Every now and then you get a game which dares to try something new, something different. It happens less and less these days, in an age of development where a single success can make a company forever and a failure sink one. In the businessman’s world this means the minimisation of risk is key and everything else is secondary. Learn what the players want, create a game based on that foundation, test it amongst gamers and discuss within focus groups ad infinitum. Repeat the process if it works and add more titles into the mix to milk the IP until the next one comes along. It’s an acceptable way to do things - the games often are good and do pass the time but never the less, they don’t quite get the blood pumping around the body like something new and exciting and original can do. What every gamer longs for - even if they don’t realise it - is the next big thing; that something new which mesmerises the senses as much as the smell of fresh cut grass on a bright spring day.
Asura’s Wrath is a wonderful game which spends its entirety trying new things. Alone, each aspect of gameplay and the presentation is nothing new. Together, via some freaky symbiotic voodoo, what CyberConnect2 and Capcom have produced is far greater than the sum of the collective parts and is so fantastically smile-inducing that it can nearly be termed a masterpiece. Nearly.
Asura’s Wrath is best described as Bayonetta meets 24 as written by a science fiction guru with a love of Asian mythology. It’s totally and utterly insane but all the better for it. That’s one reason why it’s likened to Bayonetta (any game that has a shining light emanating from between a female figure’s legs has to be described as at least on the edge of sanity), but also because one of the gameplay modes you’ll be invited to partake in is classic action adventure type hacking and slashing. Asura in some levels is presented in a third-person viewpoint with a semi-fixed camera (unless you lock-on or manually move it) and equipped with light and heavy attacks, fast avoidance and quick dash moves. He can combine these to deliver crushing combos to the enemy and over time will fill two gauges - the unlimited gauge which allows him to employ multiple heavy attacks in quick succession rather than overheating as is the norm, and his burst gauge which when utilised (straight away please) unleashes all kinds of hell onto the enemies in his way. Activation of Asura’s burst gauge happens in all parts of the game actually, being as it is the culmination of that section of gameplay and signifying a checkpoint, level end or respite of some kind. Once the interactive cut-scenes have played out, anyway.
Yes, the reason this game is like Jack Bauer’s very worst day is because it is an episodic, interactive series. The game has nineteen episodes in all, each of which has its own arc and structure, feeding into the overall - very impressive - story, and each having some kind of climax and turn which causes you to activate the ‘just one more go’ switch in your head and keep going. And again. And again. This is a game you will get through in a short period of time but one that’s full of intense play time and very little bed time. A first run through will take between six and ten hours depending on the difficulty level chosen and skill of the individual. As the game is basically an interactive movie - the kind of thing any fan of the Uncharted series loves, or a James Bond fan would kill for - there is lots of things to do at all times. There were half a dozen moments early on where I sat my controller down to enjoy the story unfolding in front of me and half a dozen times I quickly had cause to reach for the pad, drop it on the floor and fail at whatever I was meant to be doing onscreen. These requirements can vary from stick movements to button presses to twirling of thumb sticks and more. The most common prompt was to press a face button in time with the contracting circle in the centre of the action. The better the timing the better the rating. The bulk of this game then is action adventure combined with quick time events. It sounds like God of War, granted, but it doesn’t feel like it. The combat is not as in-depth. The narrative is much more centre stage and the quick time events form much more of the bulk of the action. Yet it never grates, it never feels boring and it never fails to elicit a rush of adrenaline when you nail the sucker and unleash Asura’s Wrath.
There are other types of gameplay interspersed to mix the proceedings up. There are times when you fly and shoot at very large items in space. Times when you ride a motorcycle type contraction - on rails, natch - and shoot the bad guys around you. There are other times when you don’t know what exactly is going on because of the transformations and so on occurring onscreen. At not one point in the entirety of the game did familiarity creep in, or boredom rear its ugly head. Each level felt new. Each level drew a gasp, or a celebratory nod.
The story itself is key to retaining engagement over time. There’s a need to see what happens next and a feeling of responsibility towards what Asura is doing. However, it is this which in part, at least, detracts from this game and stops it sitting right at the top of the tree. It kind of shoots its bolt a little early. The ride is onwards and upwards all the way until about three-quarters of the way in when you can see where things are headed, you can see the way the final chapters will play out and therefore, despite the game being as fun for those final challenges because it’s an interactive movie or series which has lost its suspense, feels a little flat in comparison. In isolation however, the quality is still top tier.
As with Bayonetta and Devil May Cry part of the fun in Asura’s Wrath is in enhancing your rank on each level - effectively the interactive series becomes a score attack on repeat play. You can dip into each episode to improve your completion time, battle points and synchronicity (how well do you time the quick time events) or replay the entire game on a different difficulty level. Achieving an S rank on each level on various levels of hardness rewards the player with a new trophy or achievement. Good luck getting all S ranks on hard, mind. In addition to the re-playability factor which is present and correct even after the story has played out (each chapter can be sped up by skipping much of the talking) there are all kinds of videos and artwork stills unlocked for perusal, as well as different gauges obtained over time, for example changing the frequency Asura can enter unlimited mode and so on, when employed in-game.
In truth, Asura’s Wrath should be played by everyone. It is a fantastic game. It is a fantastic series to watch. Its presentation is fabulous, with letterboxing where needed, colourful and bountiful art and animation, a mix of pastel shading and traditional game colouring mixed together plus awesome sound quality and variation, especially when considering the music which stands out, head and shoulders above the effects. The scale of action is spectacular with opponents larger than a planet and stronger than a God. In reality it won’t be to everyone’s liking because it may be just a little too different; a little too out there. Even if it isn’t, the relative flatness of the very end versus what comes before, plus the rather too difficult challenge of completing everything with an S rank stops this game from achieving greatness. It should achieve success though, for itself and those who brought it to us.