Asura's Wrath: Game or Anime? - User Reviews - www.GameInformer.com
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Asura's Wrath: Game or Anime?

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Anime fans and over-the-top action junkies will find plenty of gorgeous, stylistic visuals and outrageous battle scenarios with CyberConnect2's action game Asura's Wrath.  In the midst of ultrarealistic, brown and grey art design in the industry, this is a refreshing title sure to dazzle your ocular senses the way current generation game consoles were meant to do so years ago. With the game's focus towards combining intense action and dramatic, narrative gameplay, does this game successfully combine each of these elements to transcend the anime, action communities or is it doomed to settle for a smaller niche market?

You won't have much time to bask in the rich colors or sweeping soundtrack of the game as the player is near immediately thrust into a massive scale battle between Asura and the ginormously scaled beast army controlled by an enemy literally the size of the planet.  Anyone just picking up the game might be surprised to find a rail shooter section right of the bat, smattered with a few Quick Time Events during the game's epically scaled introduction, however the game generally does a decent job of changing of the gameplay consistently throughout the game.  However, the ratio of gameplay to story is disparagingly out of balance.

Consisting of 18 episodes divided into three parts, Asura's Wrath plays out like a full season of anime complete from common tropes the very structure of game.  Make no mistake, anime fans will find Asura's Wrath treading familiar territory from the oft visited soft hearted, hot headed loner seeks revenge narrative to its fight first, ask questions later action and character posturing.  The story manages to stay competent within the realm of anime, offering nothing particularly new or insightful to common character archetypes, but not overtly phoning it in either.  The very structure of each episode furthers this TV show conceit by starting every episode with intro credits, bumpers marking the midway commercial breaks, voiceover previews of the next episode and the obligatory fanservice/swimsuit episode halfway through the season.

All of this serves to keep up the appearance of the game as an episodic show with a distinctly Japanese flavor.  The oddest story component of the game however, are the 2D interludes at the end of each episode filling in the narrative gaps between episodes.  The artwork in these interludes is stunning, but the text can be hard to read and generally serves to further break up the pacing of the game.  Due to the mythical, sci-fi styling of the Asura's world, typically hard to penetrate Japanese cultural references are kept in check.  You will not have to be an anime otaku to appreciate the story for what it is should you have the patience.

While this particular narrative structure isn't new to gamers across many different genres, the sheer weight of non-interactive story and anime influence may be enough to scare off gamers more interested in delving straight into the actual gameplay.  The typical episode structure follows as thus: 

Cut scene(s) and credits> QTE's > easy fight> cut scene(s) > outro bumper image> intro bumper image> cut scene(s)> QTE's> more difficult fight> QTE's> cut scene(s)> To Be Continued image...>  episode score> 2D interlude> preview voiceover. 

Gameplay is curiously underrepresented in this sequence of events.  While you can skip through the non-interactive elements, it's a shame that so much of the game is filler for the sake keeping up the appearance of a TV show.  It all just breaks up the flow of the game.  I'd venture to say that nearly 70% of the game can be skipped.  What's left are actually fighting, rail shooter and QTE events ranging anywhere from less than a minute to nine minutes per episode!  These numbers reflect a normal difficulty so times can vary, but given an episode is about 20 minutes, that is a significant amount of time not interacting with a the game.  The first two-thirds of the game typically struggle with this pacing; too much story, filler and not enough gameplay (I promise we'll discuss that soon).  This sluggish pace may be enough to turn off those looking to jump into a game advertised as a relentless, over-the-top action game.  Unfortunately, it's not until the third act that the game really finds the right balance between gameplay and story... at least length wise.  Episodes 13 through 18 are worth the wait!

Quick Time Events, while not skippable, do try to add some sense of interaction and player agency during the more intense moments of a cut scene.  However, this feels more like a cheat as timed button presses are often forgiving and almost always Y (360 version) and button mashing B is more dependent on how long the dialog continues versus your ability to vibrate the molecules in your thumb to inhuman levels.  It's almost unforgivable that a game made today takes the most impactful actions in a game and reduces them to the press of a single easy button.  While these events are meant to involve the player in the crazy, rage induced feats of Asura, they tend to distract from the scene and act as an easy button, limiting player agency. 

Between the numerous story elements, Asura's Wrath takes a relatively shallow approach to combat.  Rail shooting segments, while varied and boast some of the more visually stimulating segments of the game, rely in two buttons and the analog sticks to fire repeated blasts and a stronger, homing attack.  The fighting segments quickly underwhelm as combat mechanics are fairly limited to dodge, weak attack, ranged attack and occasional strong attack with minor variations while jumping.  Combos are nearly non-existent with only the flashiest of moves resulting from a forgiving QTE counterattack- replacing player agency with an easy button once again.   

Enemy variety is fairly limited, and although you will see repetition of tougher enemies a couple of times in the game, the small pool of time you actually play makes the repetition less noticeable, but a longer game may have highlighted the lack of enemy variety.  Regardless of enemy type, fights typically follow one of two paths:  One) beat up lots of little to medium guys until your burst meter fills up or, Two) pick away at a boss until your burst meter fills up.  Players can speed up the process by building up a secondary "Unlimited Mode" gauge which strengthens attacks and allows unlimited use of the strong attack.  Additionally, counterattacking with context sensitive QTE's results in larger burst meter gains than standard attacks.  Once the burst meter is filled, players press the right trigger.  An animation sequence will start with a few QTE's to finish the fight or area.  While the burst ability acts as a kind of reward for whittling away at a boss, any sense of overcoming a significant obstacle is lost.  Enemy tells and patterns are not particularly difficult.  Rinse and repeat fights.

You'll see these baddies a lot

Be prepared to witness some pretty intense boss battles in the game cut scenes however.  QTE's aside, the sheer audacity, strength and scale of AW's boss fights are as visually impressive as the God of War series, if not in difficulty or length.   Fight a colossus size boss?  Check.  Start a fight on the moon and take the carnage back to the earth?  Check.  Lose you limbs, fight anyway?  Check!  The colossus sized boss wasn't large enough for you so pick a fight with the planet?  Double check!  This might not be the next great action game like God of War, Devil May Cry or Uncharted but it's undeniably entertaining in its strongest, and strangest, moments.

At least it's not the middle finger

As shallow as the combat system is, you will absolutely see some of the most outlandish, absurd and jaw rapping battles and space environments in gaming to-date.  While some of the earlier planet side battles seem fairly bland, the space battles and scenes are beautifully rendered and just might challenge your HDTV to use some colors you haven't seen in a while.  These high production value moments are the reason many of us bought HDTVs, 360's and PS3's years ago.  It would have been nice had all the environments and character models been given as much attention.

Ten years ago, I envisioned what it would be like to interactively play an action style anime series.  This is as close to that vision as I've ever seen without converting it into an RPG.  Unfortunately Asura's Wrath falls short on the action game element.  Combat is shallow and player agency is masked behind an unfulfilling QTE system that ultimately distracts from the crazy, sci-fi action.  Without spoiling the ending, the game leaves open the possibility of a sequel or future DLC and I will be there for a day one purchase.  This series shows tremendous promise.  What I hope for the future of the series is deeper combat system that allows upgradable combos and skills to increase player involvement and longer, more interesting battles between boss fights.  The stylization of episodic chapters to mimic an anime series was fun, but Cyberconnect2 needs to better balance story and gameplay, particularly during the first half of the game, to reach a larger audience.

Replayability:  Moderate with some incentive for collectivores to unlock gameplay modifiers, CG screens, illustrations and a secret ending.

Nitpicks: 

Episode Bumpers:  Really?  Other than enforcing the conceit of Asura's Wrath as a TV show, these serve zero purpose midgame and only get in the way of continuing the story or the next battle.

2D Interludes:  Gah! How many ways do you need to convey a story in a game? Gameplay dialog helps, cut scenes are expected and the episode previews were cute, but for a game advertised as relentless action, these 2D artwork breaks with hard to read text were just painful.  Let me play the damn game already!

Unnecessarily Large Battle Areas:  Some, not all of the bosses were huge in this game.  Fighting relatively medium to small enemies and bosses in a large area make filling the burst meter aggravating, especially after you've knocked a tough enemy across the map and have no fast way to close the distance and activate the context sensitive special attack.

Nitperks:

Extras:  Should you want to watch the episode cut scenes without those pesky combat scenes, you can access movies and artwork from the Extras menu.

Progress Sensitive Menu Video:  I hate it when a game's menu or idle screen shows all the best cut scenes in a game; Asura's Wrath changes the menu video to match your progress in the game.  No more spoilers!

Extra Ending:  I generally won't collect everything in a game, unless it's an old RPG title or an extra/alternate ending.  Asura's Wrath does not hide the fact it has an extra ending nor does it make it nearly impossible to obtain.

 

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