Sunday, February 26, 2012

Asura's Wrath - "Over-The-Top" Is Its Middle Name

Imagine putting God of War, DragonBall Z, Bayonetta, Heavy Rain, and Star Wars into a blender. Now imagine drinking this tasteful combination and finding yourself with an experience that equals that of this game: The event doesn't last very long, but the delightful and addicting taste has you making another one. That would describe Asura's Wrath in a nutshell, but to cap off this review then and there would not even begin to do Capcom and CyberConnect2's joint venture any justice.

Asura is very pissed, but understandably so. One day he's one of the world's Eight Guardian Generals, tasked with eliminating the world of an enemy race called the Gohma. The next, he's being exiled with false blood on his hands, his wife Durga murdered, and his daughter Mithra taken from him by the other Generals to further their own cause with her unique powers. When he tries to rescue his daughter and clear his name, he is instead killed by the General Deus and sent down to Naraka. After 12 millenia pass he reemerges, only to find that the world's landscape is in ruin thanks to his former allies, now more powerful and known as the Seven Deities. Now to reclaim his daughter, Asura must fight not only the Gohma, but also the Deities before they can initiate a plan known as the "Great Rebirth".

The setting for which this all unfolds is rather unique, with a great blend of sci-fi and Hindu mythology that really sells itself well. The Deities can all be attrributed to a vice (lust, greed, sloth, etc.) or fill an archetype (mentor, sadist, etc.), with Wrath of course being Asura's primary attribute. Their overall designs also take the blend into account, complete with all of the Generals/Deities being cyborgs to help explain away abilities like breathing in the dark vacuum of space.

If there's anything that really needs to be addressed first for this title, it would be the controls and overall design. As Asura's goes through the game's 18 levels, or Episodes, he'll be spending most of his time building up two special gauges: the Unlimited Gauge and the Burst Gauge. By way of combat, through taking or dealing damage, the Unlimited Gauge builds up. When it's full, the player can press the lower left shoulder button on the controller to increase the damage Asura can dish out on his opponents, but only for a limited time. Most importantly however, it also serves as another way to quickly build up his Burst.

To elaborate, the Burst Gauge is the most important thing on the screen to worry about. Asura's combat prowess, as stated before, combined with the player being good at nailing the numerous Quick Time Events both help to build it up at a good rate. The effort of the player is then culminated by pressing the lower right shoulder button to go onto the next part of the game. In a sense Burst is basically the "end sequence" button, as it is the only way players can truly advance through the Episodes. This isn't really a bad thing since it enables one to see everything in proper sequence.

To extend my opening drink metaphor, the actual combat of the game is like a shot glass: very simple to pick up but not very deep. While Asura can lock onto his targets and jump with ease, he has one button for shooting airborne targets, another for his regular attacks, and another for special attacks. If special attacks are used, he'll overheat and need to cool down before being able to do another one either freely or to damage a downed enemy; an activated Unlimited Gauge temporarily removes this restriction. While rushing and diving attacks do add something to combat, it probably won't be enough to satiate the types of players who find enjoyment in systems that rely on deep menus, multiple button presses and combinations, input cancels, or the like. In spite of this I still found what was used here to be very satisfying in that it's basically designed to express Asura's dominant anger and frustration.

That said however, the finished product plays very much like an interactive series, as cutscenes with QTE's take precedent over the combat sections, though some rail-shooter moments do help break up the gameplay as well. In my opinion this isn't a detriment to the game, but rather an advantage. What may seem like a mindless video game, or even God of War ripoff if one goes exclusively by text previews, is actually backed by an amazing and compelling story that serves as the true backbone of the experience, as well as offering the game its own flavor. The interesting characters, great plot twists, over-the-top moments (ranging from fighting a planet-sized Buddha to a man that wields a 300,000 mile-long extendo-sword) and fascinating world keep you playing to see how everything turns out; the shocking finale of the True Ending also helps and draws me to wanting a sequel just to see how that turns out.

Some gamers may also be turned off by the admittedly short campaign, which can be beaten in merely a day. This doesn't really hold back the game from achieving all that it can though. By sticking to the length it has, it prevents itself from resorting to padding the length, which would have probably made the game even more repetitive. Still, it's a satisfactory length that actually makes me want to go through it again if I can if only to continue unlocking extras.

The smooth texture of this enjoyable concoction is made more complete through the game's technical side. Top notch voice acting helps brings each character to life and captures their personalities perfectly, while the score backing the action onscreen is very fitting and appropriate. The visuals help bring everything, including the sheer scale of the world, to life. It's amazing how the woodcut detail of the Deities mesh perfectly with the fleshy humans and metallic technology, made even more so by the fact that no glitches seem to exist in the game, aside from the occasional minor clipping. The only thing that may hold this back a little is that the interludes, which add depth to the story, have text that can sometimes be hard to read thanks to a combination of playing on a standard def television and it being on top of visuals that are either too bright or dark causing me to move the text around a lot. I'll admit however that this allowed me to fully enjoy the beautiful artwork present, drawn by different artists. Another problem I encountered was that sometimes the sound mixing seemed to be off, with the music being placed high enough that I couldn't hear the dialogue; changing the mix in the options can fix this problem. However, it can't fix when the dialogue is rarely cut off.

In the end, Asura's Wrath is a very unique experience. With its anime-like quality, complete with loading screens that resemble eyecatches, the game is able to lift itself into a realm where it can form its own niche, which now includes me. Asura is a truly sympathetic character underneath his rage and I was happy to see his story come to a close, for now at least. For those who want to immerse themselves in a different sort of game from most others on the market, as well as a story that can be considered an Epic, I strongly encourage you to play this game.

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