Asura's Wrath (XBOX 360)
Asura's Wrath is developed by Cyber Connect 2 and published by Capcom. It will be released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in North America on February 21st, Japan on February 22nd and in Europe on February 24th and is an unconventional game that is publicised as delivering a fresh take on action gaming while having an unprecedented level of dynamism, drama and interaction.
Asura's Wrath is a new type of game which seamlessly blends action and narrative in an episodic structure more akin to an anime TV drama. We are going to take a look at just what exactly makes this game so unique and whether or not this new approach is an enjoyable one.
Asura's Wrath starts as it means to go on. We are immediately dropped into the role of Asura who is one one of the "Eight Guardian Generals" in the realm of Shinkoku. These demigods fight to protect Heaven and Earth from the destructive forces of the Gohma.
After battling the planet sized boss Gohma, we are summoned to the Emperor's throne only to find they have been murdered and we have been accused of the crime. Worried about the ramifications for our family we rush home to protect our wife, Durga and daughter Mithra but it is too late. The other Guardian Generals have killed our wife, kidnapped our daughter and we are soon banished, trapped seemingly forever.
12,000 years later we pick up the story and after making it to Earth find that our former comrades are now dubbed "The Seven Deities" and they have evolved to god-like levels. Needless to say, 12,000 years trapped with building rage hasn't left us too pleased and so these "Deities" better watch out for the wrath filled Asura.
In terms of structure the game is divided into episodes and at the beginning of the third we are given our first and only combat tutorial. The late arrival of the tutorial does not cause us any great issue though as the first 40 minutes of the game contains very little free play, as does the rest of the story.
Essentially Asura's Wrath is better described as a kind of interactive anime TV show. It is split into 18 episodes divided over 3 parts that track the course of Asura quest for matricidal vengeance. Each episode is about 15 to 20 minutes long but only has around five minutes of actual button pressing and even then the gameplay is almost entirely Quick Time Events or set piece combat. So about 2/3 of our time spent playing Asura's Wrath, is actually spent watching rather than acting.
When the interactive sections do kick in they can be somewhat reminiscent of Jade Empire in the 360° fight layout but the aim in these action scenes is not actually to be successful but rather to build up enough of our rage meter to initiate Burst Mode, which triggers a Quick Time Event that advances the plot with another cut scene.
Once we complete an episode we unlock certain achievements, a video, CG art and concept art. All of which can be found in the Extra section of the initial game menu. Each episode has its own credit reel, like a TV show and between episodes we are treated to a short sequence of beautiful subtitled illustrations that expand on the plot of the episode we have just played but from the perspective of our nemesis The Seven Deities. Before each new episode there is also a narrated preview which consists of still images of the forth coming episode accompanied by the voice over plot summary delivered by the character of Mithra.
Graphics and Audio
In terms of graphics and general visual impression Asura's Wrath is a mix of high gloss CGI backdrops with a more grainy hand drawn style of animation for the titular character. The general visual feel is reminiscent of the epic anima classic Akira. It is a spectacular visual feast giving us amazing fantasy vistas featuring a fleet of spaceships exploding in a near Earth orbit while being attacked by giant black tentacled crustaceans with a network of red molten veins running across their shells. The animation is as good as the best from Manga and Studio Ghibli.
The audio falls slightly short of the spectacular heights that the visuals climb to. With the lack of lengthy action it is fair to say that we didn't notice any particularly impressive sound effects. The most notable sound effects are the punching sounds and the frequent screams of the wrath filled Asura. These loud and striking audio elements are very well balanced out but the use of prolonged periods of silence and entire sections without music. When music is used it is generally understated classical piano or operatic vocals which sit behind the visuals building tension and smoothing off the rough edges of some of the more fanciful graphics. The interactive combat scenes are at an auditory juxtaposition to the rest of the sound track. Bass and beat heavy 1980s style rock pierces the otherwise classical serenity of the games indicating that, without a doubt, punching is about to commence. Overall the sound track works very well.
Really Asura's Wrath could be considered as entirely new genre, the makers embarking into brave new territory. This makes it very difficult to score; we felt that the plot was a bit too shallow and the interactive action too sparse but once we stopped thinking of the game as a game and more as a TV show we really started to enjoy it. Our only real concern, other than it being light on interaction, is that it has no real re-playability given that our actions in the Quick Times Events seem to make no impact on the story and only affect our end of episode score replaying on different difficulties seems to have little appeal.
So in terms of value Asura's Wrath retails at around £40, which seems a little on the expensive side for an anime box set with the plot intrigue equivalent to Violence Jack, particularly when we consider it has around 6 hours of play.
For fans of anime though it is worth picking up... it is not a game and neither is it an animated TV show, although it is closer to the latter; it is something entirely new and brave and ultimately entertaining.
Style over substance but what style!