You Make Me So Angry!
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.
Dragon’s Lair, and the best of the laserdisc games it spawned, weren’t necessarily explicit with what needed to be done, creating a need for players to do more than simply follow what was prompted onscreen and demanding that they show a little insight. These moments of decision and action also came in rapid succession, never letting players rest and keeping them on their toes for the entire experience. Asura’s Wrath, in contrast, took so long between its prompts at times that I had forgotten they existed and put down the controller, leading me to fumble for it as I scrambled to follow the onscreen command. It didn’t really matter when I missed one, though, or even a few, as penalties for failure were incredibly light, the game just continuing on and occasionally taking away a little bit of my massive health bar and reducing my score at the end of the level. This is in stark contrast to the laserdisc adventure ethos, which punished failure with an appropriate death sequence before throwing the player back in to try the sequence again. Without any real consequences, the QTE segments are just filler between the moments of actual gameplay, but those are too simplistic to be enjoyable.
Not only are those segments simplistic, but they’re short, too. Each episode in the game is maybe thirty minutes, making the game a nine-hour journey or so. Through the game’s eighteen episodes (and its one secret episode), the longest I spent actually playing in any one episode was a little over eleven minutes, and that was far too long for the game’s tastes. It gave me a “C” for that. Most levels last between three and six minutes. You might think that the game would be extended by its challenge—that you’ll die a lot and replay those five minutes over and over again. Yet, in my playthrough of the game—admittedly on normal—I died a total of twice. Both times were at the end of the game, and the second was due to negligence, since I was playing through a “hidden” episode that was, for the vast majority of its run, completely identical to another episode I’d already played. I’d mentally checked out at that point, and stopped caring about whether or not I lived.
If Asura’s Wrath had Avatar -quality CG sequences during its button-prompt gameplay, it might be fun to watch, or to play once. While the art direction is amazing, though, and the Unreal Engine does its best to handle the hectic visuals, everything is done in-engine and doesn’t look spectacular enough to justify a game that never feels fully playable. It’s like gaming through proxy, and I don’t like it.
Also, as hard as this may be to believe, the game sets up for a sequel as it makes its way out. They want to make more of these?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Impressive from a purely aesthetic perspective, the game’s graphics are nevertheless hampered by slowdown and the occasional muddy texture. 2.0 Control
Control always feels a bit imprecise, but doesn’t get in the way. That said, you so rarely have it that it doesn’t feel right to give it a higher score. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There isn’t always music, but when there is, it’s good. The voice acting is generally a hit, too. 1.0 Play Value
Does Asura’s Wrath even know it’s a game? I’m not entirely convinced. Despite score-tracking, unlockables, and multiple difficulty modes, it is extremely unlikely you will want to go back to this game. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|