As the fate of a strange world hangs in the balance, gods and monsters clash in battles of unprecedented scale. Characters that wouldn’t look out of place in Street Fighter IV are rapidly propelled through set pieces that recall the epic delirium of anime. Quieter moments are rendered via elegant stills reminiscent of traditional Japanese illustration. Asura’s Wrath is, if nothing else, an astonishing spectacle.
As the eponymous demigod, you’re wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to several thousand years in the underworld. (Time for a new lawyer, surely?) Many people treat a stint in the slammer as an opportunity for personal growth. In some respects, you’re no different. Your thirst for vengeance certainly grows and by the time you break out, you’re ready to throw the mother of all temper tantrums.
The complexity of your various adversaries constitutes one of the more pleasing aspects of Asura’s Wrath. Yes, there are a couple of moustache twirling scoundrels amongst them, but others wrestle with the morality of their cause or regard their deeds as essential to a greater good. One of the few stumbles occurs when you inexplicably take a break from your quest in order to attend a ‘booty call’. The fan service is not only cringeworthy, it’s also well and truly out of character.
Asura’s Wrath offers up three modes of play. The first is a decent little brawler in which you pummel a range of enemy foot soldiers. The combo system is surprisingly rudimentary, consisting of one to two button presses, with basic attacks modified by jumping or dashing. Your ultimate aim is to fill up your burst meter, which allows you to unleash dramatic finishers via quick time events. Alas, that’s about the extent of it. You don’t get to level up or expand your move set. You can unlock modifiers which allow you to absorb more damage or fill your burst meter more swiftly but these are entirely passive in nature. A handful of levels require you to switch protagonists, but your repertoire of attacks remains more or less the same. The combat is lively and accessible, but if it was all there was, it wouldn’t hold your attention for long.
Fortunately, the game also boasts a series of on rails shooting levels. Interweaved throughout the campaign, these require you to alternate between rapid fire and lock-on attacks a la Child of Eden. Given the narrow confines of the on rails subgenre, these sequences are surprisingly diverse. You’ll be racing through tunnels in pursuit of cowardly foes. You’ll be soaring through the cosmos while trading fire with capital starships. You’ll even be catching enemy missiles and hurling them back with interest. These guided gameplay segments may not be particularly deep, but they’re exciting and frantic and, like most aspects of the game, over before you know it.
The third and final mode is where Asura’s Wrath will likely lose a lot of admirers. It features dozens of breathtaking cinematics interspersed with simple quick time events. Most of the set pieces rely on button prompts as do several of the boss battles. The majority are timing based, but a few rely on repeatedly hammering a single key, which (surprise, surprise) isn’t a whole lot of fun. When these scenes become too long or too frequent, you begin to feel less like a player and more like a passenger. If you have a taste for the absurd, however, you may just be inclined to go with the flow. It’s hard not to smile, for example, when your opponent thrusts his sword so deeply into your stricken body that the tip emerges on the opposite side of the globe.
Asura’s Wrath contains more than its fair share of quirks. On the positive side of the ledger is the ability to interrupt pompous villains as they lecture you on the necessity of their vile deeds. If you don’t want to listen to them, you don’t have to. This is achieved in the best way possible, i.e. with a fist to the face. Of course, a similar system exists right here in the real world, but you may not find it to be quite as effective. Less successful is the dull as dishwater tutorial, which pops up long after you’ve already come to grips with everything the game has to offer. Baffling.
Depending on the difficulty you select, you could well be done within 5-6 hours, with only about a third of this time devoted to fully interactive gameplay. You can, of course, replay levels to improve your rank or unlock achievements, but there isn’t a great deal of incentive to do this. Given the simplicity of the combat system, Asura’s Wrath is probably about as long as it should be.
You may find it difficult to pin down your feelings about this game. You’ll be blown away by incredible action sequences even as you’re frustrated by your lack of influence over them. You’ll appreciate the accessibility of the combat even as you long for something more substantial. That said, there is definitely a place for this kind of guided experience and if you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually surrender to the wondrous absurdity of it all.