I recently wrote a blog on how much I hated filler in games and how I’d take quality over quantity any day of the week. Little did I know, just a few days later, my beliefs would be put to the ultimate test by Capcom’s, Asura’s Wrath, a game that takes the concept of quality over quantity and stretches it to breaking point (and dependent upon your tastes, possibly beyond that).
In terms of the quality of the experience on offer, Asura’s Wrath has few equals; it looks glorious, is beautifully animated, has a brilliant cast of characters and is framed in a way that makes it better looking and more entertaining than the majority of the animes that it so clearly and lovingly apes. The problem lies with the fact that there are only 6 or so hours of it. While I appreciate that many of today’s modern blockbusters come in at around the same time, it’s the relatively low percentage of that 6 hours that you spend actually ‘playing’ the game that will prove a major bone of contention for many. Of the games already relatively short 6 hours, I’d guess that you’re only actually playing the game (in the traditional sense of the word) for about 2 of those. Under normal circumstances, it’s something that would be completely unacceptable, especially in the case of a full retail release, but Asura’s Wrath, well, I think it just about gets away with it.
You see, rather than attempting to deliver an experience that falls comfortably in line with what we have come to expect from a videogame, the anime-obsessed folk over at CyberConnet 2 (their office is absolutely stacked to the rafters with what can only be described as a library’s worth of manga) have essentially created an interactive anime of the very highest order. The animation and cinematography hold up against the very best Japanese animation out there while the episodic nature (20 episodes, each one lovingly framed in traditional anime stylings) structures the whole experience in that classic TV show format.
It’s extremely Japanese and will inevitably be adored by as many who despise it, but personally, being something of a Japanophile, I absolutely loved it. Yeah, it was short and the replay value is somewhat slender, but in terms of memorable moments, I doubt that there will be many games in 2012 that can match it. To be honest, if you want to know if it’s for you, just try the demo. The two chapters available sum up the game beautifully and give you an idea of the gameplay to cut-scene ratio while also providing a perfect example of just how bat-crap crazy the game actually is……and believe me, it is absolutely bonkers.
Following the exploits of Asura, a fallen demi-God so angry that his rage wakes him from death’s slumber (that’s pretty freakin’ angry), Asura’s Wrath sees you battling across a 12,000 year time period against the seven deities that turned against you, murdered your wife and kidnaped your daughter…..as far as deities go, these guys are certainly of the douche bag persuasion. While I would love to go into great detail on exactly what happens next, to do so would be to ruin the experience (needless to say, there is much in the way of planet-sized…..well, everything). As much as I enjoyed the simplistic but consistently solid gameplay, it was the story and the utterly outrageous spectacle of it all that always kept me wanting more.
Unlike the majority of games that build story and events around the mechanics of the game, Asura’s Wrath does it the other way around. While it often comes back to relatively basic combat mechanics involving light and heavy attacks and a Rage meter that needs to be filled to kick-start the next event or cut-scene, Asura’s Wrath is willing to change its basic mechanics to fit into its undeniably outrageous vision. Be it an an-rails shooting section or a slight tweak to the actions related to input, for better or for worse, Asura’s Wrath puts story and spectacle above all else. That commitment to spectacle does rather inevitably mean the inclusion of QTEs, but mercifully, failure does not mean that you have to replay the scene (failure actually does little more than effect your final grade at the end of each episode).
I appreciate that in this instance, the coming together of anime and videogame into such an interwoven final product might be a little heavy handed, but for fans of anime and Japanese culture, Asura’s Wrath will most likely prove a pure delight – in a world in which games are becoming increasingly po-faced, I for one couldn’t be happier to see a game of Asura’s Wrath’s ilk making it onto shelves. Regardless of what you may think of the current state of Japanese game development, there is little doubt that a product of this imagination and absurdity could only come from Japan. Alongside El Shaddai and Vanquish, Asura’s Wrath stands as yet another exemplary example of contemporary Japanese art design and a stark reminder that Japan still delivers some of the finest video game experiences around.
For everyone else, while the gameplay might prove a little too limited and the story and visual style perhaps a little too Japanese, the emphasis on story ahead of gameplay might just provide a peek into the future of videogames. I don’t expect immediately forthcoming game development to follow directly in Asura’s Wrath’s footsteps, but I can definitely see a future in which mechanics are built to fit the story rather than the other way around. Of course, this kind of approach would inevitably be better suited to Kinect-style technology, but even here, in its most rudimentary form, it does offer up an intriguing, if arguably flawed attempt to bring together two unique art forms.
Asura’s Wrath, with its relative short running time and even shorter playing time does occasionally struggle to live up to its RRP, but as far as I’m concerned, CyberConnect2 has managed to create something truly unique in Asura’s Wrath, and subsequently, one of the most memorable videogames released this generation. The art style, a mix of Japanese and Buddhist aesthetic all wrapped in beautifully heavy outer lines and surprisingly detailed artistic flourishes is an absolute treat for the eyes. The cinematography, the direction – it’s all top notch. Sure, the gameplay is relatively simplistic, but in terms of serving a greater purpose, the core mechanics do their job admirably. Many gamers will find it easy to dismiss Asura’s Wrath as a classic example of style over substance but for those with a taste for Japanese anime, the quality of the product will likely render all other issues largely irrelevant.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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