Developer: CyberConnect2 / Publisher: Capcom / Played on: Xbox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3) / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence)
It’s pleasing that we’ve reached a level of quality in games where real-time cutscenes make pre-rendered ones more irrelevant. It’s reached to the point where developers have managed to integrate gameplay into these moments. Such was the case in Heavy Rain, and this seamless experience has been taken further with Capcom’s Asura’s Wrath.
Rage. Wrath. Anger. When it comes to a game that features such intense emotions, it seems fitting that Asura’s Wrath’s main cast features super-powered demi-gods. They can fly through space and hurl destructive beams of light and fireballs at all who oppose them. These ambitious demi-gods know that they can evolve into true deities, but in order to do so they need to betray and frame one of their own, namely Asura. His wife is killed and his daughter is kidnapped in the process, so he’s pissed. Actually he was also pissed before all this happened and the reasons why he’s like this helps add depth to what some might initially perceive as a shallow narrative.
Take any Capcom fighting game intro from the last four years.say, Street Fighter IV. Now imagine being able to play during that intro and you wouldn’t be too far off from the gameplay of Asura’s Wrath. The game is a balanced mix of Space Harrier-style (or if you prefer, Sin and Punishment) on-railsshooting, enclosed-area brawling, and quick-time events. Both the shooting and the QTEs are very easy to figure out, so much so that if you have had a lot of QTE experience from Heavy Rain and Shenmue, you should start Asura’s Wrath on hard mode.
It’s the brawling that takes about three chapters to figure out. The goal isn’t so much to reduce the enemies’ health as it is to fill up Asura’s ‘Burst’ meter, a bar that grows as Asura beats up his foes. Get the meter filled up and you’re a few QTE button presses away from finishing a chapter. There’s a satisfying level of depth here because not every kind of attack will fill the meter. Knowing the timing and the conditions needed to make the most worthwhile hits are part of the learning process; it is when you do figure it out that the game feels worthwhile.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
The game’s greatest selling point is the aforementioned cutscene-quality visuals during gameplay. Some of the most compelling depictions of Ryu and other Street Fighters are when the camera distorts and often stretches their intense, teeth-gritting faces as they’re about to deal or receive a lethal punch. There are countless such scenes in Asura’s Wrath that you wonder how Asura manages to still have teeth after applying so much rage-induced pressure. Asura even has the look of a Capcom fighter and should be the first character considered as a guest in thenext Street Fighter or Vs. game.
There’s added visual appeal in the world of Asura’s Wrath itself. The demi-gods and deities are designed with very obvious Eastern religion and mythological influences. Along with these characters, the architecture and the game’s many air/spaceships are impressively ornate. As a final touch, the character design boasts a look reminiscent of pre-20th century woodcut prints, the kind of design still used on the faces on American money.
In the tradition of episodic TV-structured games like Split/Second, Alan Wake, and the obscure Geppy-X, each of Asura’s Wrath’s levels are designed as television episodes, complete with commercial bumpers (or as the Japanese call it, ‘eye-catches’). This intentionally serves to drive home Asura’s Wrath’s story-driven presentation; it’s one of those games where you’re actually playing as credits appear.
As The Darkness II recently reminded us, a campaign’s play length doesn’t become much of an issue if it’s a quality experience. Such is the case with Asura’s Wrath. The story takes a mere six hours to beat, but there are a slew of unlockables related to the story as well as collectables to earn–many of which can only be earned with repeated play sessions.
Asura’s Wrath’s sound isn’t anything remarkable, but practically every aspect of the audio does its job. The music is often epic sounding when the action goes beyond the stratosphere and it becomes soft and melancholic in the game’s tragic scenes. Asura’s voice actors in both English and Japanese are loud and angry when appropriate, which is pretty much all the time. The only blemish is the limited variety of vocal grunting during battles, something that is very noticeable when Asura’s attacks often come at a rapid-fire pace.
There’s something to admire in how this new Capcom IP doesn’t hold back on the ‘wrath’ element that makes this game’s title so fitting. Even when there are breaks in the action, the more character-driven expository scenes are loaded with tension. The extreme delivery of every punch and every prolonged Asura scream does a lot to make the seemingly shallow QTE gameplay worthwhile. The way the action slows down to zoom in on a brutal kick is reminiscent of how similar camera tricks worked for Street Fighter IV. This enhances Asura’s Wrath greatly and turns a game that might’ve been a generic brawler into a positively memorable one.
8 / 10