Asura's Wrath review
Cinematic games aren't anything new to industry. With games like Metal Gear Solid who almost take it to an unhealthy level as far as being cinematic goes, they still manage to balance it out with some great gameplay. The latest game from CyberConnect2 and Capcom, Asura's Wrath, is a whole other beast entirely. It pushes the boundaries of being cinematic to the point where gameplay is entirely secondary, and what you get is something that can equate to a $60 box-set of the most action packed anime, anyone's ever seen, and yet, I'm completely enthralled by it.
First off, I should admit that I grew up watching a ton of Dragon Ball Z. That show was easily one of my favorite animes, and even today I'll put on a few episodes to remind myself of the silliness and the badassery that ensued.
Asura's Wrath deals with eight demigod generals, at least at first, who fight to protect Gaea (Earth) from evil and impure creatures called the Gohma, and a giant monstrosity called Vlitra, that rests in the center of the Earth. When the leader Deus witnesses Asura's power and realizes his daughter the priestess is the key to unlocking that power, he devises a scheme to not only brand Asura as a traitor, but kill his loving wife Durga, and take his daughter Mithra as hostage. Momentarily vulnerable, yet still very pissed, Asura sees his untimely death, and the rest of the generals forming the Seven Deities. After climbing out of the underworld 12,000 years later, Asura sees that the world hasn't changed all that much. It is not only under the tyranny of the Gohma, but the deities as well, who thrive on human souls to power their giant anti-Vlitra weapon with Mantra (spiritual energy).
At this point, you might find yourself incredibly confused, and I wouldn't blame you. It's something that needs to be played to be understood. The underlying theme of anger and redemption permeates Asura's Wrath, as every time he is knocked down, he gets back up exponentially stronger. It's also a story of revenge, as Asura has to deal with the Seven Deities, who have now all turned against him. It's great to see a character like Asura who has so much hatred built up inside of him, still have compassion for the humans around him, and even grow to care for a girl who reminds him of his daughter. Without giving anything away, expect some unexpected turn of events, an arc of episodes which has you playing as one of the Seven Deities, as well as an encounter that almost parallels the final battle of Naruto and Sasuke in the original Naruto series.
Oh this guy? He eventually gets bigger than the planet...
When many got their hands on the demo, many initially dismissed it as a quicktime-fest, with little to no gameplay elements. While this does hold somewhat true, sprinkled throughout are various brawling segments which has Asura dispatching the vile Gohma creatures, the various armies of the Seven Deities or one of the deities themselves. There are also some on rails segments where you see Asura running or gliding, taking down various enemies with his lock-on shots. The crux of the experience relies on doing enough damage through standard and heavy attacks, or by correctly pressing the button prompts for any QTE's to fill your Unlimited gauge and Burst gauge. The Unlimited gauge puts you into overdrive and lets you unleash heavy attacks without a cooldown, as well as increasing your speed. The Burst gauge will enable you to unleash a giant sized, cinematic attack, which also happens to move the story forward to the next segment of the episode.
Though when looking at the entire package, Asura's Wrath is essentially an interactive, action-packed anime. Split into three parts, with six episodes in each, every episode opens up with credits, bumper stills appear during the midsection of the episodes and a preview of the next episode plays out at the end. It's an interesting setup, one we got to see in Alan Wake, which was also presented as a series of episodes, but seems to be a perfect fit for this type of game. After every episode, beautifully illustrated stills provide some necessary backstory, to an already overly complicated but ultimately interesting story.
Oh this guy? His children will be feeling that punch one day...
CyberConnect2 is no stranger to anime series, with the Naruto games being one of their most recent titles worked on, so it's not surprise that Asura's Wrath is executed so well. Everything from the aesthetics, which mix mythology with science fiction (the demigods being half robotic is already awesome in itself), the gorgeous manga shaded characters, to the superb soundtrack which only amplifies the epicness of the story, this is one package that is both easy on the eyes as well as the ears. Anime purists will be glad to know that a Japanese voice track option is available, but it's important to note that while I do prefer my anime in Japanese, the American dub is just as great, and deserves to be given a chance as well.
There are some oddities with the game however. Much of the lip-synching doesn't know whether it should match with the American or Japanese dub, as I switched them multiple times and characters still seemed to flap their mouths even after a sentence has been said in both languages. Some slight graphical hiccups happen here and there, especially when an action sequence is just about to start, the game seems to have a second pause, breaking up that fluid animation. Not really a big deal, but worth mentioning. One thing definitely worth noting is the play time. Asura's Wrath is short. Though 18 episodes sounds like a lot, the total playtime won't really extend past six hours. Is that a huge deal? For me, I felt like that was the perfect amount, considering the type of game this is, but for a $60 game, that may be a deal breaker for some.
You'd never guess that his six arms are lifting a giant index finger at this very moment
You can extend your playtime by playing each episode on various difficulty levels, as well as collecting all of the unlockables for beating levels. These include CG art, illustrations, interludes, custom bumpers and gauges that give you various advantages such as filling up the Unlimited Gauge faster, decrease the amount of damage taken, or recover from overheating faster.
While the idea of playing an interactive movie is nothing new, hell look at any of the Sega CD games from back in the day, CC2 and Capcom have brought it back in style, revitalizing it in a way that make it fit today's gaming market. And while this experiment definitely won't appeal to the mass market, it's one that succeeds in delivering a captivating, action-packed anime story that you can participate in, and not just watch.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]