By Conrad Reyners
Oh Asura’s Wrath, what am I going to do with you. I watched all of your trailers, I followed all of your news, I got so very excited about what you had in store for me.
I sat down with you, I massaged my way through your gameplay. But after that experience, I’ve been left a little confused. At times you flash with brilliance, you sparkle with verve, you make me grin in smug amazement. But often, perhaps too often, you cause my brow to furrow, my eyes to narrow and my lip to curl into a pout.
Why do you have to be so damn skitzophrenic. I can’t decide what to do with you.
Asura’s Wrath takes place in a fantastical mythical universe. You play as the enraged demi-god Asura. Cast from the heavens by your fellow demigods, you continue your epic war against both your former friends and the mysterious and corrupt Ghoma. As far as outrageously awesome setups go, Asura’s Wrath is top shelf stuff.
And when I say epic I mean it. The title opens with Asura battling ghoma in space, hurtling in freefall down to planet earth. All the while, the excellent score plays mournfully in the background; it's a haunting and intense first taste.
Asura’s story is epic in timescale as well as in setting. Asura’s path from rejection to redemption spans thousands and thousands of years. Through clever cut-scenes and characterisation, this sense of time and space is really rammed home. Which for a mythical, anime inspired hybrid like this is pretty damn important.
The characters themselves are masterfully crafted - in that over the top melodramatic Japanese way - and they are fun to watch, sneer at, and battle against. However, make sure you change the audio settings to the original Japanese. If you don't, you’re doing yourself a major disservice (the dubbing is terrible). Just be prepared to wait for things to get going; the story does take a while to heat up.
So we’ve got great characters, an engaging storyline, great music, and a narrative that mixes themes of heaven and hell, purity and corruption, power and sacrifice, all together into one giant great opus. What’s not to like?
What’s not to like is the game. Playing through Asura’s Wrath is like jostling with an interactive DVD - an excellent and engaging DVD - but a DVD nonetheless. There are two major problems with Asura’s Wrath’s mechanics. The first is the way the game is glued together, and the second is the title's repetitive combat mechanic.
One of the best things about Asura’s Wrath was immersing yourself in the fantastical feats of rage and strength that Asura engages in. I’ve never fought a boss the size of a planet before, but in Asura’s Wrath I did. And it was brilliant. However, after that moment of cinematic chutzpah was over, the title booted me back out to the loading menus, to finish my “episode” and get my “score”. As it had done with the five minute episode before that, and the one before that too.
These tasty morsels of dramatic action are stapled together with walls of text reminiscent of a Pokémon emulator, and the only effect that they have is to pull you out of both the action and the story. Maybe Cyberconnect2 and Capcom ran out of money, or maybe they erroneously thought that “chapterisation” was a good idea. Whatever the reason, it was a poor design decision. Because the result is the niggling feeling that Asura’s Warth is a good animation that's been glued together to make a mediocre game.
Contributing to that feeling is the repetitive combat, and the way in which combat is presented. Asura must battle his way through all seven of his former peers - but before most of them, he must reminisce about some battle they once had, or some foe they previously vanquished. These short sections, where Asura must smash his way through lower level enemies, then medium to high level enemies, then finally to the boss themselves, are cookie cutter and bland.
There are only so many combo moves in Asura’s arsenal, and once you’ve done them once you’ve done them a thousand times. There just isn't enough challenge or variety to make these segments feel worthwhile.
However, when the final boss battles do come around, they are a much more interactive experience. They flow well, are engaging, and the use of quick time events gives you a real sense of ownership for the pain Asura is dishing out (although the on-screen prompt is too large, and often obscures the wicked move you just pulled off).
It is these quick time events that are the most “filmic” in the Asura saga, and they are also the most fun to play. I would have gladly sat through a better acted, more graphically polished Asura’s Wrath machinima with none of the superfluous combat and more of the bone-crunchingly awesome boss battles. But I cant, because the designers chose not to present it that way.
So where does that leave me with Asura’s Wrath? Did it engross me? Yes it did. Did it frustrate me? Yes, it did that too. Did I want to keep playing? Of course, but only because I wanted to see what happened next, not because I wanted to keep playing. Unfortunately, even for a console title that's as over-the-top as Asura’s Wrath, that's an inescapable flaw.
:: Publisher: Capcom
:: Developer: CyberConnect2
:: Format: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
:: Rating: M