His wife murdered, his daughter stolen, cast down from the heavens — Asura has a right to be more than a little wound up. Developer CyberConnect2 really grinds this demigod’s gears in its game-come-interactive movie, adequately providing impetus for his titular rage at every turn. Told over 12,500 years, Asura’s Wrath shows off just how spectacularly mad a titan can get.
Yet it's usually only in these moments of pure anger that players actually get to do anything; Asura’s Wrath stretches the boundaries of what a game can be while undoubtedly remaining in the medium’s realm. Though interaction is minimal, there is just enough, more often than not at critical points, to justify its position as a video game.
Asura fights as one of eight Guardian Generals against the Gohma, a dark entity that threatens to take over Gaia — Earth — until he is betrayed by his fellow warriors. After slaughtering his partner and kidnapping his priestess daughter to aid in their continuing battle against the Gohma, Asura is hurled to his death. Reviving millennia later, Asura seeks revenge upon his ex-brethren, now known as the Seven Deities, battling Gohma and gods alike on his own terms as he attempts to save his child.
Stylised as a television show, each episode begins with credits overlaying the action and end with the last frame frozen, morphed into a still cel emblazoned with the words “to be continued”. Preview clips that lay out what's going to happen next pop up between stages, showing scenes from throughout the next episode, narrated over with a curious voice and basically spoiling some of the following content, albeit without context. The 18 episodes are even split into three ‘seasons’, with a full cliffhanger and credit roll at the end of each. It’s a fantastic idea that’s executed very well. There’s even a cringeworthy animé-typical ‘fan service’ episode set, flashbacks aside, entirely in an onsen. Gorgeous manga stills, presented as interludes that expand on the story, are also sandwiched between chapters.
The Buddhist inspiration is very apparent at every turn, from the ridiculous storyline of vengeance and god-destroying glowers to the beautiful art style. Though there are occasional technical faults, such as slight lag and screen tearing, Asura’s Wrath looks fabulous: its characters resemble clay statues, brush strokes lining their skin, which grow more metallic as they gain power, gold leaf chipping off as they become weaker. Asura gains additional arms when his fury increases, matching Buddhist mythology that ties number of limbs to strength.
If you’re expecting an all-out God of War-style action game you’re going to be disappointed; Asura’s Wrath goes in a completely different direction, mainly consisting of cut scene after cut scene, many of which don't require you to do a single thing. Minutes can pass without any input needed, and when it is required it can be as simple as a tiny quick time event: hitting X, wiggling the analogue sticks, hitting Triangle as a circle encloses around an on-screen button prompt.
Occasionally you’re treated to a Sin & Punishment-esque shooting section, given full control of Asura as you dash to avoid enemy fire while pouring your own scorn right back at them. At other times you get to participate in Kratos-imitating battles afterall, but each of these gameplay styles are used minimally in the grand scheme of things.
Whether you’re shooting or sparring, you’re continually building a rage meter towards its apex, ready to unleash a Burst, to activate a quick time-enabled critical hit before moving on to the next cut scene. In some chapters there are a mere couple of minutes of actual player-controlled action, which makes Asura’s Wrath difficult to recommend as a full price game.
What it is, though, is an exhilarating experience, picking out only the best moments in a story filled with pure, undistilled mania to offer up as playable segments. Gigantic enemy Gohma erupt from within Gaia itself, battles for supremacy are waged in orbit among the stars and entire space fleets are repeatedly destroyed in the blink of a glowing eye and Asura’s aura of extreme angst. A planet-dwarfing demigod is fought and ultimately destroyed with a single punch to its continent-crushing index finger; swords extend through the universe, through atmosphere and planets. Asura recurrently resurrects to overcome the odds through no force other than his anger.
Each cataclysmic event occurs one after the other, with no down time; while the story is undeniably a ludicrous delight throughout, there's so much going on continually with no let up that, after the fifteenth epic yelling contest and subsequent explosion, the big moments begin to lose their impact.
You’re always involved in that last hit, that frantic exchange of fists, that last-second revival, that part where Asura drags a prominent foe along the ground before hurling them off a cliff, hammering away at Circle or dragging an approximation of the movements with flicks of the analogue sticks. While your hands sit stationary for most of Asura’s Wrath, they are brought to life in the seconds that are truly vital to the tale. It makes for an adventure that feels simultaneously unfulfilling and thrilling — the sections where you are called into action are perfectly judged, but other times you are left spectating, wishing you could get just a little bit more involved.
Infuriatingly we did experience issues with the sound levels, the volume of voices, music and sound effects varying. There appears to be no option to adjust each of these individually, as in many other games, so when you’re in a fully-controlled battle sequence the sound effects drown out the great soundtrack, and make the voice acting difficult to hear.
Download the demo — if you like what you see and are satisfied with the amount you actually play, then Asura’s Wrath could be worthy of a place in your collection. Asura’s Wrath is uncompromising, testing the limits of what a game is, and in taking this approach it's a compelling, often invigorating, piece of software. However, at just six hours long — a couple of hours longer if you want to unlock absolutely everything by gaining S ranks on each episode and choose to watch every cut scene again — with gameplay that amounts to far less than that time might suggest, it’s a tough sell as a full price title.