GAMES - Review
11:00 - 21st March 2012, by Martin Mathers

Review - Asura's Wrath

You may have noticed, depending on how much attention you pay to the world of videogames, that there's something of a debate going on right now about what it is about a game that makes it a game. That may sound like a ridiculous argument, but there's good reason for it - several titles have turned up within weeks of one another, all of them defying convention of what a game actually is.

From Dear Esther's virtually non-interactive story telling to Journey's co-op gameplay that denies players the ability to communicate verbally, it's a discussion that's causing some people (mainly developers) to rip up the rulebook and others (mainly jaded journalists who really should know better) to balk and dish out low scores to games just because they don't follow the age-old template. And at the centre of the row? A game that every NEO fan should either be dying to get hold of or have already: Asura's Wrath.

To describe Asura's Wrath as a game would be using the term in its loosest sense, even though it's definitely more of one than some might have you believe. Well, sometimes. Of the game's entire length, you're probably in control for about a quarter of it - running around, pressing buttons and the like - while another quarter is spent pressing buttons in time to on-screen commands that flash up randomly. And the rest? Well, that's all story played out through cutscenes, illustrations and an epically haunting operatic score.

Yes, that's right: you'll spend most of your time watching rather playing, which makes it more of an interactive anime rather than a proper gamer. But oh, what a wonderful watch it is...

Not surprisingly, much of Asura's Wrath hinges on the plot and surrounding action (much of which you have little or no control over) being at the 'utterly crazy' end of the anime spectrum. At its core, not surprisingly, is Asura. Asura's a god and one of the eight guardian generals of the universe. He's also angry. Very, very, VERY angry. Hell, he's angry before things even go wrong, which they do in spectacular fashion after the first episode (yes, it's split up into episodes rather than levels, complete with 'Next time on Asura's Wrath...' bits at the end of stages and beautiful illustrations filling in story blanks between them). It's an epic tale of love, loss, betrayal and six-armed gods intent on destroying pretty much anything that moves and as tales go, it's absolutely wonderful in its insanity and ability to capture everything that makes anime (the silly, over-the-top kind) such fun to watch.

However, as has already been pointed out, it's also not much of a game. Granted, what there is of the core gameplay can be roughly compared to Dynasty Warriors: enemies appear in clusters, you run around hammering the B button to punch them to the ground, then hitting Y on occasion when the on-screen prompt demands it. The thing is though, you're not trying to kill everyone - instead, every kill fills your Burst meter at the top of the screen. When it's full, a big prompt appears telling you to hit the right trigger and when you do that, a cutscene kicks in and you move to the next section. It's very difficult to do badly at and even more difficult to die. The same goes for the quick-time events (QTEs) which have buttons flash up for you to press while cutscenes play out in the background; some require timing, others just require button presses but none are possible to fail and if you miss a press, the game simply continues anyway and just docks you syncronisation points at the end of the episode instead.

Does that mean it's not good though? Not at all. It may not be the best game ever - if there's even a game in there - but it's definitely one hell of an exciting experience that'll keep you both gripped and grinning like a loon at its insanity. Sure, you'll want to switch that Japanese voiceover option on right away and the somewhat fuzzy requirements for doing well might prove a little frustrating as you try to get better grades on each episode, but put aside your preconceptions of what a game's meant to be and you'll likely love it to pieces. It's certainly as close to interactive anime as you're likely to get for a while and despite the criticism it's had from some parts of the gaming community, Capcom should be applauded for what it's done here.

Less a game and more an interactive story, Asura's Wrath is no less awesome for what it does. It's a brave attempt to change what games should be, but also a hugely enjoyable and exciting story that demands to be experienced. Well worth a look, especially if you can get it at a slightly cheaper-than-normal price.
SCORE: 4/5
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