Asura, one of the Eight Guardian Generals, is cast out by his peers (who decide to go by "the Seven Deities" from then on). His wife is dead, his daughter taken, and he wakes up in some kind of Limbo with nothing but a mechanical golden spider for company. Thatís where he swears revenge, as he climbs and climbs back to the mortal realm where he can rescue his daughter and give those that have wronged him what they deserve. All of this against a backdrop of a planet-sized war between the Gohma on one side, and humanity and the gods on the other.
Everything in Asuraís Wrath is planet-sized, often literally, and everything has an incredible sense of scale. Thereís really no better word for it than 'epic'. To reveal much of it would be to spoil it because itís experiencing it for yourself that produces smiles from ear to ear. At one point, though, Asura punches a boss so hard that it explodes from the inside out. Said boss is, at the time, around a million times bigger than Asura is. And thatís just the start, it only gets more extreme from there!
Itís wonderful how the story has been constructed, with such ridiculous goings on somehow not lessening the impact of what is, at its heart, a story about a father longing to save his child Ė there are some real emotional moments along the way too.
Itís not just the story thatís well constructed, itís the game itself. Itís split into episodes, but more than just being an excuse to break up the gameplay, the game has been intricately designed around this conceit. Each episode has a small break in the middle (where the adverts would be) and the episodic structure allows for twists and turns every few minutes, which works where a more traditional set-up wouldn't. The breaks also allow for some thrilling cliffhangers Ė not things that gaming has done well in the past. When youíre about to be crushed by something the size of Jupiter and the game suddenly takes a breather, all it does is give the smile on your face a chance to grow more as you take in whatís happening.
Between episodes there are some beautifully illustrated images that fill in some more of the story, set to gorgeous music, and some almost familiar next-time-on-Asuraís-Wrath montages which really complete the feeling that youíre taking part in an exciting anime.
It's not an anime, though. It's a game.
The gameplay, then, is where the criticism has been levelled. There are three very different aspects to it. The first is a rail shooter in which you must lock on to targets and then shoot them, with more powerful shots the more targets you've locked on to. The second is a brawler which has more depth. You have a basic attack and a heavy attack, with the latter requiring a cool down period between uses. This heavy attack can either be used to attack many enemies at once, or to perform critical attacks on enemies that have been downed. The boss fights are usually in this form and learning their patterns and exploiting the split-seconds where they leave themselves open to attack is key, because they can easily deplete a health bar in seconds if you let them. Boss fights are like elaborate dances, each of you waiting for the other to show weakness. In both the rail shooter and the brawler, your goal is to attack enemies in order to fill your burst gauge, which you then activate to thrust yourself into the next action scene. In a way, itís like a war of attrition. As the burst gauge ticks up so the health bar ticks down, and itís up to the player to survive long enough to be able to activate that burst.
Once activated, youíll usually encounter the third type of gameplay Ė the dreaded Quick Time Event. Button prompts flash up on screen with various instructions, and the player, well, presses them. Itís not the most involved method of gameplay that one can experience, but thatís almost unimportant.
The gameplay works for two reasons. Firstly, simply because itís in keeping with the pace of the game. The action sequences are relentless, there is constantly some new twist or obstacle to overcome, and the gameplay is relentless along with them. As a player, you donít want to be held back from seeing what happens next and elaborately constructed corridors to run around which are just an excuse to place more enemies in your path and more hours on the clock would not be welcome. Instead, youíre never doing the same thing for more than a few minutes at a time before the game moves on and it constantly feels fresh as a result.
The other reason Ė you are Asura. Asuraís Wrath could very well be an anime. Remove the gameplay from it entirely and youíve got a great series on your hands, but at the same time it would lack something. The inclusion of the player puts them right at the heart of the action and involves them emotionally. They're not just witnesses. Even if they canít directly influence what happens beyond what the game has scripted for them, their involvement heightens the impact that the story has, and that every single event has. It's this that makes it essential to experience Asura's Wrath as a game rather than an anime, the way the developers intended it.
There are many that will criticise Asuraís Wrath for what itís not. Itís not a Bayonetta or a Devil May Cry or a Ninja Gaiden, but nor does it try to be. That's certainly no reason to write it off as having "no gameplay." Instead, itís a game that manages to marry its own ideas on gameplay to its presentation and to its pace perfectly, and is thrilling from start to finish as a result.
+ Wonderful, twisting story
+ Achievements that promote replayabilty
+ Never boring
- Very occasional slowdown
- Wasn't developed by EA (in-joke)
Version Reviewed PAL