When is a game not a game? What is the sound of one hand tapping? If a Quick Time Event happens in the forest and there is no one around to mash it, does it make a game? These and many more philosophical gaming questions can be pondered as Asura’s Wrath plays itself out.
With a murdered wife, an abducted daughter, and having been cast down from the heavens, it is only fair that Asura may wish to unleash a little of his titular wrath. Told over 12,500 years, developer CyberConnect2 serve up an epic tale to the player providing more than enough impetus for a 12 millennia rage-on.
Minutes can pass in Asura’s Wrath without any need for player input, and when it is finally required it can be as simple as a brief Quick Time Event: simply mash a key or waggle a control stick. There is an attempt here at a new kind of interactive entertainment that moves away from a traditional action game towards an immersive, living anime series.
The game is split into 18 episodes – including one secret unlockable level at the end – that last around 20 minutes each and are complete with narrated previews and end credits. It is safe to say that in each of these episodes, though the gameplay location and target change, Asura is going to get irritated and punch someone into the sun.
It is in these moments of titanic rage that the player gets to finally control Asura through markedly varied gameplay mechanics. In one episode, the action consists of a yelling match that ends in fisticuffs akin to Dragon Ball Z, while in the next Asura can be controlled in an on-rails style shooter as he dashes around to avoid incoming fire, and attempts to send a little death out himself. In the next episode, and in all seriousness, the player is tasked with preventing Asura ogling sweater puppies.
It is in the presentation of the story that the real value shines through. Presented through a stylised pen and ink comic book, and crafted to represent a sci-fi and Japanese mythology crossover, one can get so absorbed in the story on offer that any grievance over the few minutes of actual play time is almost forgotten. Sucked into a manic world, when control is finally offered it is usually to take the last and generally most ludicrous hit at the current enemy.
Unfortunately, the pacing of the story can take away from the experience. Asura’s Wrath throws cataclysmic events at the player one after the other with little to no respite, meaning that the thirteenth time an enemy is multi-dimensionally round-house kicked through the moon, a little of the impact is lost.
There is also no getting past the fact that most of Asura’s Wrath is played out in a cut scene, and when the player is involved it can come down to a Quick Time Event that – even if failed – does not really affect the story. This is a shame, as the few moments when the game plays as an action title it is a lot of fun. With context specific light and heavy attacks, satisfying counters and finishers unique to enemy types tied together with the aim to build the rage meter thereby activating Burst Mode to explosively move the story forward, it's easy to wish more of the game was playable.
What may really divide gamers on the value of Asura’s Wrath is the requirement to pay full game retail price for what generally feels like an interactive film. It's hard to imagine many punters forking out $120 for Forrest Gump if it meant that a button could be pushed to enable the hero to run. This may be a simplification of what Asura’s Wrath brings to the table, but it'll undoubtedly be a divisive point for many potential buyers.
Asura’s Wrath has a great story, and manages to offer genuinely enjoyable entertainment despite being light on real gaming substance. As a full price game though, it is hard to justify the cost. For those who can get it on special, it is something worth playing simply as a new experience.