|System: Xbox 360*, PS3|
|Release: February 21, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
Asura's Wrath bills itself as "a truly unique blend of breathtaking action and story." If that's the case, I suppose we're just ignoring Don Bluth's laserdisc games and the semi-interactive, reaction-based genre they spawned. The difference being that Dragon's Lair and its ilk were generally fun the first time through, whereas Asura's Wrath becomes a tiresome slog by the third or fourth hour. In the end, the game stands as a prime example of what goes wrong when story and "the rule of cool" are allowed to override the core action of a game.
Visually, Asura's Wrath is usually stunning. The art direction is superb, with character designs that evoke the game's Buddhist inspiration and a wood-like grain that lines the skin of the title's demigods, separating them from the regular people of Gaea. Though this is a tale of gods set over millennia, it is rife with elements of science fiction that somehow manage to work, from the armies of high-flying cruisers the deities employ to the mechanical guts that spill out when they are wounded. The Gohma, in contrast, are violently organic, their designs animal-based, with red lines coursing across their black skin, pulsing with a disturbing rhythm.
In the end, though, this is the Unreal Engine at work, and cracks sometimes show through the design in muddy environmental textures and occasional slowdown. Nothing kills the mood of an epic feat of god-level strength like a choppy framerate. These little hiccups are particularly noticeable since everything in the game is so hectic, with combat on a scale that would give the characters of Dragon Ball Z pause.
The game also sounds good, with earth-shaking impacts and the protests of grinding metal during demigod-on-demigod battles. Music is sometimes sparse, but when it's there, it's the best part of the experience. As in the demo, one of the game's episodes is set on (or at least begins on) the moon, with a battle framed by Dvorak's From the New World symphony. This battle, and especially its preceding sequence in the prior chapter, contains some of Asura's Wrath's few elements of comedy. This is a relentlessly serious game.
The story, though, works against the title. While Asura's Wrath is designed to play out like a self-contained anime series—divided into levels that each begin with a brief attribution and end with a still-image-and-text coda and a narrated preview of the next "episode"—its plot is simply uninteresting. It's fun to watch the world-altering, god-level super-beings clash for about an hour or so, but their personalities are one-dimensional and they seem pathologically averse to character development. It's a one-note and fairly predictable story, which is better than the "totally incomprehensible and pointless" that Capcom typically manages, but most of those games were built around tight gameplay. Asura's Wrath hardly has gameplay.
There are three types of gameplay in Asura's Wrath. First, there is melee combat, during which players mash the attack button on the controller to repeatedly spam one's character's sole combo at enemies. Sometimes you'll want to launch them into the air, so you'll hold the button down. Once in a while, you'll use an area-clearing heavy attack, but that causes the character to overheat, meaning you can't do that again or activate finisher abilities on downed enemies for a bit. There is also a projectile button, useful against some airborne enemies, but unwieldy to control in this mode.
Second, there are shooting sections, during which players hold down the fire button and swing a reticule across the screen. The player gains a lock-on attack in this mode and remains confined to rails, with one's character either running, falling or flying in the game's chosen direction.
While these two aspects are the most playable parts of the game, they come across as exceedingly simplistic, merely bridging the gaps between the game's third element. This sense is encouraged by the game's "Burst" gauge. The goal of most of the time spent in the other modes is merely to fill this gage and activate Burst, which generally ends the gameplay segment. It's somewhat silly, though, when one fills this gauge by breaking apart a group of enemies, only to find that there's one who just won't die until you actually activate Burst. It's a key indicator of how little control you actually have during these minuscule sections.
The third type of gameplay, however, is the absolute core of the experience, the mode in which one spends the bulk of one's time. These are the quick time events, present in the cutscenes that come both between and throughout combat segments, interjecting into one's actual play of the game. There are only a few varieties of prompt, and none of them are particularly challenging, but they usually at least tangentially relate to the onscreen action, or reflect the degree of struggle one is experiencing. That said, they're not enough to make a game out of, and they lack the factors that made a game like Dragon's Lair—in essence a playable, animated movie—exciting and memorable.