From the moment I picked up Asura’s Wrath it felt like a game made just for me. It’s obvious at first glance Asura’s Wrath wants to be more of an anime than a game, but more importantly it wants to be everything I love about anime. As a person naturally averse to conflict I’ve always admired characters that never back down from a fight and never let anyone push them around, an archetype that has always been most appropriately captured for me in anime. I’m drawn to the over-the-top insanity that occurs so regularly it’s as if it were commonplace and characters so dedicated to their cause no person or thing can shake their resolve. Maybe that’s because it has always communicated to me a more vivid and inspiring representation of faith than the more subtle methods I normally see in other types of media. So as a fair warning: Asura’s Wrath is a “game” that uses the functionality of games more as a device to draw you in to its story than to actually free you to play.
From top to bottom Asura’s Wrath is more of a culmination of what’s great about anime than a singular idea. The story is broken down by episode in the typical anime fashion, complete with multiple seasons, a preview of the next episode, and even bumpers of artwork you’d normally see before and after commercials. You play as the moralistic but short-tempered Asura, one of eight demigods who ritualistically fight the Ghoma (corrupted animals who attack without purpose) and the behemoth queen that spawns them, Vlitra. Vlitra is a tentacled monstrosity that burrows out from the center of the planet every several thousand years to feed on the souls of the creatures of Gaea. Did I mention it’s also the size of the planet? After you almost single-handedly force Vlitra back into hibernation for another cycle the other demigods begin to fear your power and betray you, killing you and your wife and kidnapping your daughter. Queue classic anime-style epic revenge story.
Asura’s thirst for justice leads him across the path of plenty of personalities any anime connoisseur will immediately recognize. The archetypes may not be new, but the characters themselves are complex and visually creative enough that they avoid dragging things down. The plot rarely tries to catch you off guard, but as the other character’s motivations and backstories come to light they artfully motivate you to want payback as much as Asura, even as the truth and the ramifications of his methods come into question. With each new conflict more of Asura’s past is uncovered to both the player and himself, and his steadily ascending outrage at his former allies ensures the action is constantly ramping up.
While the lion’s share of the action lies in the cinematics of Asura’s Wrath, there is still plenty of the traditional pummeling you would expect from any fighting game. Combat is one of Asura’s Wrath’s weakest aspects, but there is enough to it that it doesn’t feel like a chore to play. Fighting the Ghoma in direct combat almost always takes place in arena-style sections between cutscenes and consists of basic heavy/light, melee/projectile skirmishes where your goal is to build up the burst meter before your life runs out. Fights are fluid and responsive and have plenty of quick time events in keeping with Asura’s Wrath’s cinematic tone, but they never manage to step out from the shadow of the cutscene’s scope and panache. I couldn’t shake the feeling they were an attempt to legitimize Asura’s Wrath as a game, as opposed to an actual part of the game’s creative vision.
The real party starts once your meter fills and “BURST!” explodes onto your screen in huge flaming letters. Bursting serves simply as a mechanic to trigger the next cutscene and progress the story . The majority of the game plays out in these cutscenes, and you’ll be grateful for that, because the level of insanity you will bear witness to is something you simply couldn’t get by allowing the player control. Despite the fact that control is reduced to timed button presses and moving analog sticks, cutscenes are far and away the most engaging portions of the game. There is little Asura’s anger can’t conquer, and the cinematic camera pans and clever use of well placed button prompts brilliantly serve to illustrate this. Instead of feeling like my involvement had been reduced I felt more like it had been altered. Now instead of clumsily battering enemies as Asura it felt more like I was using my controller to desperately cheer Asura on from the sidelines. Whether it’s fighting a god so massive he crushes you with a single finger or going head-to-head in a battle on the moon before being impaled back to the planet Gaea below by a sword long enough to pierce both you and the entire planet, CyberConnect2 has deftly used button prompts to create the illusion that you are the lynch-pin between Asura’s success or demise.
If Asura’s Wrath has one Achilles heel, it’s the ending. For a game so focused on weaving a story interesting enough to compensate for a lack of actual gameplay, the ending is a real punch in the gut. Even taking the extra effort to earn the secret ending only serves to reward you with a bigger cliffhanger. When a game focuses so heavily on creating such a story driven experience it’s even more important that it follows through to the end, and Asura’s Wrath trips at the finish line.
Asura is exactly the kind of fearless, self-motivated hero I love to see wring his enemies dry. He embodies the limitless potential of faith, especially in yourself, and the brand of righteous justice that’s right up my alley. Shaping a game into an interactive anime is tricky business, but Cyberconnect2 have created something greater than the sum of it’s parts: an anime you can be a part of. Even if it means only gleaning a sliver of Asura’s satisfaction, it’s an experience unlike any other, and it’s the closest I’ve ever been to the characters I’ve idolized.