We were excited when we first heard of Asura’s Wrath, and the various news floating about at e3 painted a picture of a very unique game from a well-known publisher. Though you may be familiar with Capcom, developer CyberConnect2 is not so universal. That is, unless you play Naruto games. However, they’ve managed to deliver on initial impressions with a quirky title that does things very differently – though it is important to note that differently does not always translate to ‘better’. Amusingly, we received a copy of Rage: A Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Explosive Anger alongside Asura’s Wrath for 360, a cheeky throw-in from the local Capcom PR.
Asura is a pretty typical character from the pages of Japanese Manga, translated into Anime form for the game. He enjoys status as a demigod, imbued with the usual bevvy of powers such as immortality and strength, and notably, he grows an extra four arms when particularly annoyed. Why more arms? Because more arms equals more punching.
He’s joined by seven other demigods that are unified underneath a generic Emperor, and they work together to protect the planet of Shinkoku against the demonic forces of the Gohma. This is all explained, more or less, in the opening scenes of the game, as the planet is surrounded by a fleet of such a ridiculous size that it could only come from Japan. The fleet, strangely, originated from the planet itself, and is mobilised against the Gohma that are appearing from the planet’s surface – this is not really explained, but the official line probably sounds similar to “hey, big ships in space, shh, it’s cool okay.”
We’re given control of Asura as he flies through space towards the planet, destroying the fish-like Gohma carriers that pour out of the planet by flinging his fists towards them, causing energy to shoot out and destroy them. Suddenly, a gigantic Gohma named Vlitra appears after a giant space laser is fired from a giant space statue in space, and Asura whips out his extra arms to punch it to death. In space. This is achieved by the use of quick-time events, which involve the mashing of specific buttons as displayed on-screen, or the flicking of analogue sticks in the appropriate direction. It takes a while to get used to these as the action is quite frenetically paced, and they’re pretty distracting.
Eventually the giant Gohma is subdued, and thus ends the first episode of part 1. Then the worst storytelling technique we’ve experienced in years kicks in.
Before the fact
The links to Anime run deeply, and of ten episodes that make up each part, each begins with a pre-rendered video. These videos are baffling, leaping forwards and backwards chronologically, and they even go so far as to explain what happens in the next episode before you get to play it! Accompanied by a horrendous voice-over, they rip you rudely out of the game and spoil it mercilessly. These can be skipped with the Back button, but you have to be quick to mash it before a major plot point is revealed. We get that Anime is cool, and that some video games have attempted to try to be an interactive movie, but an interactive Anime series just doesn’t work convincingly. CyberConnect2 have even gone so far as to include mood-breaking “To be continued” stills in the middle of each episode, halting story progression and cutting any suitably epic music short. And in typical Anime style, the dialogue at the end of each episode is repeated at the start of each new one – and is staunchly unskippable. Combined with downright confusing dialogue and a penchant to leave things unanswered, you’ll have to let go of any attempt to follow the story and just go with the flow.
Weird storytelling methods aside, it eventually transpires that Asura is framed for the murder of the Emperor by the leader of the eight Guardian Generals, his daughter is kidnapped and held prisoner because she’s great at channelling Mantra (energy that demigods can manipulate to boost their powers), and Asura is effectively killed, sending him tumbling to Naraka.
War is Naraka
As we so subtly hinted, Naraka is the Buddhist version of the Underworld, where Asura finds himself for a period of 12,000 years. He eventually makes it back to the real world, but it’s hard to feel like you’ve achieved very much as a player – the vast majority of the game is cut-scene, with the odd quick-time event thrown in. The remainder is quite standard fighting game, where a variety of punches and punching styles mesh with fists and more punching. Enemies appear in the form of animals such as gorillas, turtles and elephants, black-skinned with red veins, though they’re mostly a chore to defeat. Fighting is reminiscent of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, just not as fun.
Asura’s old buddies, the seven demigods, have declared themselves in Asura’s absence as the Seven Deities, and Asura fights them in sequences that are the most interesting combat the game has to offer. From fighting the fat Wyden, who uses Mantra to inflate to the size of a planet, then attempts to crush Asura with a gigantic finger (red-hot from re-entry), to the fast-moving Yasha who proves very difficult to best – especially since Asura is literally disarmed at the time – these are fresh and interesting in a way that Shadow of the Colossus was at launch.
Unfortunately, these epic fights are so padded by a huge amount of cut-scene and average group fights against Gohma, that they aren’t really worthwhile slogging through to reach. If you enjoy the visual style of the game – and really, Unreal Engine 3 cel-shaded with interesting character design is quite nice to look at – then it might be worth sitting through to the end. If you’re a huge Anime buff and really love the disjointed story (somewhat reminiscent of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which personally annoyed the hell out of me), then it might be worth a go.
For everyone else, Asura’s Wrath is a game that attempts to take interactive storytelling to a new level, but fails spectacularly to capture our interest. At standard retail pricing, it’s also not stellar value; you probably won’t want to sit through a second time, and there’s little in the way of additional content. Though there is DLC coming in the form of a Street Fighter crossover (no, really, thanks for that one Capcom), it doesn’t look like it’ll give Asura’s Wrath the legs it needs to be a truly great game. One to avoid.