"Asura's Wrath" available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Rated "T" for Teen. $59.99
I know how easy it can be to overlook a good title -- especially one as strange and under-advertised as "Asura's Wrath." The game has been out for nearly two months now, and odds are you've never heard of it.
That's really too bad. Though it may not be for everyone, "Asura's Wrath" is one the weirdest mixes of genres I've ever encountered. In this age of copy-and-paste gaming, that's a very good thing.
Players take the role of Asura, a demigod who protects the world of Gaea from a demonic, destructive race known as the Gohma. He does this with the help of seven other guardian generals, who possess all the power you would expect from demigods -- including space flight.
The peace doesn't last for long, though. The leader of the eight generals, Lord Deus, frames Asura for the murder of the emperor, murders his wife and steals his daughter before casting him into the pits of hell. Asura is plenty pissed when he comes back to life 12,000 years later and wants nothing more than revenge on those who betrayed him.
It's an old-fashioned revenge tale similar to that of the Quentin Tarantino movie "Kill Bill," but with a crazy anime, Japanese-lore infused twist that may turn off some American players. The characters themselves look as though they were cut from woodblock prints, giving the game a very artsy look that harkens back to 19th century paintings by famed Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. The insane action, however, is heavily influenced by Japanese anime, especially "Dragonball Z." That means lots of grunting and yelling, especially from Asura, who just seems to be eternally angry.
This rather odd composition is welded together by an even stranger mix of three classic video game genres -- third-person beat-em-ups (like "God of War"), on-rail shooters and quick-time events that requires you to push a series of buttons as they flash on screen -- another "God of War" standard that game critics love to hate.
Just don't go into this game expecting the deep fighting combos you would find in a "God of War" game. The action almost always takes a backseat to the story, and the incredibly basic fighting system is just substantial enough to carry you from scene to scene. You spend just as much time watching "Asura's Wrath" as you do playing it, but the three types of game play are integrated so seamlessly into the non-interactive cut scenes that you'll never see what's coming next.
Each level is played out as an episodic format akin to an anime television series, with introductory and closing credits at the start and end of each episode. This is followed by a brief promo with cut-together footage for the next episode, along with a narration recapping and foreshadowing upcoming events. There are even snippets of back- story presented in the form of beautiful illustrations.
This kind of stellar presentation coupled with gorgeous graphics make "Asura's Wrath" a sight to behold, especially when you start fighting demigods who can grow as large as the planet itself. The game is absolutely bonkers, and jaw-dropping "Holy Crap!" moments abound.
But if you're not a fan of all things Japanese and the plot sounds like a big pile of nonsense, "Asura's Wrath" could just as easily bore you to tears. Since the simplistic game play isn't strong enough to hold up by itself, this is one of those rare instances where style and context trump game play.
I loved every minute of it, but the game's six-hour running time just isn't long enough to warrant a purchase. Though there are a couple of very cool animated episodes you can download for a few extra dollars, the extra content only adds another 30 minutes of gaming. Fans of classic animated quick-time-event games like "Dragon's Lair" and "Time Gal" will definitely want to check it out, though.
Just be aware that when you do finish "Asura's Wrath," the game isn't really over. The cliffhanger ending will be resolved in another pack of downloadable episodes to be released at the end of the month.
What a bunch of money grubbing cheapskates. I'll probably rent the game again next month and plunk down an extra $7 just to see how everything turns out, but I'm not very happy about it. The financial war on video game consumers continues, and unfortunately, beloved Japanese studios like Capcom are leading the charge.
Still, you shouldn't let greedy game publishers sour you on a fantastic experience. I guarantee you've never played anything like "Asura's Wrath" before.
Three out of Four Stars