When someone asks me to describe Asura's Wrath, I find that I have an incredibly difficult time answering. It is by turns a shooter, action brawler and interactive movie all rolled into one, all packaged with an episodic narrative about rage, redemption and what it means to sacrifice everything for those you love. Most of the time, the game manages all its disparate elements quite well, but every so often, one of the plates wobbles and crashes to the ground.
The game is set in a world where humanity is under constant threat by the Gohma, a race of bestial creatures that know nothing but chaos and destruction. Asura is one of the Seven Guardian Generals, demigods sworn to protect the humans and obliterate the Gohma. After one particularly epic battle, Asura is framed by his fellow Generals for the assassination of humanity's emperor. Asura's wife is slain and his daughter taken away, all while our hero is accused of treason and left for dead. About 12,000 years later, Asura returns to the realm of the living, seeking to avenge his family and exact retribution from the Generals who now call themselves gods.
The premise is suitably epic and dramatic, and it unfolds much in the way one would expect from an anime series. There are multiple episodes spread over three acts, with a handful of scenes in each. Much of the plot is revealed through expository scenes, but often, players aren't just sitting back and watching, but rather participating in the action with timed button presses or flicks of the control sticks. Those with an intrinsic aversion to Quick Time Events (QTEs) would be wise to simply stay far, far away from the game, as a great deal of time is devoted to pushing just the right button at just the right time.
Dismissing the game because of its abundance of QTEs would be a tragic mistake, though, as Asura's Wrath introduces a great cast of very colorful characters and delightfully ludicrous moments. One boss fight culminates with your foe growing to a size greater than that of the Earth itself and attempting to crush you with a finger. Another showcases a sword so long and sharp that it can literally bisect the entire planet. Even the game's few quiet moments are expertly milked for maximum effect, creating a perfectly paced experience that can easily sweep you up. The only real misstep is that Asura is incredibly unlikable, speaking almost exclusively in grunts and yells and refusing to dial it down for a moment. Yes, I know the name of the game isn't Asura's Diplomatic Resolution to Complex Issues, but it could still do with giving him a volume other than yelling at full blast.
While the plot and pacing of Asura's Wrath is spot-on, the actual gameplay often proves to be less than stellar. The brawling sections are boring, often requiring you to do little more than tap B and Y until Asura's rage builds up enough to trigger his Burst Attack and end the fight. While the Bursts almost always result in wanton destruction and a satisfying evisceration of your foes, all the fights feel like filler. When the objective of combat is not to win, but rather to fill a meter as quickly as possible, it becomes easy to zone out and stop caring. While other action games published by Capcom, such as Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, have featured in-depth combat with tons of opportunities for individual flair, Asura's Wrath can't deliver even a sliver of that excitement.
The shooter segments fare a bit better, though they're still shallow efforts to fill the Burst Gauge. Asura can let fly with either rapid-fire shots or homing attacks, both of which can be used to create some rather impressive destruction. Again, the mechanic is little more than filler to get from one story point to another, but it's still empowering to use one man to bring down an entire fleet of starships or cut through a seemingly endless swarm of powerful enemies.
As mentioned previously, the story of Asura's Wrath is told like an anime, and the game presentation mirrors this approach. Character features are exaggerated in such ways as to make basically everyone superhuman, and the only way to truly express emotion is to so openly plaster it on their faces that there's no doubt or subtlety to their feelings. I don't say these things to be condescending; fans of Japanese animation will love how the game absolutely nails the medium.
Admittedly, Asura's Wrath is not a great game. The combat mechanics are uninspired and the title relies heavily on QTEs to drive the action. However, I'm not entirely sure it's trying to be a pure game so much as it wants to be an interactive experience. That may sound a bit like a cop-out, but I truly believe the interactive elements are there merely to drive the story forward, and in that respect, the game delivers beautifully. Asura's Wrath is a strange bird indeed, throwing in so many disparate elements that all manage to somehow come together and create a compelling, fun experience. This game is weird, but it's weird in the right ways.
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