Although computer-generated imagery is ubiquitous in contemporary film, its usage is typically rooted in reality rather than the fantastical. With harpists which hurled deadly projectiles out of their malevolent musical instruments and a character capable of creating a topography-altering ‘Buddhist Palm’, 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle shrewdly shunned realism. The film created a breathtaking Wuxia-inspired world which exhibited its own idiosyncratic system of physics, offering a dose of exhilarating escapism for its viewers. Similarly, Capcom’s recent release of Asura’s Wrath for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 flaunts a realm ruled by imagination and spectacle. It a universe where foes can dwarf celestial objects and a protagonist is capable of sprouting additional appendages when he is really pissed off.
Eager to trump Greek and Roman mythologies, the game’s plotline is pure lunatic hyperbole, crafting a tale spanning 12,000 years and filled with a pantheon of demigods. Following a betrayal by his fellow deities, lead character- Asura, is cast into exile and subsequently endures the death of his wife and kidnapping of his daughter. When millenniums of ire reach a boiling point, our antihero becomes hell-bent on vengeance, lending the title a stirring impetus for six hours of merciless ass-kicking.
The God of War series might seem to have stranglehold on the interactive revenge tale; however, Asura’s rendition of retribution offers a remarkable adaptation. Whereas Kratos’ physical supremacy is expressed by the visceral mincing of enemies, Asura articulates his power by swatting away foes like pesky gnats. Whether the title uses button presses, analog stick pulls, or a lock-on system to dispatch adversaries, lesser opponents are always more bothersome that they are dangerous. Often, simple action sequences or QTE events will repeat until players have filled with their Burst Gauge by vanquishing enough enemy fodder. At that point, a press of the right trigger reveals an action-filled cinematic before moving on to the next sequence.
As such, the clashes in Asura’s Wrath feel underwhelming and don’t deliver the sensation of mastery which accompanies most similarly-themed titles. Action games routinely endow players with a growing collection of attacks to choose from, yet Asura’s arsenal is constantly mandated. As such, there’s little sense of exploration or expression, once players have mastered the timing of a recovery maneuver or juggle launch.
Failing to complete a quick-time event doesn’t even lead to failure, giving only a mild chastisement at the end of stage evaluation. Of course, the upside to that design decision is that players shouldn’t encounter any frustrating impasses. Shrewdly, returning to previous stages and improving a ranking delivers a pleasing hodgepodge of unlockables. Some even tweak elements of Asura’s gameplay, offering quicker charging strikes or increase the duration of the protagonist’s power-augmenting Infinite Gauge. Yet, even with any of these slight variations in place, the title’s recipe remains two parts cinematic to one part interactive. Consequently, those yearning to play rather than watch aren’t likely to become beguiled by Asura’s storyline, with spans of two minutes occasionally separating the brief sessions of interactivity.
Conversely, gamers impervious to sustained cinematic sequences will likely be captivated by Asura’s Wrath episodic delivery, which tenders up eighteen separate twenty-minute episodes. Launched with a preview of each installment’s forthcoming engagements, each chapter exhibits prodigious pacing while gradually moving the overarching storyline along. During key events, direct control is always presented to player, allowing the fulfillment of delivering an extravagant finishing move. Consistently, the title’s representation of scale is outstanding. As demonstrated in the recent demo, Asura overpowers a gargantuan enemy by punching the tip of his finger, sending a shockwave of energy that decimates the foe’s entire body. Delightfully, hyper-exaggerated feats like this are the rule rather than the exception.
Save for a bit of pixelation when textures come near the game’s camera, Asura’s Wrath is visually pleasing. Uniting Pan-Asiatic stylings with habitually sterile science-fiction settings endows the title with a distinct and inspired aesthetic. Characters themselves animate convincingly, conveying an aura of devastating power through their motion and brawny renderings. Aurally, the title is proficient, only stumbling when the game’s sound mix overpowers poignant musical pieces with clamorous sound effects.
Asura’s Wrath greatest virtue is that it demonstrates the untapped potential for the medium. While gamers have struggled against bulky, near-insurmountable rivals, these opponents haven’t outsized solar system or carried blades large enough to pierce through a planet. A sophisticated sense of scale might seem like a gimmick, yet developer CyberConnect2 (the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series, Solatorobo) rarely misses an opportunity to manipulate perspective into an awe-inspiring moment. Despite a constrained amount of interactivity and a relatively fleeting play-through period, it’s hard to be too angry with Asura’s Wrath.