At its heart, the story of Asura’s Wrath conveys the eponymous character’s use of his own overflowing hatred to save those whom he loves. This inherent contradiction is the one constant theme of the game. To what lengths will Asura go to save his daughter? Is the life of his daughter really worth dooming the entire world? Does saving the life of his family justify those he sentences to death both directly and indirectly?
Perhaps these questions are too deep for a game and a character of this nature. After all, Asura himself is a one-trick pony. When Asura sees a problem, he punches. When it doesn’t get solved, he punches more. If it still isn’t solved, he grows more arms and THEN punches more.
However, much like the villains of Asura’s Wrath, Capcom has presented players with a trial of love and hatred. Asura’s Wrath is a love letter to the genre of shonen anime. Told in a “season” of “episodes,” Asura’s Wrath owes much of its character and world design, tropes, and thematic and cinematic elements to well-known works such as Fist of the North Star, Dragonball Z, and even more recent works like Naruto. Asura’s Wrath is but a humble homage. It learns from the works of the past and deftly weaves elements of the genre together successfully without ever resorting to creative theft. Fans of action anime will be right at home with this game and love nearly every minute of it.
Unfortunately, as attractive as this tribute is to fans of the genre, Capcom’s greed has stood in the way of their own success. After forcing fans to replay the final level under certain conditions to earn it, the true ending of Asura’s Wrath reveals that the resolution of the plot will be told in the form of currently unreleased DLC. This is a complete slap in the face to those expecting a complete product and a bitter pill to swallow at the end. I am not opposed to DLC that adds to the game. I am not opposed to unlockable characters, levels, costumes, or weapons that are not essential to the game. But if the entire game finishes with a glorified “To be continued in DLC,” there is no excuse, and Capcom should be ashamed for this repugnant practice.
With that caveat out of the way, there is a lot of good here. Asura’s Wrath rejoices in its roots. Fists fly, characters leap across the cosmos, and heroes and villains alike throw energy beams with reckless abandon. Asura’s Wrath is everything a game with roots in anime should be, even if it isn’t actually based on one. QTE has rightfully become a dirty word in gaming culture. Still, the way Asura’s Wrath uses QTEs to generate a cinematic experience shows exactly why they’re a useful tool in game development. The action sequences of Asura’s Wrath benefit extensively from this player interaction, and succeeding at the QTEs is largely unnecessary for player progression. However, when one mashes on the B button with the world hanging in the balance just to get that final Burst from Asura, developer CyberConnect 2 manages to make the reviled mash QTE feel so rewarding.
The gameplay isn’t for everyone, though. The beat-‘em-up portion of Asura’s Wrath is entertaining, but it’s hardly compelling on its own. There is no series of complicated attacks or character customization. The true strength of Asura’s Wrath lies in its presentation and cinematic technique. The first two levels of the game are also its weakest and could easily drive less patient players away. Add this together with its anime origins, emphasis on QTEs, and short length, and your mileage may vary heavily on Asura’s Wrath.
The graphics tell the story well and accomplish their goal. Artistic assets do not abound here, and many enemies are repeated throughout the game. The world of Asura’s Wrath is largely a wasteland, which lends itself well to the limited detail presented by the game. Environments are pretty, but detail and scale is at a premium here.
Asura’s Wrath uses its limited sound palette very effectively. Sound alone adds emphasis to every level and QTE by punctuating every button press with a punch and every action appropriately. It’s easy to forget how much the right sound effect adds credibility and immersion to a creative work, and, without a doubt, Asura’s Wrath remedies that problem. The music of Asura’s Wrath is memorable, and I’m actually humming Yasha’s Theme as I write this review, which is as good a compliment as a game can hope for.
Asura’s Wrath is polarizing on many levels and rightfully so. The DLC issues alone will prevent many gamers from buying the game on principle. Players for whom anime carries no artistic allure or merit will have no interest in this game. QTEs are a deal-breaker for some as well.
For gamers that have even a passing interest in the kind of over-the-top action seen in anime and can get past the other issues, Asura’s Wrath is a must-play. As a short game designed to be played multiple times to unlock different gameplay styles and art, some may assign it a different monetary value and should wait for a sale. Regardless, it’s a fresh experience that may not innovate in gameplay but certainly provides a valid experience not seen much in gaming today. Those whom this game turns off should avoid it, and those who like what they see should make every effort to play it as soon as possible.