The strictures of a review really aren't adequate to quantify the experience waiting for players in Asura's Wrath. Of course there are mechanics and systems and gauges, all of that, and I will endeavor to explain them, but understand that what follows falls well short of fully encapsulating the experience. About 380,000 kilometers too short.
Asura's Wrath tells the story of Asura, a demigod and one of the Eight Guardian Generals of Shinkoku. Shinkoku and its Guardian Generals are embroiled in an eternal war with the Gohma, an evil race bent on swallowing the souls of the planet Gaia, which the armies of Shinkoku are sworn to protect. In a moment of relative peace, after he subdues the Gohma leader, Vlitra, Asura is framed for the murder of the emperor. In the wake of the tragedy, Asura's wife is murdered, his daughter kidnapped and, ultimately, he is cast into the underworld, Naraka. Thus begins Asura's Wrath, both in the titular and literal sense, as he latches onto his anger in order to escape the underworld and take revenge on those who betrayed him.
The revenge tale is nothing new, but the world in which it is presented is really something to see. Asura's Wrath pulls concepts from China, Japan and India, creating a pastiche of Asian myths, legends and religious figures. Giant, golden bodhisattvas serve as soldiers in the Shinkoku army. A mythical Hindu weapon is reimagined as a space-faring fortress akin to the Death Star. Asura himself sprouts multiple arms on a regular basis. The conglomeration of so many real ideas creates something that is at once both familiar, fantastic, and altogether captivating.
The story is presented in discrete episodes, not unlike a typical anime serial. It mimics the format to a fault, in fact, even including bumpers for non-existent commercial breaks. Each episode also concludes with "to be continued" and a short vignette teasing scenes from the next episode. The episodic format serves Asura's Wrath well, breaking the story up into specific chapters, each with a proper climax that entices players to keep going.
Mechanically, Asura's Wrath really only has two components: combat and quick-time events. Combat is broken into melee and shooting sections. Melee combat is standard fare, offering Asura (or Yasha, another playable character) a handful of abilities -- a basic combo, a launch attack for juggles and a finishing move for downed enemies. Shooting segments give players limited control over Asura (or Yasha) as he runs or flies along a predetermined path, firing either rapid shots or homing beams.
Asura's Wrath makes extensive use of cutscenes, each of them peppered with quick-time events. Some may scoff at the preponderance of the device, but at the very least they keep players tied into what's happening on screen. At their best, the quick-time events add weight to some fo the most incredible, nigh-unbelievable moments I've ever experienced. Indeed there are too many such moments for me to recall them all, and even if I could I wouldn't want to spoil them.
Is every bit of Asura's Wrath as absorbing? No. In fact, the combat becomes very stale at points, offering no form of advancement, recycling certain enemies just a tad too often. Boss fights are all fairly similar as well. And, just like a real television series, some episodes aren't as enthralling as others, and some end too abruptly. Quick-time events aren't necessarily the most meaningful form of interaction, and here they rarely mean the difference between winning and losing anyway (though player success does contribute to overall score).
That said, for every flaw, for every pedestrian moment, there is something astonishing. I've been crushed by a finger the size of a continent. I've felled an entire fleet of starships with my bare hands (all six of them). I've dueled to death on the moon, the final movement of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 blaring in the background. I've bested a behemoth larger than the Earth itself.
Joystiq's review scale boils down to a simple question: Should you play this game? In the case of Asura's Wrath, the answer is an absolute, unwavering yes. That said, there is room for improvement. The combat could use more depth. Some will deride the abundance of quick-time events. Those willing to accept Asura's Wrath on its own terms, however, will find something unique and truly unforgettable.
And anyway, improvement is what sequels are for, right? You listening, Capcom?
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Asura's Wrath, provided by Capcom.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.