This screencap is ostensibly more badass than anything you will accomplish in-game.
Shena and I finished Asura’s Wrath recently, and I feel like I’m sort of at a loss for how to review it. On the one hand, it was sold for the PS3 and at the price of a video game. On the other hand, it’s heavily cinematic and you spend more time watching than playing. Anyone who’s remotely interested in the game as a story piece will want major events unspoiled (and I’ll try my best to avoid doing so), but as an analysis of the gameplay and presentation, this is going to be short and not-so-sweet.
Since it will be much shorter to address, I will touch upon the story and delivery first. In my old age, I’m relatively pleased with even a mediocre story; in todays video game market, you basically have to be in order to avoid never-ending disappointments. When you can make sense of Asura’s Wrath’s story, it is pretty standard-fare, especially when you stack it against the genre to which it is chiefly compared; Anime. This has its share of pros and cons, but as we went through the story, the cons stuck with me much longer than the pros. It is episodic, and that is pretty standard for the genre. Devil May Cry was episodic, Bayonetta was episodic, the list goes on. However, in keeping with the cinematic aspect of being episodic, each chapter is littered with credits. Opening and closing, each chapter, for approximately eighteen chapters. I think Capcom may have forgotten that they were making a video game.
As a rabid fan of Xenosaga I can be forgiving of overly-cinematic video games. The problem lies in the fact that this is supposed to be an action beat-em-up, complete with quick-time events during the lengthy cutscenes…credits are distracting during events where missing a button prompt will punish your stage ranking. The fact that, because of the presentation, it felt like the entire game was just an opening FMV is not helped by the fact that the game has a very choppy timeline. At any given moment halfway through, I felt about as lost by when such-and-such was supposed to occur, and because of the credits rolling it really did feel like the opening movie. We eventually learned to distinguish on which side of a pivotal event the current scene took place by the colors of the characters’ eyes. I wish I was kidding.
The icing on the plot cake was one of my chief pet peeves in storyline delivery; inconsistency. I specifically remember on one or two occasions, the developers were kind enough to let us know that this event took place “x years later”. I specifically remember it because with the way the story is structured, and the fact that the characters are immortal and don’t visibly age, there is no reason every timeline shift shouldn’t be prefaced by something like this. The fact that we saw it on one or two occasions was irritating enough that I’d wished we hadn’t seen it at all!
Finishing up as much of the story aspect as I can without spoiling anything, I will say that, out of the robust cast of characters, only one got any noteworthy development. And that one wasn’t even the titular character; when you play as a hotheaded antagonist from beginning to end, you expect to see a bit of growth in him, but such was not the case here. If a game is going to be cinematic, you would imagine they’d put a lot of care into character development, but the entire cast is just a series of cardboard cutouts with no growth. If you can imagine, Asura has less of a personality than Kratos, despite his motivation being shamelessly torn directly from God of War. The difference is that GoW backed up his one-dimensional personality with visceral gameplay and escalating bad-assery. Asura has some pretty entertaining, over-the-top (which is, coincidentally, one of this game’s stronger points) sequences, but you’re never behind the wheel of said sequences. As a matter of fact, they put one of your two melee attack buttons on a cooldown, so you just mash the only available button. But I digress, the main point is that Asura is as much a bull in a china shop in the beginning of the game as he is when the ending credits roll. The REAL ending credits, not the episode ending credits.
Oh, and speaking of the REAL ending, if you buy this game and perform well enough to get what the game itself calls the TRUE ending, be prepared for any sort of closure on the story to be completely ripped away as a reward for your hard work. That is, of course, unless you decide to shell out another, what…8 bucks? To download the totally-real-no-I’m-serious-this-time-canon final chapter and fight the final boss “teased” in the game’s true ending. I’m not an opponent of DLC by any stretch, but when you deliberately withhold your game’s final boss fight and ending to nickel and dime it a few weeks later, that’s shady. Speculation seems to be that it was originally decided to be a sequel but, due to poor sales, they added it as DLC. Props for them releasing it, I suppose, but it’s more than a little presumptuous to think a lackluster gameplay experience with an absolutely vanilla story and forgettable characters will generate enough revenue to guarantee a sequel.
Speaking of lackluster gameplay, that’s where this game’s real black eye lies. When we saw what the general idea of the game was going to be, I thought, cool. We have a vendetta itinerary of people we get to kill off on our way to the big baddie, Megaman-style. Boy was I fooled…the first problem with that assessment is that out of the seven enemies you allegedly carve your way to, you only get to battle four. The other three get cutscene-killed before you even lay a finger on them. The second problem with this assessment is basically the combat system in its entirety. As you fight the bosses, you fill a Burst gauge, while preserving your own HP gauge. Once the burst gauge is full, you trigger the Burst, enter some QTEs, and finish the fight/kill the boss. This sort of system didn’t really work for me because it felt like you spent most of your time just surviving, not making progress. Thinking after we finished the game, I wondered if they tried to make the Burst gauge a sort of stand-in for the boss’s HP gauge, but it never really felt that way as we progressed through the game. Phases never change throughout the Gauge’s progression, you simply stay alive long enough to trigger a cutscene victory, all the while saying to yourself “Wow, I wish I was doing that.” You never feel like you’re getting stronger; the game lacks any sort of resources and character growth. Their idea of getting strong enough to kill more powerful adversaries is giving Asura a few extra arms during the aforementioned I-win cutscenes. You have a comical lack of mobility against bosses that can dash into the next country in the blink of an eye while you plod after them. Sure, you get a dash, that is offset by a mandatory attack, wasting more time than if you had just continued “running.” The game is missing the trademark double-jump that the genre has adopted since, what…the original Devil May Cry? And with some of the boss’s screen-filling attacks, it certainly would have been nice.
To wrap things up, I will touch upon a few finer points; the soundtrack is extremely limited. You’ll hear the same four or five songs ad nauseam. Luckily for me, I was rather fond of one of them, so by the end there was at least one track that was still bearable. Overall, the audio experience is very bland and same-ey. I do like the character and enemy design, generally speaking, even if the skin texture seemed a little off to me. As a game, Asura’s Wrath definitely falls flat as an example of what not-to-do for the genre. As a story, it seems relatively humdrum, and the fact that you get a more complete story by NOT getting what the game calls a “true ending” is absurd. Unless you opt to spend the extra cash and download the real ending, that is. I would recommend against buying the game for the gameplay, and if you’re looking for a good story with solid delivery, the money can definitely be spent better elsewhere.