in ‘Over the Top’, he metaphorically turns his hat around backwards and reverses the momentum out of nowhere.

In this game, the “hat switch” usually takes the form of the player tugging the analog sticks in unison to flex Asura’s many metal appendages. This sequence is repeated ad nauseam throughout, as are the countless other basic QTE actions. Unlike the similarly QTE-intensive Heavy Rain, the button and analog stick commands never connect you to what’s happening on the screen or evolve over the course of the game to keep things fresh for extended play sessions. Asura goes to punch a dude in the face; you tap the indicated face button to complete the action. Interactions rarely get more complex than that.

Gameplay that does exist is fun, but only ever serves as brief intermission between the cutscenes and QTEs. When given the keys to fully control Asura’s wrath, you’re either engaged in on-rails shooter levels, a la Sin & Punishment, or straightforward brawler battles which have you button mashing through enemy mobs and bosses—pretty much pain free–until a Burst meter fills so you can jump off the next QTE scene. A few of the bosses introduce action game strategies like attack pattern recognition, counterattacking and dodge rolling, but in general the gameplay maintains sure footing in the shallow end of the pool. After two or three episodes, I was ready to take a break so I could recharge before happily continuing the story the next day. Fortunately, the episodic format makes it the ideal type of game to play a stage or two at a time, allowing you to feed on small doses of escapist entertainment as you would a nightly or weekly TV series.

Building off of that foundation, Capcom recently completed what turned out to be a comprehensive post-launch DLC schedule of add-on episodes that extend the story with new artistic themes and bold new encounters. I bought the first ‘Lost Episode’ consisting of a cameo battle versus Street Fighter icon Ryu, which for only $2 was a neat novelty and a worthwhile impulse buy. That said, the DLC format does strike me as Capcom releasing an anime box set and then selling off the extras that would normally be in a ‘Bonus Features’ menu. But that’s just how most DLC is I’m afraid. Fortunately, the main experience, while only around six hours tops, is fairly replayable thanks to multiple difficulty options, unlockables aplenty (artwork, movies, bumpers, and even Life/Burst gauges that add different gameplay modifiers to spice up additional playthroughs), and a scoring system that rates your performance in each episode with a letter grade. There’s also fun to be had in replaying favorite episodes or skipping through to relive epic battles.

To call Asura’s Wrath a protracted series of quick time events isn’t entirely inaccurate, however such a statement does belittle what is ultimately an unparalleled work of interactive fiction too wild and unpredictable for written word to faithfully describe. So, will you like Asura’s Wrath? That depends upon a couple key factors. If you’re up for a good, twist-filled sci-fi/mythology/anime mash-up storyline and don’t mind hours of cutscenes and quick time events, hit up the nearest game shop immediately and grab yourself a copy–you’ll dig this game, mucho. However, if you’re expecting a gameplay-driven action experience along the lines of a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, you’ll want to look elsewhere to get your adrenaline fix. Or you can always download the demo to see if this acquired taste of a game suits your palate.

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Pros:
+ Larger than life characters and action sequences
+ Top-notch art direction and all-around production value
+ Episodic anime series structure has never been pulled off this effectively in a video game
+ Interesting story keeps you coming back

Cons:
– Very little actual gameplay
– QTE commands are too basic and really don’t connect you to the action
– Story and gameplay pacing feels a bit jumbled at times

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for Xbox 360
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: CyberConnect2
Release Date: 2/21/2012
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!