Asura’s Wrath isn’t so much a video game as it is a partially interactive one-night stand. Appreciably grandiose in nearly every department except the one that truly matters (its core gameplay mechanics), CyberConnect2’s latest is a behemoth extravaganza of flashy, often ludicrous, cinematic pizzazz that’s ultimately overshadowed by how slight the overall package feels due to a lack of honest-to-goodness playability and lastingness. It’s been awhile since an action title has been able to impress so much in the moment, then as soon as a gameplay session concludes, the high thrills recently enjoyed are whittled down to mere fragments of a distant positive memory. If examined as purely an attempt to allow players the unique opportunity to literally orchestrate their way through a brisk bilateral anime series, Asura’s Wrath is a considerable success, yet as a full-fledged console game, with a price tag of $60, the few hours it takes to see the titular demigod to his endpoint really isn’t worth the trade, monetarily or otherwise.
The story of Asura’s Wrath is interesting enough, a deviceful patchwork of Asian folklore that stylistically and ritualistically evokes God of War, but also manages to recollect divisive, similarly toned gems like Sega’s Gungrave and MadWorld, and Capcom’s own misunderstood God Hand. Asura, much like the antiheroes of those stories, exemplifies the extremely pissed-off protagonist stereotype, and for good reason. Shamed and banished by his former mythical contemporaries (his wife slain, his daughter abducted), Asura seeks vengeance on the collective of various deities that ripped his inner and outer worlds apart. Coincidentally, tearing up planets is essentially what Asura does throughout the course of this narrative. The sights and sounds of Asura’s Wrath are wondrous to behold, the scope and scale of CyberConnect2’s development is to be commended. Lunar bodies are sliced asunder by a towering blade, entire space armadas are decimated with a single attack, the Earth is nearly penetrated by the index finger of a supreme being the size of a galaxy, and at times Asura becomes so oppressively furious that his raging punches, launching foes far beyond the stratosphere, can be felt coursing through your own nervous system.
Grievously, this kind of fanatical excitement is drastically short-lived, as the game can be uncomplicatedly beaten in one compacted sitting. Equally frustrating is that Asura’s Wrath is basically a series of cutscenes that the player inputs commands to dictate outcomes, with occasional third-person sequences wedged in for some better-late-than-never variety. If CyberConnect2 had even spent a fraction of the coding duration they focused on presentation on refining the strength of central interactivity, they could have introduced a new cult classic to their résumé, which already includes a number of respectable .hack and Naruto installments.
Asura’s Wrath in no way attempts to hide the fact that it’s inspired by anime. The game is separated into a set of episodes that recreate the template for today’s most popular Japanese serial animations. Each chapter has opening and ending cards, end credits (!), and even a discoursed sneak peek at the events of the forthcoming outing. Fans of shōnen material like Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, One Piece, and the aforementioned Naruto will find plenty to appreciate here, but the majority of casual gamers will be left cold by the love-you-and-leave-you approach of Asura’s Wrath. Asura’s non-context sensitive assault arsenal is limited at best; there’s standard maneuvers, specials and counters, all gorgeously animated yet too simplistic and repetitive to sustain satisfaction. The QTEs, while doubtlessly well executed, are depended upon far too often as the main method of combat, and it comes off like the developers had forgotten they were making a video game rather than an animated choose-your-own-adventure program. Asura’s insane Burst Mode, wherein he sprouts extra arms and giant lances from his steroid-freak torso, hinges on being somewhat of a saving grace, as it rivals Kratos’ most acrimonious climaxes, but the surrounding imperfections are simply too encumbering to overlook.
While being undertaken, Asura’s Wrath is like the best first date ever. Attractive, amusing, and halfway intelligent, it gives the impression of a relationship that appears to be going places. How saddening it is that, upon waking up the next morning, the previous night’s happenings have been virtually erased from memory. No thank you note on the fridge. No apologetic text message. No fresh coffee left brewing. Oh well. At least the sex was nice.