Asura's Wrath: The New Anime

Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

Asura’s Wrath contains one of the most brilliant player-directed narrative sequences in videogames; a fist fight. The two brawlers dance about the screen, one trying desperately to explain his actions to the other among a flurry of attacks. To evade them, the player must nail the timing for the increasingly frequent on-screen button prompts as any mistake is punished with a fist to the face, interrupting the dialogue and completely ending the conversation.

It’s a very specific kind of narrative device: it’s author-controlled, player-oriented and since that dialogue offered important characterization, each player experiences their own variation on a defined story. It’s completely scripted yet wholly natural. Above all, it’s simple. And just one of a dozen reasons why CyberConnect2’s game is so remarkable. They have succeeded at making a narratively-based game by coming at it from a different angle; making a game isn’t their priority. Through videogames, Asura’s Wrath redefines anime.

Asura, one of the Eight Guardian General’s that protect Shinkoku, is angry. The first time we see him, he stands arms folded at the edge of one of the countless battle cruisers blanketing the sky, gazing down at the planet Gaea, his toes at the edge of an oncoming war. Then the title card pops. As if to make sure we’re ready for his adventure, we’re invited to Press Start. Hit it and Asura leaps from the ship and charges into the void below.

After a short-lived reprieve, Gaea has been overrun with Gohma, corrupted beasts that threaten to overtake the planet. The other seven Guardian Generals enter as the battle wages on, among them Asura’s solemn brother-in-law Yasha and their arrogant sensei Augus. Fueled by the prayers collected by Asura’s daughter Mithra, the cybernetic Guardian Generals tear through the Gohma and ignite the heavens under the command of Deus, the powerful Lord weary of the endless battles. As the warriors breach the battle lines, Vlitra, the manifestation of the Gohma’s hatred, nearly cracks the planet in half and reveals itself after a millennium. Then the game cuts to a mid-episode bumper.

The commercial-free commercial break makes sense given the opening credits and sets up the expectation for ‘to be continued…” and next episode preview ten minutes later. There are probably a number of reasons why CyberConnect2 chose a traditional anime series structure for their hybrid anime-game, from an attempt to honor the forebearers that inspired it to acting as a mechanism to regulate the games pacing. The name Seiji Shimoda will appear as Director in every episode but other names will be attached to individual ones. It allowed development to be divided without making the seams in the fabric jarring to the audience. Every episode has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Eight Guardian Generals prove a challenge for Vlitra’s horde, but none of them can match Asura’s bottomless pit of rage, a deep seated fury that allows him to destroy the abomination in a single, multi-armed punch. In the renewed respite, the demi-gods return home to the promise of peace. And then Asura finds his wife murdered and he framed for assassinating the Emperor. Lord Deus’ secret coup is put into motion and the lightning god casts the disgraced father down into Naraka and kidnaps Mithra. Falling to Gaea like a meteor, Asura proclaims his vengeance. When he finally claws out of the underworld, 12,000 years have passed, the Generals have deified themselves and set out to collect the prayers of their people in preparation for the inevitable resurrection of Vlitra.

When a story is as rigorously defined as it is in Asura’s Wrath, the player becomes an actor in its play, performing the actions that reveal the unfolding spectacle. With Quick Time Events as cues, they’re given direction for actions that fit the context of their incredibly engaging scenes. Where the QTE’s are Asura’s Wrath’s primary means of storytelling, the combat between them is built on two types of player-directed action.

The first is a simple beat ‘em up with a move set consisting of little more than an attack, heavy attack and ranged firing mode. Despite its simplicity, the combat has depth; the attack button can be used to catch enemies into combo strings, charges or air juggles. The gameplay certainly doesn’t have the richness of God Hand or Bayonetta but you have a rounded set of options. The second comes as a Sin & Punishment or Space Harrier-style rail shooter that has the character speeding through scripted sequences unleashing a volley at enemies while evading their attacks.

This is what you need to notice about these two types of gameplay- one builds fight scenes, the other builds chase scenes. The mechanical simplicity is meant to provide an efficient versatility over a range of gameplay scenarios. But given that each button is consistent across modes, playing the games cinematics reinforce your understanding of the fighting mechanics and vice versa. Little about Asura’s Wrath is wasteful.

Actions builds up Asura’s Burst Gauge. When it’s filled, a giant flaming R2 prompt like a brand from Satan flares on screen and activates Burst, a mode that rockets Asura into an explosive rage and initiates a timing-based QTE. In practical terms, Burst is a narrative device that effectively resolves that scenes tension and ends the story beat. They’re micro goals used to create a rhythmic pace. Bursts build scenes which move the story forward.

If you accept the acting metaphor, consider your performance in the two action modes as improv dance against the other actors on stage. As such, there is something almost beautiful about a battle completed quickly and cleanly, where you’ve jumped in and decimated your opponent with skill and nailed that satisfying pull of the burst button in one easy, error-free take that seamlessly transitions into QTE. Successes like that make up for the incredibly frustrating moments that don’t go as you’d like.

CyberConnect2 deserves to be applauded for what they were able to accomplish with their character designs. While the Gohma admittedly look like amorphous red and black globs, the main cast is intricately detailed and capable of a wide variety of facial expressions. Watch the cutscenes to find incredibly nuanced and subtle animations, from the movement of their eyes to the articulation in their fingers. They sell these generated models as living characters and direction that was crafted rather than captured. The story would absolutely be less without them.

From top to bottom, Asura’s Wrath is expertly produced. It’s choreographed with fight scenes that manage to clearly portray the action and doesn’t use the same tricks in the same ways. It has a quick, visceral visual vocabulary appropriate for its content. Even the power struggles are designed to test your endurance; they fight back and always make you feel like you’re one slipped button press away from defeat, even if you understand that they cheat to do it. If there’s a problem, it’s in one or two flashbacks too many that slow down the pacing. The sound design hits hard, the silence impacts and (especially in the case of Yasha’s Theme) the music energizes.

The contrast between Shinkoku’s opulence and the people of Gaea is noticeable from the moment Asura falls. Typical of a totalitarian regime, the Seven Deities have commoditized their people, making each life disposable in relation to some nebulously defined social whole opposed to a centralized threat and purely to the benefit of themselves. Scenes where they slaughter entire villages rather than let them succumb to impurity are predictably cynical for their self-righteousness. Individually, the deities are well-defined archetypes for the amount of screen time they’re given but all constructing a complemented unit. Easily the most interesting is the melancholic Yasha, the cool blue to Asura’s burning red, cut to his smash, wind to his rock. Does Yasha wear his mask out of vanity or out of shame?

The narrative is packed to the brim with classic anime themes and concepts right down to its cabal of gods that seems straight out of a Yoshiaki Kawajiri flick minus those blinking background shots, but it’s in how it upends those elements and videogame mechanics that it comes into its own. There’s a scene where Yasha talks to Deus in soliloquy, staring in the direction of the lord on his distant throne in the sky. Irritated at the empty gesture, Asura orders him to ‘Stop talking to yourself.’ Yasha is visibly perturbed, as if Asura had broken some sacred edict. I love it. Asura’s Wrath is a reconstruction of its genre; a martial arts version of Gurren Lagann (right down do the galactic changes in scale and shifts between planes of reality) that remodels the house DBZ built like Lagann rebuilt the mecha that Neon Genesis Evangelion tried burning to the ground. Asura’s act is put in the players hand in many of the scenes with the Seven Deities, providing them with a ‘Shut <Name> up’ prompt that only forces them to listen until they can’t take it anymore. Asura is tired of the endless self-aggrandizing.

By the end of his quest, you know exactly what sort of man Asura is: one that believes in justice and individual liberty, a man uncomfortable with the worship his acts receive and whose only fear is reserved for the welfare of his daughter. Yet it’s harder for him to extend his open hand to her as she cries than it is to throw it clenched at the cause. There’s psychology under the rage that not even he understands. He ends up being the most complex character in the story, just straight forward and direct. He always does what he knows is right, even if he doesn’t always know why.

Where videogames have long tried to implement cinematic techniques onto a mechanical world, every element in Asura’s Wrath’s design was made to construct mechanics onto a cinematic foundation. At face value, that seems a semantic difference but it’s really very important and, for my money, far more honest. Everything in Asura’s Wrath is story-centric- even its title. Read those two words again: they are a statement of fact, imply an analysis of the root cause and promise a journey to quench it. It’s a wrath directed at the policies, the ideologies and the people that aggressively fight others from living the life they want. His game is about pushing forward and letting nothing stand in your way.

#1 Posted by ch3burashka (5242 posts) -

"There was a lot of words 10/10" - IGN

#2 Posted by TobbRobb (4840 posts) -

Yay! Asura's Wrath rules!

#3 Posted by Hyuzen (467 posts) -

And hey, that DLC was some of the best content in a game last generation.

#4 Posted by mrfluke (5340 posts) -

@hyuzen said:

And hey, that DLC was some of the best content in a game last generation.

you and the OP are the best.

#5 Edited by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@hyuzen said:

And hey, that DLC was some of the best content in a game last generation.

Fuck yes. Act 4 is dripping with creativity. Everything from that emotional fight with Yasha and that extreme slow-mo punch to the climactic battle with Chakravartin where those alien QTE buttons pop and you realize its supposed to be another player. It really brought the story together. Its just a shame that you needed to pay above and beyond retail for it.

#6 Posted by mrfluke (5340 posts) -

im actually gonna tag @patrickklepek to this post, other than the fact that he loved asuras wrath as well, im sure he would dig reading your brilliant post.

#7 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@mrfluke: Wow, i really appreciate the kind words.

#8 Edited by golguin (4041 posts) -

Asura's Wrath is anime as hell and that made it a top tier experience for me. The DLC was amazing (it's unfortunate that it wasn't part of the final game) and it has some surprisingly sad moments (the ultimate bro fist). The final boss fight was one of the hypest things I've seen in a video game. It brought Gurren Lagann levels of scale and over the top action to the video game medium. No other game has really done that.

#9 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@golguin said:

Asura's Wrath is anime as hell and that made it a top tier experience for me. The DLC was amazing (it's unfortunate that it wasn't part of the final game) and it has some surprisingly sad moments (the ultimate bro fist). The final boss fight was one of the hypest things I've seen in a video game. It brought Gurren Lagann levels of scale and over the top action to the video game medium. No other game has really done that.

I'm totally with you man. Bro, bro fight the powa.

One of the things i was originally attempting to do- and the reason for the title- was to discuss how other series of any genre could use its ideas, but that didn't go as well as i'd like. Ultimately i feel that this lays an excellent foundation for others to follow suit but takes many of its ideas to their logical conclusions. I would love a Gundam or Lupin game in this vein but wonder if they would be able to do anything new with the ideas. Asura's Wrath just gets it so right.

#10 Posted by mrfluke (5340 posts) -

@daneian said:

@mrfluke: Wow, i really appreciate the kind words.

no worries dude, i think you "get it", on what makes this game special. fully agree with what you wrote and what you got out of it.

#11 Posted by MariachiMacabre (7099 posts) -

Goddamn, I loved the hell out of Asura's Wrath. I was skeptical but I'm so glad I bought it on a whim with a gift card.

#12 Posted by leafhouse (133 posts) -

It was rich as fuck in mood/design/over the top nonsense, but I still didn't enjoy playing it :\

#13 Edited by csl316 (9421 posts) -

Asura's Wrath was my second-favorite game of that year (behind Mass Effect 3). It did exactly what it set out to do, and their complete lack of compromise made it one hell of an experience. I just loved it and almost thought of jumping into their Naruto games. Though I probably won't, I just want something like this again.

Oddly enough, the characters and the music gave this game a ton of unexpected heart. It's not all just over-the-top craziness.

#14 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@csl316 said:

Oddly enough, the characters and the music gave this game a ton of unexpected heart. It's not all just over-the-top craziness.

I think those two points in particular are what allow people who haven't witnessed the story to dismiss it. It's easy to gloss over the content because you see a massive space buddha and dudes jumping fifty feet straight up but its never treated superficially in game. Cynical people throw the phrase 'power fantasy' around like its automatically negative without looking deeper at individual context.You hear the name and it seems like its going to be an angry, jaded game about meat heads just beating the hell out of each other but its actually incredibly optimistic about humanity at its core. The exaggerated tone is what sells the story and counter-intuitively makes it more impactful, not less.

#15 Posted by csl316 (9421 posts) -

@daneian said:

@csl316 said:

Oddly enough, the characters and the music gave this game a ton of unexpected heart. It's not all just over-the-top craziness.

I think those two points in particular are what allow people who haven't witnessed the story to dismiss it. It's easy to gloss over the content because you see a massive space buddha and dudes jumping fifty feet straight up but its never treated superficially in game. Cynical people throw the phrase 'power fantasy' around like its automatically negative without looking deeper at individual context.You hear the name and it seems like its going to be an angry, jaded game about meat heads just beating the hell out of each other but its actually incredibly optimistic about humanity at its core. The exaggerated tone is what sells the story and counter-intuitively makes it more impactful, not less.

I specifically think of the last chapter of the DLC. When you meditate under a waterfall with your deceased crew looking on, jump into space for an epic battle, and soft violin and piano starts playing as worlds are being thrown at you. You get the sense that you're fighting for something rather than just seeing Michael Bay explosions. And hell, Asura's death brings a tear to my eye. "A Life Well-Lived" is a good description as there's a sense of finality and closure. While Mithra's epilogue scene giving a sense of hope and life going on.

I should be replaying this right now.

#16 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@csl316 said:

@daneian said:

@csl316 said:

Oddly enough, the characters and the music gave this game a ton of unexpected heart. It's not all just over-the-top craziness.

I think those two points in particular are what allow people who haven't witnessed the story to dismiss it. It's easy to gloss over the content because you see a massive space buddha and dudes jumping fifty feet straight up but its never treated superficially in game. Cynical people throw the phrase 'power fantasy' around like its automatically negative without looking deeper at individual context.You hear the name and it seems like its going to be an angry, jaded game about meat heads just beating the hell out of each other but its actually incredibly optimistic about humanity at its core. The exaggerated tone is what sells the story and counter-intuitively makes it more impactful, not less.

I specifically think of the last chapter of the DLC. When you meditate under a waterfall with your deceased crew looking on, jump into space for an epic battle, and soft violin and piano starts playing as worlds are being thrown at you. You get the sense that you're fighting for something rather than just seeing Michael Bay explosions. And hell, Asura's death brings a tear to my eye. "A Life Well-Lived" is a good description as there's a sense of finality and closure. While Mithra's epilogue scene giving a sense of hope and life going on.

I should be replaying this right now.

I agree wholeheartedly. I didn't really discuss much at the actual content of the story, instead focusing on the design decisions that allowed the devs to write the story they wanted, but its absolutely crammed with interesting and emotional moments both large and small. Many of them were mentioned here in the contents. Hell, i get choked up in a couple of places because its so easy to care about the protagonists. They do so much with their character design that allowed the characters to express themselves. That look on Yasha's face when his mask falls away after he's died will stay with me for a while as will that moment of release when Asura realizes his rage is gone.

#17 Posted by Bobstar (320 posts) -

Everybody knows this is the most epic moment in the game:

That music. Wow.

#18 Edited by csl316 (9421 posts) -

@bobstar: "You fight, then eat good food. You fight, then drink fine wine. You fight, then sleep with beautiful women. Hell, fight with beautiful women! That is what it means to live!"

#19 Edited by Bobstar (320 posts) -

@csl316 said:

@bobstar: "You fight, then eat good food. You fight, then drink fine wine. You fight, then sleep with beautiful women. Hell, fight with beautiful women! That is what it means to live!"

"I don't fight for good. And I don't fight for evil. I just fight!"

#20 Posted by HurricaneIvan29 (680 posts) -

Never would of thought of giving this game a chance, but with everything I've heard in here I can't pass it up now. I love the idea of extremely narrative driven games; the idea of show/game mix always intrigues me. Thanks all!

#21 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

@hurricaneivan29: I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, it really is something special. Glad it piqued your interest!

#22 Posted by gaminghooligan (1479 posts) -

Great read! I have to admit I was skeptical going into Asura's Wrath but it won me over. I never go to play the dlc being the broke college student I was at the time, but one of my favorite moments in the game was playing as Yasha (that music.)

#23 Posted by csl316 (9421 posts) -

Great read! I have to admit I was skeptical going into Asura's Wrath but it won me over. I never go to play the dlc being the broke college student I was at the time, but one of my favorite moments in the game was playing as Yasha (that music.)

I would say watch a complete playthrough on Youtube, just the DLC, if you can't buy it. It features some of the absolute best parts of the game.

#24 Edited by FirePrince (1766 posts) -

Seeing as I didn't care much for any anime at the time, especially over the top action, and how Asura's Wrath is after all barely a game, it's a marvel that I still finished it in two sittings because I just enjoyed so much of it.

I still did feel cheated as hell when I found out the actual ending is behind DLC, as the one included in the game did feel a bit underwhelming.

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