Asura’s Wrath

Say what you will about Capcom’s reliance on big sellers like the Resident Evil franchise; every once in a while, flush with coin and glowing with indifference, the company releases a bizarre, nearly unmarketable title that reaffirms an abiding interest in the art of games. Collected, these could be marketed under a boutique label: Capcom’s Corporate Write-Offs, perhaps.

Developed by CyberConnect2 (Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2), Asura’s Wrath is a collection of 18 short chapters (plus one unlockable bonus) in which the general Asura, betrayed and framed for murdering his emperor, seeks vengeance against his godlike enemies. More an array of hyper-violent tongue-in-cheek anime episodes than a game, this is for players who thought all Metal Gear 4’s playable moments got in the way of the story. Consider the giddy, goofy revenge opera as a boundary-testing experiment that confronts arguments about the medium’s traditional balance of story and controllable gameplay head-on.

A great deal of the “game” comes in the form of quick-time events (QTEs) sprinkled into long cutscenes. Comparisons to classic laserdisc games like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace are vaguely warranted. Unlike in those games, however, you can “fail” some of the QTE prompts without any seeming effect on the narrative progression.

Traditional action gameplay, such as railed shooting segments and third-person brawling, does occur in the six- to eight-hour story. As Asura travels to the moon, brawls with planet-sized foes, and stops off at a peeping-tom-infested hot spring, however, most of the biggest and weirdest moments are only tenuously interactive. This game isn’t interested in mastery of timing and combat combos. It might even argue that, since button combos are all somewhat pre-animated anyway, we might as well just boil “gameplay” down to the barest essential button-presses.

An obvious question might be “Why not release this as episodic digital content?” With some tweaking, that might be a perfect approach, but Asura’s Wrath takes a few episodes to get up to speed. This plays like a tale designed to be experienced in one go. Still, Asura’s glowing weak spot is utterly prosaic: price. At $10 or even $20, this could be approached as a diverting experiment. At $60, it’s an elixir for only the most obsessive fans of anime storytelling and unusual game design.