Thursday, October 16, 2014

Game Review - Asura's Wrath (Xbox 360, 2012)

As much as I rant about the value of a good story, I still want my games to feel like games.  When the cinematic-to-gameplay ratio starts to approach 2-to-1, I start to lose interest.  Those games aren't as entertaining as just watching a movie because the narrative tends to be more drawn out and gets broken up by spurts of gameplay.  They aren't as fun as playing other games, either, because I find I get dumped into a cutscene just as the action picks up.

It sort of feels like the worst of both worlds.

Asura's Wrath is the most recent offender I've played.  With a heavy emphasis on a disappointing story, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Let's get this out of the way: a big reason I'm not much of a fan of Asura's Wrath is the pacing.  While the game features some pretty cool episodic storytelling, where each chapter is presented as an installment of a tv show (complete with opening credits and previews for the next episode), very little happens along the way.

It's definitely in the tradition of classic anime series like Dragon Ball Z, where long periods of slow buildup lead to epic (though often quick) confrontations.  That style always felt awfully niche to me, and it was never really my thing.  If you're like me in that way, Asura's Wrath is unlikely to hook you.

The story itself definitely has potential, but it falls short because it doesn't really go anywhere.  Asura is one of eight demigod generals defending the planet from the corruption of the apparently evil Ghoma.  That conflict is never explained in any detail, cheapening what could have been a very interesting backstory.

Instead, the bulk of the game focuses on the other generals betraying Asura and his ensuing vengeance.  That betrayal is slightly better explained, but it still doesn't flesh out the game's universe enough to draw my interest.

Yes, there are awesome fight scenes (and the game is beautiful, so they're particularly awesome), but I was never invested in it.  There's a lot of failed potential in this one.

And the gameplay doesn't pick up the slack.  Part of that is because it relies pretty heavily on quick time events.  You'll need to be quick on the draw during cinematics to follow on-screen inputs and common button-mashing sequences if you want to get a good ranking in each chapter.  It also means that many of the cutscenes are unskippable, so multiple playthroughs become a huge chore.

The rest of the gameplay lacks focus, as it is split almost evenly between two genres - third-person beat 'em up and rail shooter.

The beat 'em up gameplay isn't anything mindblowing.  You use simple combat abilities to dispatch a decent variety of enemies while filling your "burst gauge," which allows you to unleash a super-cinematic attack (another strong parallel with Dragon Ball Z).  Battles are usually spamming affairs, where your best tactic is to wail on opponents indiscriminately.  Higher difficulties require more strategy and precision, but the hardest fights generally devolve into tedious exercises in pattern recognition rather than flowing combat.

My favorite bits of the game, on the other hand, were definitely the rail shooter stages.  During these sections, Asura will automatically rush towards some objective. You control his lateral movement to dodge incoming attacks and fire projectiles to take out enemies along the way.  There is generally not much riding on these sequences (it is pretty hard to fail in most of them), but they were reasonably entertaining.

To be fair, I think nostalgia is the reason I preferred those stages; they evoked memories of games like Panzer Dragoon, making me wish more games like that were on the market these days.  Whatever the reason, those sections of the game were the ones I was most excited about.

Despite an uninspired story and rather shallow gameplay, Asura's Wrath is one of the most beautiful games I've played in a long time.  The cutscenes are gorgeous, featuring charming art direction overall.  The soundtrack is similarly fabulous; there were definitely times that the background music amped me up more than anything else.  It's a fantastic presentation, even if the content is a little lacking.

In the end, Asura's Wrath was more of a niche title than I had expected.  It's really just an interactive action movie.  The plot is little more than an excuse for big fight scenes (though it drags on in a lot of places), and the gameplay touches on quality genres but never delves into them.  It's decently entertaining at times, but it failed to hold my attention for the full 6-8 hour campaign, and I have virtually no desire to play through it again.

Asura's Wrath will likely appeal to gamers looking for a Dragon Ball Z-style story, but for others, it's unimpressive.

My Rating: 3/10 - bad.

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