Review: Asura’s Wrath (X360)

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Asura’s Wrath is an unusual game. It’s short, at around five or six hours, and heavily scripted with Quick Time Events telling you what to do. It’s a wash of chaos, blinding colors, and cosmic explosions interrupted only by a little story daring to pause the relentless face punching it delivers.

In some ways, it’s also like a series of anime episodes complete with “to be continued” in between each act as its Unreal Engine powered leads ponder their next step before launching into even more over-the-top madness. But with as much hand holding as there is, there’s fun to be found here.

Bits and pieces from Eastern religions such as Shinto and Buddhism are reincarnated with a techno-wizardry edge. It has a gigantic cyber-Brahman in orbit, planet-sized bosses, and you play as one of seven demigods backed by a space fleet of holy warships. Human prayers are used to generate Mantra, an energy source used as part of a Death Star-like beam weapon. All of these things give Asura’s Wrath one of the most unique worlds ever found in a game.

Players take on the role of Asura, an angry demigod who blasts through a space fleet of enemy creatures on his way to save Earth with his fellow immortals. It’s a quick intro to the controls which change by the moment. Here at the start, Asura can lock on enemies and blast them with bolts of divine power while punching a stream of glowing bullets at whatever you aim at as he hurtles toward the planet.

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The QTE system also rears its head prompting you to shift sticks to the left, hit the A button at the right moment, and so on. Asura’s Wrath heavily relies on QTEs throughout the game turning large chunks of the experience into something of an hours-long cutscene. Expect to pound the B button a lot.

Before long, Asura is suddenly framed for murdering the emperor. He is thrown down from the heavens and doesn’t return from the underworld until after 12,000 years burning with revenge. And if he has to go through his former allies, then that’s just fine.

He hasn’t lost any of his pugilistic powers while buried in the ground and on occasion, players will actually get to button mash their way through battles with the soldiers sent to stop him or the bosses that range from giant, possessed elephants to his fellow demigods. In these bouts, the third-person action takes on a ‘beat ‘em up’ format where punching and smashing your way is all about how quickly you can pound on the B button.

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The Y button executes a power attack that does more damage and covers a larger area, but it also causes Asura to “overheat” after which he has to cool down. He can also jump into the air in these confrontations, shoot blasts of power at locked on enemies, and bum rush foes on the ground in the game’s most open fighting sequences.

Asura isn’t exactly human and he comes apart more than once in this adventure – literally. But he always finds a way back to battle. This epic mythology of violence is also braced with equal parts humor. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously especially where its action is concerned. If you’ve ever watched an anime series where a villain or hero unleashes their “ultimate power” and wipes the screen clean with blinding energy, Asura’s Wrath revels in those moments.

Even though he’s a demigod, he still has to watch his health bar which recharges itself after every major bout. Below that is another gauge that slowly fills up as he does more damage and pummels his enemies into paste. Once filled, it can be unleashed in a “Burst” attack that acts as the killing blow in many instances against tough beasts. Like the rest of the game, though, it’s scripted in where you can use Burst attacks and throws just enough monsters to fill the gauge to where it needs to be.

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That might be the biggest problem with the game for most. It’s so heavily ingrained with QTE moments from start to finish that it’s hard to imagine that there’s still a game in there somewhere. In that respect, the QTEs are the game. This is a Dragon’s Lair for the 21st century with occasional moments of independent shooting and punching worked in so as not to make it too passive an experience. For all of its flash and thunder, Asura’s Wrath almost never steps off of the rails. And by approaching the action this way, it has managed to make it both appealing to watch and take part in. This is a game that wants you to savor how it, and its action, look.

Even though it never deviates from its script, it’s strangely entertaining. If not because of the visual insanity that charges every pixel, then for the explosions of violence that make it feel as if you were shaking the pillars of heaven. Some battles can get repetitive and the limited moveset means that you’ll be button mashing through most every fight before getting to arcade sequences that have Asura run through caves and down metal hallways, or fly through the skies Panzer Dragoon-style on rails.

There’s no multiplayer component, only a lot of unlockable extras such as CG gallery, concept art, and extra gauge types that can also give Asura a few bonuses such as being more resistant to damage. There’s also an alternate ending if you can fulfill the conditions for it. But there’s not much else leaving this game feeling extremely light for the price it asks for. It’s an arcade game in the purest sense of the word, but it’s a hard sell despite how wondrous its world is.

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Asura’s Wrath shines with its scripted action, inspired art style, and its over-the-top violence punched up with occasional moments of storytelling to keep its protagonist grounded in why he needs to smash everything in his way. It even comes with a dual language track so you can either hear everything in English, or with English subtitles to Japanese. Its short length, light content, and linear QTE pinning much of it on rails, however, can have would-be demigods thinking twice about taking on the role of a vengeful deity no matter how novel a setting it might wrap its anger management within.

Asura’s Wrath
Capcom / CyberConnect2
Xbox 360 / PS3 (reviewed for Xbox 360)
Rated: T for Teens