Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Asura's Wrath Review

Before San Diego Comic Con 2011, I had never heard of Asura or his wrath. Luckily, Capcom deemed this game worthy of sinking some funds into, and I was drawn to their colorful booth at the back of the exposition hall. A screaming chamber, lines of demo machines, and the draw of a free hat were more than enough to get me playing. I found myself enamored with the art style, controls, and gameplay almost immediately. Were my initial impressions of the game accurate, or was I simply dazzled by marketing shenanigans?

Have you ever watched anime? An intro comes on, with a short bump to and from commercial, ending on a freeze frame with “TO BE CONTINUED…” written at the bottom? Maybe tons of yelling and having deep conversations while fighting? Then you’ve played Asura’s Wrath.

I am being 100% serious when I say Asura’s Wrath is the most anime game of all time. For God’s sake, the game is even broken up into episodes and the art style is reminiscent of shows like Dragon Ball Z or Fist of the North Star. If you enjoy anime you need not even read the rest of this review, just go and pick it up—this game was made for you. 

This reminiscence to anime is both a boon and a curse, as Asura’s Wrath oftentimes feels like less of a game and more like an interactive series. Quick-time events and long, sweeping cut scenes drive the plot with quick five- to ten-minute breaks for a fight or two in each episode. Though I would usually grow weary of the low play time, the breaks between episodes cut the large periods of non-play well and make it feel less like the PS3 movie that is Metal Gear Solid 4. Whereas MGS4’s cut scenes felt oppressive and boring, Asura’s Wrath feels more like watching something entertaining, but getting to interact with it. The episode system helps this cause immensely. Each episode is a small, easily digestible part of the story with parts of action, bits of narrative, and each has a nearly self-contained story arc that fits into the larger narrative.

Speaking of narrative, if a game is too cut scene heavy, it must have a good story, right? I have a feeling this point may be polarizing, as Asura’s Wrath’s plot is not for everyone. I quite enjoy the story—it is simple, emotion driven, and does not get bogged down in details. Asura is a demigod who was betrayed by his comrades. After framing him for murder, killing his wife, and kidnapping his daughter, he is unceremoniously thrown from a space station and left to collide with the earth and die. He then claws his way out of the underworld to exact his revenge and quench his wrath by killing his betrayers and getting his daughter back. He is essentially a mix of Kratos from God of War and Liam Neeson in Taken thrown into a scenario Tarantino could have made up. The actions, characters, decisions, and battles are all incredibly over-the-top and quirky, and that’s not a style for everyone. It’s not unlike Bayonetta, come to think of it—a game whose fans are as rabid as its detractors. If you can enjoy the game for what it is and try not to take it too seriously, the story is quite engrossing.

Come to think of it, Asura’s Wrath has gameplay partially similar to Bayonetta as well. The game features three distinct kinds of battle—brawling, shooting, and quick-time. Given an arena in which to fight, Asura takes down baddies with a combination of physical attacks, specials, and counters in a similar style to God of War or Devil May Cry. The combat is smooth and fluid and the only real problem I found with it is not being able to press the counter buttons quickly enough, though that mas more to do with my lazy thumbs than the developers. Shooting is regrettably less polished. Asura’s Wrath is a beautiful game, but one that keeps the screen very busy at all times. This crucial fact makes the on-rails shooting sections significantly more difficult as your eyes do not automatically focus in on enemies. By loading up the screen with backgrounds that are too loud, or icons that are not needed, aiming becomes quite difficult, which puts a larger emphasis on blindfire than strategy.

I found myself constantly firing and homing in at random in nearly every shooting scenario. It was fun, but definitely not as fun as I would like it to be. The quick-time events are some of the best I’ve seen in a game, as the button layouts were consistent and joystick motions made sense. The game allows you enough time to press the buttons, but not too much so as to decrease the sense of urgency. Overall, the gameplay is quite fun, there’s just not nearly enough of it, as it comprises less than 50% of the time spent engaged in the title.

One egregious error on the developers’ part was the addition of a True Ending feature. Normally, I am one to go for absolute completion, so I was drawn to this as a new challenge. Three hours of time sunk fulfilling the requirements, which were bloody difficult, and I was treated to getting to play the final chapter again. Okay, but surely I fight something new right?

Nope. Same boss, same enemies same everything except the last two minutes. The last two minutes completely unravels the “non-true” ending’s neatly tied up exposition and perfectly acceptable ending by tacking on a cliff hanger.

Can I level with you, CyberConnect2 and Capcom? I get what you’re trying to do, I really do. It’s a new game and you want to expand it into a series. You care about it and want more people to fall in love and be enthralled with it. If I had to wager, I’d say CyberConnect2 had the idea for this ending since Capcom has been a spoiled brat about sequels as of late. But no matter. If you are going to have a cliff hanger, don’t do it in two minutes at the end of a game, and don’t make me work three hours for those two minutes. It’s just embarrassing. Do you see other, respected developers doing something like this? No, because they sell based on their merits, and I understand Capcom is more than a little psychotic—I mean who really leaves out Megaman from Marvel vs. Capcom—but this is just unacceptable. Hidden endings are a fun bonus for the game and can definitely be used to make fans want a sequel, but that’s only by integrating it into the story such that the gamer feels rewarded with the true ending, not cheated. Shame on you, CyberConnect2.

Verdict: Asura’s Wrath is an incredibly fun game to play, for the half of the game you get to play. The other half is driven by a wild plot that borrows heavily from the school of “if I scream louder and yell about my feelings, I will win” school of anime thinking, but it’s quite enjoyable as long as you do not take it seriously. If you skip the true ending, you’ll be pleased as punch with this quirky shooter/platformer. If you like Devil May Cry, God of War, or any anime, this is the game for you for this month.
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