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The Best Anime You've Played This Year

There are games, and then there's Asura's Wrath, an anime inspired sci-fi brawler mixed with a little Hindu mythology. Visually, it's probably one of the greatest artistic achievements I've seen this generation, rife with outstanding battles, compelling characters, and focused yet simplistic gameplay that makes the game accessible to anyone. If not an immediate purchase due to its flaws, it is definitely a worthy rental that sets a new standard for animation in videogames, if it can be called that.

Asura's Wrath begins with a space battle and an epic premise: you're a demi-god named Asura, one of eight near-immortal beings powered by cybernetic enhancements and mantra, a sacred force that grants those who use it unimaginable power. You're the embodiment of Wrath itself, which explains your short temper and often reckless approach to conflict resolution. Yet, you're also great at what you do, whether it's smashing your enemies and knocking them through outer space or shooting them with beams of energy until they implode. Irrespective the means, and there are many, the player's goal is to fight the Gohma, strange demon-spawn that corrupt the planet and destroy any threats they sense; unfortunately, the threat in this case happens to be humans and other organic life.

Asura and his fellow guardians have battled the Gohma for eons, and players are treated to a chance to revel in this colossal struggle in-between impressively rendered cutscenes that are a testament to anime. The scale of the conflict, however, becomes evident when players find themselves literally facing off against the planet through Vlitra, a gigantic monster that shoots destructive beams of lava from a mouth nearly half the size of the planet itself, and this is just the first major battle. If you think this fight is a bit too ridiculous, then you're probably playing the wrong game.

As the story continues, Asura ends up betrayed and left for dead with his wife killed and his daughter kidnapped - as a priestess, she has the unique power to harness mantra - as his former allies become your new enemies in their own twisted desire to end the Gohma conflict, christening themselves the Seven Deities. Players then join Asura thousands of years later on his quest for vengeance, wreaking havoc whenever possible in outstanding battles that sometimes defy all logic possible. If you're a fan of anime or any high octane action however, the absurdity suits you perfectly.

In terms of presentation, Asura's Wrath is immaculate. Each level is actually presented as an "episode" complete with credits, a conclusion, and a preview of the next "episode" that keeps the otherwise repetitive gameplay from becoming a grind and always maintains the player's attention. Complete with a varied orchestral score of luscious music, voice acting - the dubs are kinda bad, though - crisp sound effects, and expressive artistry, players will relish what CyberConnect2's created. The theme of rage is also consistent and heavily emphasized, as honor, sacrifice, corruption, and even fatherhood flow throughout the narrative. It's a marvel to digest, but is its gameplay as satisfying? The answer is a complicated one.

Asura's Wrath is basically the lovechild of Super Smash Brothers and God of War. You have a light attack, a heavy one that has a cooldown meter, a dash move, a recovery, a counter attack, the ability to shoot beams of energy at your opponents in regular combat, and an on-rails segment that appears occasionally. A simple approach, but when combined it offers a nice bit of variety and action; especially with its wanton abuse of quicktime events.

In addition to a health meter, players also have one that charges and allows Asura to use heavy attacks without penalty for a short period of time, and a "Burst" meter. The Burst meter accumulates as Asura deals damage and increases his rage, allowing him to unleash a powerful barrage of attacks in a QTE that players are graded for, depending on how well they timed their button presses. Since most of these Burst attacks serve as a plot device to move forward in certain parts of each episode, they are unique to each scenario and certain enemy types; you'll even have the chance to play with another character in the story who will also have their own unique style of combat.

You'll see QTE's pop up frequently, whether you're countering a punch, dodging a kick, slamming a demonic elephant to the ground by its head, or growing two more sets of arms and engaging into blindingly frantic fistfights with enemies that recall Toriyama's work in Dragon Ball. Except, those enemies didn't grow larger than entire planets, impale people with infinitely-expanding swords that sliced through moons, or shoot you head-on with Buddha-shaped space lasers that harnessed trillions of souls into destructive energy. Nothing compares to Asura though, given his limitless wells of rage waiting to be released on the next unseemly enemy.

You'll be treated to everything from uppercuts to flurries of punches that cause explosions, even forceful headbutts and kicks to compensate for when Asura's literally unarmed, so don't expect the ideas to get stale later on in the game; they keep getting better. At the end of each episode, you're then ranked based on how well you played overall and can unlock various collectibles - such as concept art, videos, and even another ending.

The characters you'll meet in this game are never boring, from your longtime rival Yasha to the mastermind Deus and even your former trainer Augus. Scenes that remind players of why Asura fights to protect humans from both the Gohma and the Deities add some relevance to the otherwise ludicrous story. Then, there's Asura, a character that isn't fascinating or smart by any means, yet he's remarkably down-to-earth and relatable as the protagonist. He's committed, and his anger guides him to achieve tasks and break boundaries - quite literally - in ways you'd never imagine. By the time you've seen the cliffhanger ending of this game, which screams "rip-off" unabashedly, players will be too overwhelmed by the adrenaline rushing inside of them to care. Difficulty however, may be the game's Achilles' heel that muddies any sense of accomplishment for serious players.

To say this game isn't challenging would be an understatement. It's remarkably easy to play for most if not all, and even its heavier difficulties, which do provide some modicum of effort, aren't as epic. Since there's very little gameplay involved compared to the enormous amount of cutscenes players will watch and very limited combat depth, players will have a hard time taking Asura's Wrath very seriously as a game worth investing time in, especially at a sixty dollar price tag.

Tack on an equally short playing time to the game experience and players will feel like they've been marketed a bundle of DLC rather than an actual game. Most shameful however is how the game's true resolution (told in a final chapter that closes the story) actually is DLC that must be purchased, although cheap. Those who don't want to feel shortchanged should wait or rent it out until the price drops; for those willing to pay up though, they're treated to a surprisingly well-written narrative that avoids the typical tropes of the genre in favor of a far more primal and outlandish vision.

Concluding, Asura's Wrath is a blast when you're playing, and its primary weakness, apart from being so short, is that you won't be playing often enough. When you're watching each of the game's episodes and marveling at the excellent pacing and direction, you'll love Asura's Wrath and the level of attention CyberConnect2's placed into it. Outside of that, those longing for more substance than style will be let down. 

8.25 out of 10

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