Inside Pulse 12

Review: Asura’s Wrath (Sony Playstation 3)

Asura’s Wrath
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: CyberConnect2
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/21/2012

I have a soft spot for CyberConnect2. The reason is because I play a lot of Naruto games. A lot of them are pretty sub-par, but the CC2 games are usually the best you can get. I love the Ultimate Ninja series, and look forward greatly to the next entry.

I mention this because when I heard about Asura’s Wrath, the only thing I knew was that CC2 was developing it. That was all I needed to be exited, and I was looking forward to supporting them on it.

Then I played the demo, which Alex Lucard rightly pointed out was not indicative of a particularly good game. I didn’t find the gameplay very exciting in any fashion, and there wasn’t enough of the story to hook me in. I lowered my expectations, but kept hope alive.

So, with that out of the way, we can get to the review. I can honestly say this is one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to review. I mean that in the sense that it does a lot of things I find hard to put a quantitative measure on. This should be interesting.

Story

So Asura’s Wrath begins with a group known as the Eight Guardian Generals in the midst of battle against the Gohma. The Gohma are terrestrial manifestations of evil that claim the souls of mortals on Earth. The Guardians are part of a race of demigods that defend Earth from the Gohma. After putting the biggest Gohma to sleep, Asura, one the generals, is out for some well deserved R&R. However, he soon finds himself betrayed by the other generals, leaving his daughter kidnapped, his wife murdered, and himself labeled a traitor. Oh, and he’s dead too.

From there, the story starts with Asura breaking his way up from hell to return to Earth twelve thousand years into the future. Since demigods are immortal, all the key players are still alive and remember him quite vividly. He sets out to kill the newly anointed Seven Deities and get his daughter back too.

What makes this game unique is that it is told in a episodic format. While other games have done this before, this game takes the next step. During chapters, there will be breaks where commercials would be, as well as previews of the next episode. The story is also driven forward at a slow pace. Action happens frequently, and enemies fall like rain. However, more important details are given at a trickle after the beginning.

The story itself has some great moments and some fantastic setups. The game isn’t afraid to raise questions about religious beliefs and morality concerning sacrifices for the greater good. There are several great moments in the game that honestly had me interested. This is truly a world I would like to explore more. One thing kills it though.

That thing is Asura himself. He has no character or personality whatsoever. The writers simply decided he was “mad as all heck” and left it there. His reaction to everything is a primal scream and some punching. Occasionally he’ll stop to build an aura of anger around him that rivals what you’d see in something like Dragon Ball Z. Since he is the singular driving force in the game, this complete and utter lack of depth is a deal breaker. By the time the game gets around to explaining why he’s so angry (this was a problem before the whole betrayal and kidnapping thing), it’s too late. There is some deeper meaning to it all, but it’s something the player will have to come up with on your own. He just isn’t a character I could get behind.

There are some interesting characters in the game. Yasha, one of the Deities, is a great character that would have served much better as the lead. There’s also a young girl who displays a ton of depth without uttering a single comprehensible word. It’s just a shame that all of the focus was on Asura.

Beyond that, the game is also hampered by hokey writing that is more laughable than serious. There’s a reason why my favorite character couldn’t speak English. There’s a lot of silliness here. It goes beyond such silly lines as “I have had carnal knowledge of the finest maidens in heaven”. At one point, Asura essentially reaches the Super Saiyan level of rage, concluding with a ridiculous new form ripped straight from Naruto. This wasn’t too laughable, but then a trophy titled “Heads Will Roll” popped up. I laughed quite hard at that one. The issue is that it doesn’t seem like the game is supposed to be laughed at, yet it happens quite a bit. It takes itself too seriously.

Any good that Asura’s Wrath brings is instantly countered by some truly terrible stuff. I like the setup, the religious theme, and the crazy mix of sci-fi and mythology. I hate the main character, the bad dialogue, and the truly silly moments that permeate the game.

Graphics

At times, this is one of the most beautiful games in action. At others, it is an outdated wreck that could have run on the PS2.

The art style is interesting. It combines futuristic flourishes with a distinctive ancient Asian flare. I don’t even know how to describe the body texture for Asura. It’s like flesh, stone, and metal were put in a blender and this is what came out. The style will certainly be polarizing, but I find it works at blending two distinctive styles effectively.

Where this game really shines is the animations. A lot of attention to detail was put in facial expressions and subtle movements. This is particularly noticeable during large fight scenes, when Asura’s head gets snapped back by a hard hit. Even if Asura rarely gets past looking pissed off, he still looks great in most regards.

Where the holes start to form is in the backgrounds and shadows. The background textures are abysmal at times, including some silly pixelated lava. Shadows are equally pixelated at times, and are very noticeable when they move across a character’s face.

The game definitely gets props for the amazing aesthetic that helps it truly feel like an anime in action. A lot of attention was put into the art style, the editing, and the presentation. The game perfectly blends action sequences with quick time events and cinemas. When it isn’t taking commercial breaks or prepping for the next episode, it is a seamless experience.

Like I said, it’s very hard to score this game in just about every category.

Audio

Let’s start with the music. It’s a definite hit. The tunes in the game are honestly some of the stronger stuff that I’ve heard in recent years. There’s a great blend of eastern, western, rock, and orchestral pieces that hit just about every level that you can think of. Boss fights get suitably epic songs, while more poignant moments get gentle melodies filled with depth. This soundtrack could legitimately fit into a major motion picture without any tweaking. It’s top notch stuff.

The voice acting is not so bad for a dub, though the Japanese track is available. Liam O’Brian, and old hand at voicing dubs, does what he can with what little Asura has to offer. It’s kind of hard to convey much depth of emotion when all you do is scream and yell. The rest of the cast is suitable, with no real weak links in the chain. There are no true standouts, except perhaps Steve Blum as Sergei. He’s playing out of character from his usual roles, and probably puts on the best performance. While I wouldn’t call the acting particularly good, it was suitably well done enough that I never got annoyed by it.

The effects are a bit of a toss up. While things sound fine enough, the mixing is suspect. Chaotic scenes become a huge racket that distracts you from what’s going on. The voices are comparably muted, though they pick up during cut scenes. It creates a bit of an uneven experience.

Honestly, a few hiccups and run of the mill voice acting keep this game from reaching top honors for the sound department, though the high marks are mostly due to the absolute strength of the music.

Gameplay

There are three different gameplay types found throughout Asura’s Wrath. These are flying sections, battle sections, and quick time events.

The flying sections control very simply. You move your character with the left stick, which also controls the targeting reticule. You can hold down the square button for rapid fire, while passing over enemies will target them. Tapping triangle will fire a charged blast at any locked-on targets. The more targets you are locked onto, the more damage this move does. These sections are rarely interesting, as only the end sections get remotely tough. Also, it would have made more sense to control the reticule with the right stick while moving the character with the left. This would have allowed for more precise aiming, especially when dodging incoming fire. In either case, the flying sections are like a lame shooting gallery. They’re uninteresting and universally easy.

Combat in this game is pretty much what you’d expect. You have a light and heavy attack, the former which can be spammed into creating combos. The heavy attack cannot be used indefinitely, as each use brings a cool down timer. You can dodge with a shoulder button, as well as use a ranged attack with the square button. The ranged attack comes at the cost of mobility, and is rarely useful. You can hold the circle button to do a dash attack, while a heavy attack to a downed opponent creates a super attack that does extra damage. You can also counter certain attacks with a QTE, though it almost seems random which attacks you can counter. Counting on being able to counter is not encouraged.

Battling is all about your three gauges. First up is the health gauge. This is self explanatory: when you get hit, you take damage, when you run out of health, you die and start over again. The second gauge is the burst gauge. This fills up whenever you land a hit, and fills up faster for supers and counters. When it is filled up, you can press R2 to activate a burst. This brings up a QTE and moves the game forward. The goal of every scenario is to build up the burst gauge and activate it, as you can’t move forward until you do. The last gauge is the limit gauge. This fills up as you deal and take damage. When this is full, you can activate unlimited mode by pressing L2. This allows you to use heavy attacks at will for a short period of time. A well timed assault in unlimited mode can turn the tide of battle, as even bosses can’t take too many heavy attacks.

Overall, the combat is functional, which is good. However, it is also extremely shallow. Enemies use simple patterns when attacking, so fighting them off is as simple as dodging and then coming in for the counter. When they’re down, use the super attack and counter whenever possible. You don’t need to mix this strategy up at any point in the game. Toss in the repetitive combos, and combat can get pretty boring. What the game needed was more variety. All of your moves and abilities are unlocked from the start, and most battles are repeats. Frequent boss fights change things up, but they can all be taken down by following the above strategy. The only difference is how long you have to wait for a counter attack.

Quick time events are a huge part of the game, and can happen at any time. The actions you need to perform are simple, and nothing that someone who hasn’t played God of War or even the last console Naruto game isn’t used to. You’ll be given onscreen prompts that require you to flick the analog stick or tap a specific button. Sometimes you’ll have to rotate the stick, and sometimes you’ll have to mash the button like a madman. These scenes are fairly well done, as they smartly use certain directions to coincide with the onscreen action. For example, if Asura is about to climb, you’ll need to flick the stick up to get him going. There’s also a bit of a focus on timing a press for big moments. As a veteran of Elite Beat Agents, this quickly became second nature.

All told, the gameplay is in no way broken, cheap, or really all that bad. There are a couple of bad camera angles, and the lock on is suspect, but that’s it. The problem is that, while functional, every aspect of the game is bland. The flying sections are boring, the combat is shallow, and the QTEs are nothing special when you consider what other games have done. The game simply isn’t interesting or exciting to play. It really needed more depth and variety. You see everything the game has to offer very early on, and from there, it gets old fast.

Replayability

Oddly enough, this is one aspect that the game handles fairly well.

While it won’t take too long to play through the game the first time, there is some incentive for coming back for more. Since the game is broken up into episodes, you can jump into any of them that you’ve unlocked. You can do this to improve your ranking, which unlocks trophies and new gauges. The new gauges alter various stats in the game. One may up your defense, while another could cut your health in half. Playing through the game with these different gauges can alter the gameplay experience enough to make it worth your while.

There are also three different difficulty settings to work with. The game keeps track of your top score for each level on each difficulty, and there are various rewards and trophies for mixing things up. This is honestly a lot more than most action games tends to offer, and since you can skip most cutscenes, you won’t have to sit through the whole six to seven hour experience again if you don’t want to.

While the story experience will always be the same, there are plenty of things to keep you coming back for more, provided you’re interested in raising your score and earning tough trophies.

Balance

This is not a difficult game, and the toughest parts merely require you to memorize attack patterns to get by.

I didn’t lose a fight until well into the game, and I only lost due to some silly mistakes. Towards the end, I did start having trouble, but again, this was due to mistakes and impatience. Most enemies are content to stand around to wait for you to take them down. Barring that, they telegraph their attacks or use attacks you can easily counter. Bosses are the same, but they do more damage when they actually hit. There are a couple of rough spots, but nothing a little elbow grease can’t get past.

The real challenge is getting that S ranking on each level. I reached that goal on probably five or six levels on my first shot. The trick is to go through the level as fast as possible while still landing plenty of hits and getting those QTEs down pat. Since the game is about going for that ranking rather than simply handing you a stiff challenge, I forgive it some things.

Originality

You know, I’ve seen games with an episodic nature before, but to compare them to Asura’s Wrath is unfair. This game sets out to create a playable anime. I say that it has succeeded quite well. Between the use of interstitial bumpers that mark would be commercial breaks to cinematics that blend seamlessly with gameplay, it does what no other action game has done before. To not reward that accomplishment would be folly. There truly is no other game like this.

Sure, there are some aspects that are similar to what we’ve seen before. The combat uses all of the basics, the QTEs are a cross between God of War and Heavy Rain, and the greater good theme has been played to death. Even the credits running during the game is nothing new (even though this game does this every episode, as if it were an actual television show). However, the sum is greater than the whole in this case. Everything comes together to from something unique. I almost want to create a new genre for it.

Addictiveness

Sadly, this is a pretty easy game to put down. If it weren’t so short and I didn’t have to review the game, I probably would still be slowly working my way through it.

The problems with the story pile up as more and more questions get left unanswered while Asura continues to rub the player the wrong way. The shallow combat does little to ease the boredom. When it did manage to do something interesting, I wanted to keep going. However, without fail, that moment was fleeting, leading to yet another boss battle that played out the same way as the last one.

Action games are supposed to be exciting, and keep you coming back for more. Asura’s Wrath will only entice those who find a way to get into the story. Since that’s hard to do, it doesn’t garner much praise for its addictiveness.

Appeal Factor

This is a tough game to sell. Like I said, it almost needs a new genre to describe it, and as a new IP, it has a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Fans of action games aren’t going to get into the gameplay. It’s too shallow and repetitive to offer much enjoyment. Fans of story driven games aren’t going to find a great narrative at play here, and the interactive bits interfere with the drama.

Really, it would be best if the game were re-released as an anime. Then, the people who would get the most of it could enjoy it as I’m sure it was meant to be. I almost guarantee you that CC2 wanted to make their own series, but had to settle for a game.

Miscellaneous

The game offers some nifty bonus content to the dedicated player. Various bios, art, and videos are unlocked as you play through the story. These add some backstory to the proceedings, as well as provide some nifty art to look at. It also allows you to keep track of your trophies without heading out to the cross media bar. These aren’t great additions, but they’re sadly above normal for the genre.

I really appreciate what CC2 was trying to do with this game. It was certainly ambitious, and had serious potential. I’m just not sure a history of licensed fighting games gave them the best shot of being able to pull it off. If they were to try again and learn from their mistakes, I’d certainly be willing to give it a go. There’s promise here. It need only be tapped.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Very Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
When it boils down to it, Asura’s Wrath is a lot of wasted potential. In truth, it is saved from pure ridicule thanks to a few strong points. The story suffers from a poor main character and bad dialogue. The gameplay is weak across the board, while the constant QTEs don’t engage the player in a meaningful way. These two elements create a boring game with little to offer. The strong points include the presentation, the originality, and the replayability. If you mange to get into this game, you’ll find plenty to love. However, the number of people who will be able to dot that is very small. I had plenty of hope for this game, but I am left disappointed.

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