Oh thank goodness, something to be positive about. Phew…
Asura’s Wrath, the result of a dream partnership between Capcom and CyberConnect2 (the .hack// and Naruto game developer), is a magnificent send-up of all things anime. It thrives in that place where heroes have outrageous hair styles, villains are hammy and overconfident, and all problems can be solved by punching them hard enough.
It’s that dedication and passion that’s both a blessing and a curse here.
SPOILERS for the game below:
Asura is – or rather, was – a loyal Guardian General of an Emperor. He and his seven demi-god comrades defend the human race from the Gohma, monstrous red-tinted creatures who feast on human souls. So far, the demi-gods and their armies have been keeping the Gohma at bay.
And then there came a coup.
In what can only be described as “brutal justification for future retribution”, Asura’s entire existence is shaken up. His wife is killed, his daughter is kidnapped, the emperor is assassinated (Asura being the scapegoat), and he himself is thrown from paradise. Straight into the depths of a purgatory-like realm called Naraka falls Asura – and for 12’000 years there he stays.
That is our setup: Asura literally rising up and commencing a vengeful quest against his former allies. It’s simple but that works in its favour; I understand his motivations, and I can get behind his desire to utterly decimate everything in his path.
What follows are eighteen levels of pure frenzied anime storytelling, as Asura goes from smashing ordinary grunts, to larger Buddha-looking soldiers, to massive turtle creatures, to other demi-gods who’ve harnessed truly awe-inspiring power. Each level is short and moves at a rapid pace, broken up solely by commercial breaks and “To be continued” tags.
The game is not only made in the style and tone of action-based animation, it seems to take the format: stretching out the story into an extended plot line, chopping it up into episodes, and treating every six episodes as a definitive “act”. I like how distinguishable that makes the game from other action titles, but it creates the issue of pausing the action at a critical moment – which slightly impedes the pacing.
That’s not the big issue, though. Not exactly.
Asura’s Wrath plays like a Quantic Dream game – interesting stories conveyed with quick-time events and timed button presses, broken up occasionally by controllable action. The problem is that it wants to be anime (something intended to be watched) and a video game (something that involves the player doing things) at the same time. Attempting to split the difference by offering cutscenes that also expect the audience to be alert and ready to press buttons at a moment’s notice? Maybe not the best decision – I couldn’t decide if I should just relax or stay at attention.
Thankfully, most of that “have your cake and eat it too” design is negated by how audacious the resulting game turns out to be. When a game starts with the lead character diving into a planet’s atmosphere to do battle with giant space monsters, it’s like it’s saying “Hey buddy – it only gets more insane from here”. And then it actually does.
It’s just one damn thing after another – each consecutive boss battle getting larger and larger, the scope increasing to a degree that most modern games just can’t conceive of. Asura getting crushed by the finger of a giant Earth-sized demi-god, for instance, is only the first boss encounter after the prologue. It’s mental and I love it.
All of which leads into a climax which changes the very way I imagine scope in terms of fiction, an honest-to-goodness battle between two deity level figures whose conflict literally reshapes the landscape of the entire known universe. Entire GALAXIES get thrown, for Christ’s sake – to say nothing of the emotional catharsis and real genuine sympathy I felt when it was all over.
Only issue was, that ending was DLC. God damn downloadable content.
The vanilla ending you get in the core game’s 18th episode is serviceable, definitely setup for what’s to come but engaging enough to work on its own. But to learn that a truly masterful ending, a thematic capper on what was already a good story, was seemingly cut off and sold for extra cash? Unacceptable in my eyes.
Still, what we have is what we have – a hidden gem that Capcom didn’t give a chance, or perhaps didn’t see a future for. When the history books discuss this game I expect it’ll be as a footnote, a passing reference in a long line of experimental titles.
Which is a damn shame. For what it worth, I liked it.