Take A Chill Pill Asura
Asura’s Wrath is Capcom’s latest game for the Xbox360 and Ps3 and is also an original IP. Watching trailers for this game you would think you have one of the most over the top games ever made, but (without hyperbole) that might be the case if you actually had a game to play. Asura’s Wrath takes the Quick Time Event (QTE) idea and beats it to death, sometimes with 6 arms at a time. I will try and be as spoiler free as possible.
The story and setting of Asura’s Wrath are never fully explained. We know we are on Earth…excuse me, Gaia. We get small bits of backstory and exposition, but it boils down to a bad guy who basically thinks the best way to save people is to kill them. As per the game’s title, Asura is an angry dude. He personifies the stereotypical anime hero who has tons of power but only manifests new power when it seems he is going to fail. This is typically seen in something like Bleach, but I will admit Bleach is at least fun and they try to give everything a back story. Granted that is an anime that is now hundreds of episodes deep, but you work within the parameters you have given yourself.
We are introduced to the “eight deities” which Asura is a part of. These are big guys fighting the Gohma which are…OK, the game never really explains what they are or why they all look like escaped zoo animals with red moss growing over them. Many portions of the game involve you fighting these Gohma and yeah…they are only ever things like giant fish, turtles, monkeys, or elephants. Early in the story Asura is betrayed and this is where the story really begins. He was really angry before he was betrayed and he is really angry after he was betrayed…hell, he is still really angry when the game is over, so…yeah. If you want character development at all this game is not going to satisfy you. Asura then goes on a quest to save his family, but not really much else. The game’s entire premise falls on its face at the end and is extremely anti-climactic. You can setup for a sequel without sacrificing the story you are telling: Asura’s Wrath unfortunately sacrifices any real resolution by worrying more about giving you a “To Be Continued” message at the end.
I have huge problems with the storytelling in Asura’s Wrath. They are purposefully going for a mock anime feel, complete with credits, bumpers, eye catchers, and the “on the next episode” outros. They accomplish this part without a problem, unfortunately if I don’t care for the story or the characters then these other things won’t matter. They accomplish the scope of the story well. Each of the main characters is as over the top as they could possibly be and the fights are translated on the screen well, but unfortunately (as I will discuss later) I am consistently wanting to actually be doing these things opposed to merely watching a cutscene. They achieve the style of the world well with character designs being as over the top as the story, but again everything this game does leaves me feeling empty and wanting something of substance.
Graphics are a tough call. The art style is interesting and is a mix of science fiction and traditional Buddhist imagery. Unfortunately, if you have any experience playing games in the last eight years you will immediately recognize that this game was built on the Unreal Engine. Texture pop in plagues the game in certain spots and some textures were just outright muddy and painful to look at. The engine also shows its wear when zoomed in up close on character models as the harsh geometry really pops out. The world is bright and full of diversity but compared to something like Gears of Wars 3, Asura’s Wrath feels like it should have come out much better looking.
Audio is a mixed bag. At times the music and sound effects were so loud that the dialogue wasn’t able to be heard at times. If I didn’t have subtitles enabled I wouldn’t have been able to follow what little story this game actually attempts. The music is the best part of the audio, being a mix of traditional Asian music and even some more modern Western themes. I would actually buy the soundtrack to Asura’s Wrath.
Now, here is where we get into the meat and potatoes of this rather small and vapid meal. The gameplay in Asura’s Wrath can be boiled down to three systems: panzer dragoon style shooter, a very barebones beat’em up, and then the QTEs. Most of the game is spent either watching non-interactive cutscenes or engaging in the QTEs with the other two gameplay mechanics being peppered in. Mostly, these do nothing to add to the quality or fun of the game. Each fight boils down to successfully getting enough hits in to build your rage meter which when full you “Burst” and activate the next QTE. Every fight goes the same way and every fight ends the same way. There are no real boss battles and fighting a beginning enemy is no different than fighting the final enemy you come across. This is extremely boring and even before I hit the midway point in Asura’s Wrath I was wishing that the game was close to over.
Spoiler: At a certain time in the game you take control of another character in the story, albeit temporarily. Typically, in other games, this would offer a fresh perspective for both the story and gameplay …but this is not the case in Asura’s Wrath. The only real difference is that her glows blue and Asura glows red, but this is only instituted so it is slightly easier to pick them out in battle (obviously). Another spoiler: this guy is angry too.
Replay ability is limited to using different gauges (example: you don’t see your health bar) or playing on hard mode which only really affects the difficulty of the actual game parts and not the QTEs. The story does not change and you do not get a different ending or more depth to the ending for finishing on hard mode.
The hard part about reviewing Asura’s Wrath is that I am reviewing a game, not an anime. What this means is I have to look at what I am doing not what I am watching. On top of this, the extra mechanics they’ve added to pad the game out actually make it slightly worse because you end up feeling like if you are given a fighting system don’t give me a crappy God of War knockoff with 3 moves and a bad camera: give me something with some meat on it.
The biggest surprise for me is that it is nearly impossible to fail at this game. You can never fail a QTE as it will just give you a bad grade at the end opposed to any responsibility for playing badly. You can die during the simplified fighting and shooting portions, but the game will quickly load up allowing you finish the portion pretty fast. Once I realized this it actually made playing through Asura’s Wrath even worse as I felt once again that I was truly a spectator opposed to a participant…something that’s almost antithetical to video games.
If I can give two more points about Asura’s Wrath I will bring this to a close. The biggest complaint I personally feel I can make about a game is that I was bored, and I feel the same way with movies and books. These things are entertainment and no matter the genre or subject the final product should not be boring but engaging. You never actually do anything cool in the game it is all seen during cutscenes. This is extremely frustrating when you see a character you are playing do awesome things in a cutscene but then when you have control of said character it is as if you aren’t allowed to do those things.
The game, as with most these days, heavily sets up for a sequel. I hope that if it does come to fruition they actually decide to make a game to go along with their cutscenes or they just decide to go all the way and just make Asura’s Wrath into an anime and skip all the bad gameplay portions. I would be interested in taking a dive into the universe again if they actually take the time to develop the premise.
Let’s end on a lighter, albeit slightly hyperbolic note.