Asura’s Wrath – Let Loose the Dogs of War
By: Xeawn R.
(c) Dragon House Studios
I would like to begin with an apology. I honestly feel bad about recommending a Capcom game, because I have so much beef with that studio I could serve BBQ to all of America and three fourths of Europe, but, you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. Asura’s Wrath is a good game. How good? Every bit as good as you’ve heard it is. That not enough for you? How about this:
Asura’s Wrath is one of only three games that have come out in the last ten or eleven years that I have played from start to finish with nary a pause in between.
I’m not gonna lie guys, I’ve got stuff to do. I work three jobs, I have a baby puppy that always wants my attention, I write novels, spend time with friends and family, and when you’re sleeping I’m out keeping the streets safe from intergalactic bug monsters. You’re welcome by the by.
But I digress; I’ve got stuff to do. A lot of times, when I get home from one of my jobs, all I wanna do is put my feet up and take a nap. That or work on a novel. That or finally finish watching Ergo Proxy since I’m only on like episode five and I started that series like four months ago. As a result, when I have to choose between playing something I really wanna play, or working on a novel/watching an episode or two of something/sleeping, gaming generally loses.
Asura’s Wrath, however, is a game that did not leave my PS3 until I finished it. I not only finished it, I went back and started playing on hard, and I “S” ranked every mission on normal. Many of those missions I had to play more than once to do so. Those of you that know me know that once I beat your game, I will probably never play the story again. Tales of Eternia is the rare exception that isn’t on Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. I’ve probably beaten that like thirty or so times now.
But I digress again.
Asura’s Wrath follows the story of Asura (who knew?) out for revenge, which is of course fueled by wrath (what are the odds?). Asura was once one of the great “demi god” (more on why this is in quotes later) heroes who protected the world from Vlitra, which is…some kind of massive tentacle…starfish…shark…thing. Vlitra, which is the wrath of Gaia, every so often decides to get all grumpy and try to destroy everything. Asura and his brethren then have to go punch its face in until it decides to go back to sleep for a while.
Asura’s Wrath is a cinematic action game from Cyber Connect 2, the guys that do the Naruto games. Ironically, I’m not a big fan of those, but I really loved Asura. As the previous sentence implies, this game is chock full of quick time events and reaction commands, which is Cyber Connect 2’s style, and I’m very, very okay with that.
The momentum of the story is told much the same way a good anime is; there are two movies and two seasons, making a total of twenty two stages for you to play. Like a true movie, it opens with the setup, then the title. Credits begin showing as you press start, beginning the cinematic. The end of an episode has a flashy “To Be Continued!” bit, and halfway through each episode is a cut away “Asura’s Wrath!” with an embossed picture leading out to and back from the imaginary commercial break. This is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
I would like Square Enix to pay attention here, because Asura’s Wrath is possibly only game to get cinematic action done right since Shenmue.
You’re treated to beautiful sprawling visuals of outer space and the army of monsters that want to destroy Earth. Asura stands atop a ship, awaiting your gentle nudge to start breaking fools’ faces in. Once you begin, he dives over the side triggering a series of quick time events that have you feeling like the bad a** embodiment of war that you are.
You’ll be diving through the air, shooting in one end of a leviathan and out the other, ripping monsters asunder and punching them until they greatly regret the series of life decisions that led to this point. Along the way you’ll be introduced characters like Yasha, who is far calmer and level headed than his brother in law Asura, and Augus, who trained them both and lives in the moment taking pleasure in a good fight, fine wine, and beautiful women. Sometimes all at the same time.
Where to begin? The soundtrack is very fitting and quite gorgeous, well worth importing. You’ll go from whimsical tunes to mournful melodies, from epic full orchestras to wild west guitars. In the opening, the tone is very grand, very massive, very powerful. You know the stakes; you may be ridiculously strong, but you’ve got to destroy a monster that no one has ever killed before. You’re the youngest of your kind, the fate of the universe is on your shoulders, and what’s more you have a wife and daughter waiting back home for you. No matter what, you must not fail.
The game has four primary modes of play. The first is the quick time version that is peppered throughout the entire story. These events often happen without warning, so you should never put your controller down during a cinematic unless you’ve paused the game. Unlike many other games that seem to just throw buttons in your face at random, these events feel very natural and are mapped to Asura’s body. Gather your chi by holding the sticks up, slam each one down to the side to stomp your feet into the soil in a manner not unlike a sumo wrestler. Mash the punch button to throw a flurry of fists that would make E. Honda blush and so on.
The QTE’s feel very organic, and the game’s opening presents you with enough of them that you understand what to expect from then on out. And speaking of what to expect; the massive epic scale and the tone of what is to come are both portrayed perfectly. From the very opening of the game you’re destroying hundreds of thousands of enemies as you free fall through space, annihilating beasts hundreds of times your size. The game lets you know from the start that it is epic, everything is epic, and your purpose is destroy all obstacles in your path in a rage filled stupor.
The second style of play comes soon after the QTE’s, which is a free fall on rails shooter. This sounds odd, and I was very skeptical at first, but again it feels very fitting and very organic. Asura channels his chi into the form of a fist and hurls it at his opponent’s as he falls. You can rapid fire, or you can lock on. Like every other sequence your overall goal is to fill your tension meter so that you can unleash a cinematic finish and proceed to the next area of play. You can move Asura about, you can dash around to evade attacks, and you can charge up your meter for more powerful moves.
The end of this epic opening sees Vlitra beaten back by Asura alone, however sinister things are afoot. You are betrayed by Deus and the other guardian generals, and your wife is killed while your daughter is taken hostage. You go to throw down with Deus only to get your teeth kicked in and be sent hurtling to the Earth below.
True to the fusion of Indian and Japanese lore with a sci-fi twist, Asura must climb the tower in Naraka to reach the land of the living again. A ridiculous amount of time has passed, and the world is in a sad, sorry state. The goal of the story from here on is to take down the rest of the guardian generals and get your revenge. While this may sound similar to God of War, I’d like to point out that A) Kratos by no means has cornered the market on climbing out of hell to kill a bunch of evil warlords, and B) Asura is a far more likeable and relateable hero than the greek former God of War. In addition, as you ‘ll see from the rest of the review, while the basic concept may be similar, the execution and intricate weaving of the story is worlds apart. Also streets ahead. Points if you get that reference.
The third style of play is a vaguely explorative beat em’ up engine that will remind you of God Hand (as though anyone other than me and like five other people played that game. Seriously though, go buy that game; it’s in stores cheap and on the PSN cheaper. You won’t regret it!) in which Asura must travel from beautiful location to beautiful location beating up dudes and showing them whose boss. You’ll get to wreck people’s faces from the snowy mountains of the Himilayas to ancient temples to space ships to palaces to deserts and so on. Rest assured, while you’re kickin’ butt, you will be treated to a visual fiesta that will tantalize your senses with something more than five shades of brown.
The combat itself is a sight to behold. You’ll be able to utilize hard hitting combination attacks, a powerful AOE to knock your foes back (or set them up for a nice cinematic overkill or finisher), and the ability to counter or evade whatever comes your way. Everything is made that much more dramatic by shifting stylized camera angles straight out of Hard Boiled, groaning creaking sounds like a mighty oak bending as you flex your pecks, and the over the top exaggeration of enemies being sent flying like Team Rocket into the distance (or the side of mountains) as you bring the whole place down around you. Not only does this serve to keep up the adrenaline and momentum of the game’s narrative and play style, but it also makes it very clear that there is a huge gap between your enemies strength and your own.
In addition to this, you can fill up a limit meter that will let you use your fierce attack without any cool down period, and will also make you stronger and faster while varying your moves a bit. In a bit of a twist, in battle you have Asura’s health bar, but bosses rarely have one (if ever). Instead, it uses a seesaw system that harkens back to World Heroes 2 if any of you played that (amazing) game. You have to fill up Asura’s rage to be able to move on to the next sequence via a series of cinematic quick time events. As you land blows, this meter fills, as you take blows or mess up on QTE’s, the meter wanes.
Once it’s full, it’s show time as you race across the distance between you and your enemy to show them the business end of your fists, energy attacks and all out rage. The finishers as well as the knock down combos are unique to each enemy, as well as each situation. You won’t see any God of War style gory decapitations, because Asura’s Wrath isn’t about that, but you will get to cut the moon near in half, punch a giant’s fist so hard that the rest of him explodes, and have a Tron style light cycle race that ends in a shootout in outer space. If you’ve ever played Cyber Connect’s Naruto games, you know what to expect to a degree. Take what you’ve seen in those, and kick it up about five hundred notches.
If I had to have one complaint about the combat, it’s that there are a few boss fights where the lock on for your finisher is kinda off. In at least two fights, one with Yasha and one with a boss I won’t reveal, I found myself running right past them a few times until I lined up my finisher just right. If you miss your opportunity it’s not dreadful though; you pretty much just have to build up a little less than a quarter of your meter and try again.
The gameplay never really got old to me, because Cyber Connect 2 moves you along at a near perfect pace. The moment beating up your enemies gets old, the game becomes a rail shooter. By the time you’re tired of that, it becomes a cinematic action thriller. When you’re tired of quick time events, you’re in a one on one with a boss that can be everything from arena style battle to a high speed chase on an interstellar highway. Even with all of that, when that starts getting old the story and gameplay take a bit of a twist at one of the many pivotal climatic parts and has you playing as Yasha for a while instead.
Yasha isn’t just Asura with Fabio hair and an oddly revealing trench coat vest thing; he has his own unique moveset. While Asura focuses on heavy, hard hitting combos with his fists, Yasha focuses on quick, lithe combination attacks with his kicks. Their animations are totally different, their play style is different, even their mobility is unique. The differences are night and day, and sorta reminded me of Kenshiro and Shin.
Now, I’d like to do this without spoilers, but let me tell you something amazing while being as coy as possible. You spend most of your time with Asura. You get to see the softer guy behind the rage that even he doesn’t understand, you become deeply invested in his struggles, you don’t win every battle. Sometimes you try your hardest, but the enemy is simply better than you. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Sometimes people you have come to care for very deeply suffer for your weakness. Sometimes, you can do nothing but watch and scream in anguish as all that you fought for slips between your fingers.
This fuels Asura’s rage, and his rage fuels his power. You’ll fight with two arms, you’ll fight with six arms, you’ll fight with several hundred arms, you’ll fight with no arms. You become Asura, you experience his every emotion and you want what he wants, badly. You suffer the humiliation of being defeated by your one time ally, being forced to try your hardest to fight after having your arms removed from your body. You’ll see why you are the way you are, and you’ll be climbing the towers in Naraka with all your might, eager to finish that jerk that took you down and stole everything from you.
Eventually, you will become amazingly powerful…and then something happens. Something absolutely awful happens, and Asura loses it. You witness at this moment Asura at his most powerful, and his most terrifying.
And then the game places you in Yasha’s shoes and you have to somehow fight Asura and win. You know Yasha is strong, you played a few levels as him, you beat some big baddies, but now you’re facing the embodiment of war, wrath and hate, and he completely outclasses you. Not unlike a few of the other battles, you feel helpless.
Unique to this one though? You feel afraid.
Imagine a small child going up against a black belt on steroids, and that’s about the emotion that gets invoked. And just when you start to have enough of Yasha, you’re in Asura’s shoes again, and now you’re both a little bit afraid to use that much power ever again.
But you can’t stop. You can never stop. Because, the moment you do, your daughter is gone forever.
More than just an action game, Asura’s Wrath weaves a page turner of a story about a father’s love and devotion that leaves you constantly saying “I should stop and go to bed or something. Well, maybe just one more level…”
I know people tend to enjoy my articles more when I’m tearing something apart, but really, I’m trying really hard here and I can’t really find much negative to say about the game. It’s honestly darn near flawless.
If I had to voice any complaints, I’ve got a small few I could point out. In between each level, once you continue on to the next there is an intermission that tells you more about what’s going on behind the scenes. I missed the first one, because for some bizarre reason if you save your game and quit without starting the next stage, it will skip the intermission sequence. As a result of missing the first one, I honestly thought that I was somehow the villain of the story with how they portrayed the second one. Watching what I missed and playing further, I understood completely that I was the victim I thought I was. You can view any interlude that you missed from the gallery, but a simple fix for this would’ve been showing you the intermission when you load your save.
Speaking for a moment about the intermissions; they’re really really cool. Right after you see the “On the next episode of Asura’s Wrath!” video that’s in between each stage (those are mega awesome and the primary reason why I couldn’t put this amazing game down when I should’ve been sleeping), you’ll see the intermission.
The intermissions are comprised of beautiful hand drawn (sometimes hand painted) art pieces and a few paragraphs of exposé. The really nifty thing is that every intermission is drawn by a different artist. The styles vary from everything to oil pastels to watercolors to cyberpunk style influences, and all manner of medium in between. This further serves to portray the emotion of each scene, and also to add to the uniqueness of the title.
Back to complaints; because the engine was so strongly built for combat and mobility, attempting to navigate the exploration sequences feels more clunky than anything else. Thankfully you won’t be stuck trying to solve any jumping puzzles, but even just running from area to area feels very cumbersome. The sensation is not unlike trying to tread water in a pool that has the bottom coated in oil. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it’s pretty dang close, and when you look at how polished everything else is, it really sticks out.
I do see what Cyber Connect 2 was going for, and with as great as everything else was I don’t mind it terribly, but it does kick immersion in the face and send it flying through the stratosphere. To go from being so graceful and powerfully poised in combat to stumbling about not unlike a newborn babe is jarring to say the least. The logic behind this design however, was that while it was necessary to provide an element of exploration (which is essentially moving in a relatively straight line from point A to point B), the goal of the game is the story and punching dudes in the face. As a result, these exploration sequences are very short, and are peppered in just enough to break up the constant fighting, but not so much so that you begin to lose interest.
I’m trying to think of what else was wrong with the game, but I’m honestly drawing a blank. The difficulty always felt balanced, boss fights were unique (I fought a Buddha looking guy larger than the planet, then I fought my master on the moon as he wielded a sword longer than Earth, and those were honestly some of the less epic fights in the game!), and the game always changed gears before I got bored.
There are a few complaints I’ve heard other people make, but really I think they’re a little bit rubbish. Some people complained about the cinematic style of the game, which I think is silly since there’s so much action in between (and those cinematics are pretty dang awesome), some people didn’t like the art style (a combination of anime with pencil and paint brush strokes and Korean manhwa influences), some people didn’t like the length (between twelve and fifteen hours), and some people didn’t like the gameplay (I…don’t really know what to say about that one…). I think the one valid and glaring complaint is the way the “Last Story” is handled.
Not unlike Sonic Adventure, when you beat the first movie and the two seasons that comprise the series, you unlike the true final movie. Think of this as getting to see the director’s cut version of a movie you liked. While the first version of the last movie ends on an interesting and meloncholy note, you do have the feeling that it’s sorta missing something. Once the credits roll, the game tells you that if you consistently scored at least an A overall on each chapter (I believe it’s an A), that you can play the true last chapter. This is a nifty way to A) get more replay value, B) make you better at the game, and C) reward your hard work, however there’s one ridiculously massive flaw that I found extremely annoying.
Rather than the entire movie being different, only the end of it is. While this isn’t as bad as Dragon Quest 8 making you beat the entire game from start to finish twice just to play the real last dungeon, it is super annoying having to play the entire almost half hour last movie a second time just to get about five or so minutes of unique footage at the end. Now, I’m not saying that they should’ve changed the entire movie if it didn’t fit the story to do so, and clearly it didn’t as everything seems to have been done with an intentional purpose, but there are some basic gameplay things they could’ve done differently.
Perhaps they could’ve made different enemies show up, or vary their attack patterns, or something. Given how each button is mapped to a body part, I can see how changing the inputs for teh QTE’s would’ve been pointless and nonsensical, but they also could’ve just as easily come up with different finishers instead. While the true last story is worth seeing, it is annoying to have to play that same movie twice just to see an alternate ending.
Overall though, if you enjoy action games, if you enjoy sweeping stories, if you enjoy episodic adventures that try something new, and if you’re looking for an innovative new IP, you really honestly can’t go wrong with this one. The only semi-valid complaint is the aforementioend one, and that the three episodes that resolve the ending in the last story are DLC.
I know, I know, you’re thinking “Pshh, typical Capcom”, but this time I’m okay with it. The idea was, Asura’s Wrath has a heck of a cliffhanger ending, and was meant to have a sequel. Sales were strong, but not what Capcom wanted. As a result, it looked like an Asura’s Wrath 2 might not happen. Wanting fans to be able to have the whole package and finish the story, the director of Cyber Connect 2 went on to go ahead and make three more episodes (or maybe four, I forget) that wrap up the story nicely while still leaving an opening for something more.
Essentially, he wanted to make sure you got to enjoy your story in case Capcom didn’t let him make a sequel. What’s more, those episodes? Dirt cheap.
Speaking of DLC, you also have DLC where you fight Ryu and Akuma. It is amazing. The DLC has everything from a face off splash screen complete with the SF4 announcing exclaiming “NOW, FIGHT YOUR RIVAL!”, opening remarks, you doing the button inputs for Asura’s version of the Setsui no Hadou finisher, and Ryu having to “continue” when he loses the fight. This DLC is even canon with the main story, explaining how the moon got fixed from Asura’s battle with Augus as it’s messed up when you fight him and miraculously all better later on, and it even does a “HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!!!!” when Akuma shows up!
Also, the DLC is only a couple of dollars. Like, seriously, maybe two. Less than what you pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Or wherever.
All in all, Asura’s Wrath is a great package that- oh wait, I was gonna explain why I’m cool with the demi-god deity thing. This won’t take long, I promise.
The game weaves the Indian/Japanese/Sci-Fi mythology fusion expertly, and also has a nice little explanation to keep from stepping on anyone’s religious beliefs. While the other seven guardian generals elevate themselves and have the humans praise them as gods, receiving power from their prayers (in essence them sending their life force outward) or flat out killing them and stealing their souls, Asura makes the clear distinction that none of them are gods at all. Asura makes it clear that they’re simply warriors that have attained a whole new level of power, and with that power decided to protect the world. He despises being called a god, and makes it clear that the others aren’t either.
Think of Hulk’s “Puny god” moment from The Avengers.
So yes, in closing, Asura’s Wrath is amazing and well worth the $60 that I paid for it. It joins the list of maybe two or three other new games to be released that I was not able to put down without finishing. Whether this is the most amazing one off we’ve seen in eleven years or the beginning of a solid new franchise, Asura’s Wrath is well worth your time, and your dollar.