With all the hyperkinetic action and vibrant design of the average action anime, you'd think they'd translate better into gaming. Decades of wonderful series turned into low-budget crap has shown otherwise, but there's always hope that maybe this time, this favorite series will be the one to escape the curse of licensed gaming. No matter how many times it happens, and how much experience lets you know to keep expectations low, there's a bit of wishful thinking deep inside saying, "Maybe . . ."
Asura's Wrath is a six-fisted action tribute to everything shonen anime ought to be.
Asura's Wrath is the game that voice is wishing for. It's a six-fisted action tribute to everything shonen anime ought to be, telling the tale of a fallen demigod's quest for revenge and, eventually, the protection of the entire planet. The epic scope of the story encompasses death, rebirth, betrayal, redemption, a time span of millenia, planet-sized enemies, and battles that range from the moon to Earth or far-Earth orbit to the heart of the planet. Asura's Wrath covers a feud of gods, and they don't fight small.
It all starts out nicely enough. Asura and his fellow Generals are fighting the Gohma, which are spirits of the world's displeasure at . . . something. Man's spread across the Earth, the rise of technology, or any of the usual things a planet gets pissy about. The important part is there's lots of them, and in the first chapter alone a giant maw a quarter the size of the planet opens up to attack. The Generals have it covered, though, with a giant human-shaped space platform that knocks the embodiment of the planet's anger back into a multi-millenial slumber. This is the biggest threat the Generals face, and with it finally knocked down again it's time for the betrayals to start. The king is murdered, Asura's wife dies, his daughter is used as a means of harvesting and focusing human souls, and Asura is framed for the whole horrible affair. He's then killed by being dropped to Earth from orbit, but gods are terrible at remaining dead.
All this drama and action takes place in just the first two chapters of a story structured around an episodic anime format. Each chapter begins with credits, has a logo break at the halfway mark, and even ends with scenes from the next exciting episode. The formatting is more than just window-dressing, though. It also serves to drive home the point that, while Asura's Wrath is clearly a video game at its core, it's best judged as the sum of its parts rather than from the usual "gameplay is king" perspective.
Asura Wrath's gameplay comes in three forms. The most common activity is beating the Gohma and Seven Deities (the Generals promoted themselves after the coup) into a fine pulp. While the brawling is nothing revolutionary, it's pleasantly fast and flashy. Battles are generally fought until the damage Asura deals to enemies causes the Boost bar to fill up, at which point pulling the right trigger releases a fight-ending special attack. That final attack is done via quick-time event, though that's not the only time these happen. Asura's Wrath is heavy on the cut scenes, and regular quick-time events make sure you're paying attention. Fortunately, they're hard to screw up, and always result in Asura doing something awesome. As cliché as "hit button to make cinema go" quick-time events are, Asura uses them well enough, and intersperses them with enough real action, to somehow remove the stigma of being a dated remnant of early-2000s gaming.
The final and rarest gameplay mode is that of an on-rails shooter. It's more giant firework display than challenge, but when Asura is standing on the nose of a speeding space-motorcycle shooting down swarms of enemy fighters and battlecruisers, it's hard to complain. Asura's Wrath is a giant kinetic blast of entertaining spectacle, and everything from the fantastic art design to the epic scope of the story work to drive that idea home.
This is what makes the game work so well. Whether Asura is growing an extra four arms in his powered-up form, or being run through with a sword so long Sephiroth would think is a bit much while falling through the upper atmosphere as the air superheats around him, the action is always that of gods fighting on a scale that's gone way beyond ridiculous. The large (albeit two dimensional) cast does a great job supporting the action, and the story is paced properly so there's always a decent breather between one insane sequence and the next. While it's true that the story structure means the game is straight as a rail, without a moment's freedom to wander off and explore, this allows the action to be measured out as the director intended.
For a game that's about bringing an action anime to video game life, that's a fair trade-off. Asura's Wrath knows exactly what it wants to be and does a fantastic job at being it, and the result is a game that's ridiculously over the top, crackling with mad energy, and just plain fun from the moment it starts to the final credit roll.