Asura’s Wrath cuts corners. Some action adventures give you a world to explore, while others offer a dungeon-type environment with a series of kill rooms. Asura’s Wrath does neither. It doesn’t give you power-ups, level-ups or even an inventory. It delivers quick melees against massed enemies, multi-stage quicktime-heavy fights against brutal, over the top bosses and the sort of crazy mega-damage you’ve come to expect from anime such as Dragonball and Akira. However, an important part of Asura’s Wrath isn’t in the gameplay; it’s in the story. The tale in Asura’s Wrath serves an important purpose. It makes you give a damn about what you’re doing.
Normally I’m the first guy to forsake story for great gameplay. That’s not the case in Asura’s Wrath. The story and setting are simply awesome. It’s an anime-inspired sci-fi kung fu grindhouse revenge tale. When we meet Asura, he’s standing on the prow of a spaceship at the head of an armada headed towards a monster-infested Earth. In short order, he and his fellow generals proceed to take an enemy fleet out… with kung fu. Asura is already immensely powerful. He can shoot energy projectiles. He can rip apart gargantuan enemies with his bare hands. Asura is a demigod, and that’s made perfectly clear in the early stages of the game.
Asura is eventually betrayed by his allies. Much like The Bride in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Asura spends the rest of the game getting revenge on his former allies one by one. Asura’s main character trait is rage, and that rage manifests itself in many ways. First off, Asura is perpetually, and I mean CONSTANTLY, in a white-hot fury that makes Lewis Black look like the Vienna Boys Choir. That fury appropriately has a gameplay mechanic. The GUI in Asura’s Wrath has three gauges. One starts out full, and represents Asura’s hit points. One represents the damage that Asura has dished out. The last gauge is the most important; it measures Asura’s rage.
Asura can’t heal during a battle. Most battles only end when Asura’s rage meter gets full, and that’s a function of how much damage he’s received and how much damage he’s dished out. When that meter gets full, you’re instructed to hit the right trigger to end that stage with some sort of staggering feat of strength. That restores your hit points to full, which is especially important in multi-stage boss battles. The other meter that measures the damage you’ve inflicted fills up periodically during battle and enables you to do multiple strong attacks without the otherwise mandatory cooldown.
There are also quicktime events in many battles. When you’re fighting against minions or mid-bosses, the game will periodically slow down briefly just before an enemy attack in order to give you a chance to press a button to trigger a counter. During the end boss fights, you’ll occasionally be tasked with pressing the sticks one way or another or press a button to coincide with one (or several) of Asura’s punches. The better your timing, the more points you score at the end of the level. From time to time, I completely missed a prompt, and the game proceeded as if I had actually made the press. So it’s not like Dragon’s Lair, where if you miss a certain button press at a certain time it’s game over. The only real drawback I see is missing out on the points at the end of the stage.
In much of the game, Asura fights monsters called the Gohma. The Gohma look much like recognizable animals (gorillas, turtles, elephants and the like), but they’re black, violent and covered in red veins. However, the Gohma aren’t Asura’s only enemies. Asura will also fight Buddhist-inspired forces loyal to the generals who betrayed him.
The game’s anime influence extends to how it’s organized. Asura’s tale is split into TV-style parts and episodes. Each episode is about ten to fifteen minutes long, and is capped by a “coming up next on Asura’s Wrath…” preview of what’s to come next.
Much like Kill Bill, a good part of the game is told in flashbacks. The game constantly flashes back from “present” Asura to his more-chilled-out-but-still-damned-angry pre-betrayal self. You’ll learn the root of Asura’s rage, the extent of what he’s lost, and why he’s fighting.
It’s this backstory that provides most of the meat to the game. It’s rare that an action-adventure game presents a story this compelling. When Asura battles against generals who have betrayed him, I actually feel invested into what happens. I care about kicking this particular general’s butt, and that makes the battle all the more intense.
So the big question is, should you get Asura’s Wrath? That’s a tricky one to answer. Most of the time, when I choose to buy a game, I do so because the gameplay appeals to me. The gameplay in Asura’s Wrath does the job, but I don’t feel it’s on par with some of my favorite games. There is no mode in which you can just fool around and kill things just for the pleasure of experiencing the gameplay for its own sake. Asura’s Wrath is much like Alan Wake and other strong, story-driven games in that if you want to play the game, you HAVE to play the campaign. As good and involving as it is, I can’t see it being compelling upon completion unless you’re obsessed with getting the top ratings for skill, speed and synchronicity. If you’re like me and you value multiplayer games higher than single-player ones, I’d wait until Asura’s Wrath was down to $30 or less to pull the trigger.