If there’s one thing Japanese anime is renowned for, it’s for making attempts to be as sensational as possible. It’s therefore inevitable that such a comparison will be made when discussing Capcom’s latest original IP (!!), Asura’s Wrath, a heady blend of Asian mythology, science fiction and over-the-top action. It’s a very odd combination, but it works well and makes for an entertaining experience.
You play as the titular Asura, a god-like general renowned for his short temper, who did his part to protect Heaven and Earth from the Gohma, a destructive and demonic force. Imagine how much angrier Asura gets when he finds himself framed for the Emperor’s death, his wife killed, his daughter kidnapped and being thrown down to Naraka. Answer: A lot. He manages to escape 12,000 years later, hungry for revenge and on a quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Fortunately, the rather trite story is saved by its execution. There are twists and turns in Asura’s tale as well as many scenes that flesh the characters out, saving them from being one-dimensional archetypes. The game is presented in an episodic format, which complements the anime-esque feel the developer was aiming for, complete with animation credits at the beginning of each chapter and previews for the next episode. Where this presentation falls short however is the fact that each episode doesn’t even run as long as a standard TV episode, so it feels like the previews are interrupting the game.
As you would expect from a game with a heavy emphasis on spectacular action, Asura’s Wrath looks amazing. The visuals look like a mix of cel-shading, colourful manga and a little bit of watercolour painting thrown in for good measure. Okami, eat your heart out. The sections between the chapters get some love too, featuring static drawings by different artists that add more to the story, and are all worthy of being computer wallpapers. The music was a pleasant surprise too, with a lot of variation between music tracks, but always giving you the feeling that you are on a quest of epic proportions. The voice acting is for the most part excellent, although there were a few problems with lip synching. And I know Asura’s an angry guy, but his constant yelling got a bit annoying, especially when it’s obvious the developers only have three sound clips of it.
Asura’s Wrath is a beat ‘em up that somewhat manages to address the oft-held view that the genre has boring gameplay. Apart from your standard hammer-this-button-chain-into-a-combo melee attack, you also have the ability to launch projectiles from Asura’s fists and a Y-button attack, which should be used strategically due to its cool down time. Your projectiles don’t serve much purpose during battles on the ground (except to destroy flying enemies), but there are a number of segments that consist solely of shooting down enemies. Some of these segments are done well and give an exhilarating sense of challenge, while others are a bit more mundane and seem to consist of you locking on to targets and smashing a button. Whether you’re playing ground battles or shooting segments, your attacks fill up the Unlimited gauge, which is more or less a fantastical cutscene trigger in which you defeats your enemy or progress to the next stage of the fight.
I admit I didn’t like the Unlimited Gauge at first. To me, it represented that the game wasn’t serious about giving players a real gameplay experience, instead taking control from them and showing them all the cool things that can only be done during cinematics. But the game does involve the player during these scenes, in the form of quick time events. I’m not a fan of quick time events, but I did like them in Asura’s Wrath, because they allow the player to participate in events that would otherwise be impossible to implement in-game. For example, I can’t imagine that fighting a deity larger than the Earth would be much fun in a traditional beat ‘em up game. It is important in Asura’s Wrath that the game blends cutscenes and gameplay together well, considering how action-oriented the game is. It is equally impressive that the action evolves depending on Asura – there are no level ups or abilities or experience points here. The gameplay is very much seamless with the story – for example, if Asura loses his arms, you’re going to have to make do in combat with just his legs and head.
Unfortunately, the game does not offer very good value for money. Even with 18 chapters, Asura’s Wrath only offers about 6 or 7 hours of gameplay. By integrating a ranking system for each chapter, the game encourages you to play for longer, especially since the true ending can only be unlocked with 5 S ranks on stages. However, it’s not overly difficult, even on hard mode, to achieve these ranks. To further motivate players, there are neat little tidbits like concept art and cinematics to unlock, but most (if not all) of them can be unlocked in one playthrough.
From comments floating around the internet, it’s clear that Asura’s Wrath isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, due to the high price and the relative lack of actual gameplay compared to most other titles out at the moment. Could it have been better as an anime or a movie? Maybe. But video games are a form of escapism, and Asura’s Wrath proves that. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been awed by my power while playing the game, along with the visual and aural experience that goes along with it. Lack of gameplay or not, Asura’s Wrath is a highly entertaining experience which everyone would do well to check out.