If the function of these things we tap out here serve in part as buyer's guides for the latest game releases, then right up front I feel confident saying for most gamers, Asura's Wrath won't represent the best value proposition for his or her hard-earned video gaming dollar. It's not the next Devil May Cry or Bayonetta here to supplant your favorite character action game.
But moving on to the rest of you who've been intrigued by the strange concoction that Capcom and developer CyberConnect2 (the team behind the Naruto fighting games) have been stirring up with a bit of character action here, a dash of on-rails shooting there, and a strong base of episodic anime holding it all together, then Asura's Wrath represents one of the most curious and pleasant surprises of the new year and even of the last few months.
Asura's Wrath tells the story of its demigod title character's betrayal and subsequent path of revenge against the Seven August Generals who he once served beside. Motivated by a millennia-spanning scheme to cleanse the Earth of monstrous lava creatures that live in and on the surface of the planet. And by "cleanse" I mean "nuke from space," as is par for the course in Asura's Wrath frequently nuts story.
The presentation is deliberately in the style of episodic anime, complete with mid-episode bumpers and "To Be Continued" cards at the end of each installment. And if you're so inclined, you're able to skip through these, but if you're the kind of person who's read up to this point and think Asura's Wrath is a game for you, then it's likely you won't be doing that too often.
If you had a chance to play the demo (and I encourage you to do so), it's pretty representative of the game as a whole: lengthy cutscenes punctuated by fits of action, bookended by quicktime events. The action bits come in two flavors: melee combat with foot soldiers and bosses and on-rails shooting segments, each predicated on filling your two meters after delivering enough counters and chained attacks on enemies. The first meter allows you to execute unlimited strong attacks for a limited period of time, while the other, a rage meter serves as the overall meter for the level, so in effect, when you trigger it, that means you'll be executing whatever screen-filling Rush! move necessary to allowing Asura to sprout two extra sets of arms, pummel the current enemy, end the current sequence.
That kind of structure would suggest monotony and a major lack of interaction with the game, but this isn't the case at all. First off, the plot has more than enough to keep you engaged, but of course you didn't pick this up to watch a series of well-crafted animated sequences. While the action won't be knocking any of the best character action games off their perches any time soon, the interplay between the interactive and non-interactive sequences are more often than not cleverly executed. I know I've railed in the past about QTEs, but the way that they've been strategically, deliberately employed here had me grinning from ear to ear throughout the entirety of my time with Asura's Wrath.
Easy to pick up combat
After orienting yourself to the fight-build rage meter-RUSH! format, you'll find yourself modifying your fighting style to get in more counters and big attacks in no time. While not especially deep, the Rush moves and counterattacks provide beyond satisfying visuals that start at over-the-top and just keep going.
A story that deals almost exclusively in epic scale
...and it does so in a way that escalates from one magnificent setpiece to the next without wearing out its welcome. From giant, planet-spanning bosses, to star-bound, soul-powered super weapons, to Asura's own outsized emotions, Asura's Wrath doesn't do anything small.
Perfectly-calibrated tone for the plot
In spite of how larger-than-life, larger-than-the-planet everything is, the whole story is nearly by accident interwoven with a strange sense of spirituality. Asura's wrath is is problem, his solution, and his problem again, and while his story isn't necessarily one where his character is apt to learn an important lesson, the script sees him grapple with grief, hurt, and even confusion at his own anger throughout—certainly headier stuff than I initially suspected the game of carrying within itself.
Another must-buy score
The soundtrack is supplied by veteran game composer Chikayo Fukuda, who incorporates traditional Japanese instrumentation with crashing orchestration throughout, and I suspect I may end up importing a copy when it's released next week in Japan. Fukuda's score is a mix of both small and large sounds, and in particular the main theme that plays during the quieter scenes of the game reign in the outlandish content in the story and imbues it with real feeling.
The targeting and camera will fight you a little
At times, there's a profusion of onscreen effects and enemies onscreen as you duke it out against the Generals-turned-gods and on those occasions, the camera can get away from Asura's Wrath leading to the briefest bouts of frustration. It's not enough to want to throw your controller across the room or ragequit, but when it happens it does pose a mild annoyance.
Doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of replay value
Sure, you could revisit the individual chapters to increase you overall score and unlock the additional content that the game has to offer, but this will likely only appeal to the completionists among you.
While the expression "it's not for everyone" usually means the subject in question is problematic in some way, even with some of the minor hiccups in the controls and curious format of the whole thing, I don't have any reservations about recommending it to anyone with even a passing interest in grand-scale action, spectacular action choreography, and (likely key here) anime tropes. Providing more than enough material to escape from feeling like just an interactive movie, it may not bring anything new to the table in terms of implementation (cutscenes, QTEs, action sequences), but in terms of execution (bruising fight choreography, the oddity and variation of the QTEs, truly crazy fights) it excels beyond the range of what I thought the game would be capable.
Asura's Wrath is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360.