If you have already been told about Asura’s Wrath, then there is a very good chance that it will not be exclusively good, or even that it will only be bad. Designed on an unusual model, the game of CyberConnect2 and Capcom, released in 2012 did not manage to make everyone agree, if not on a single point: its grandiose staging. And we’re not going to lie to each other, despite the deluge of positive superlatives on our recent software test, the finding remains the same, despite all its qualities, something is fundamentally wrong.
However, in many respects it seems that we missed out on an exceptional game, a real video game slap like you don’t get much in a gamer’s life. Couple this staging with in-depth gameplay, and you’re bound to get something grand, right? It is in any case to this observation that I arrived recently, by finishing the game a second time, almost seven years after my first game, which had left a slightly unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth. In short, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to think so, a return of Asura’s Wrath would not be refused!
Note: The images you will find in this column were captured by us via the Xbox 360 version of the game, running on an Xbox One S.
CyberConnect2, a separate studio
Its name necessarily speaks to you if you are a fan of Japanese animation, or more generally of manga: CyberConnect2 is the studio behind the series Naruto Ultimate Ninjastarted on PlayStation 2 and having evolved with the Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 era, but also the recent Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and Demon Slayer. A rather solid track record, you will agree, despite a recipe that is starting to go around in circles on the side of its arena fights, a true trademark of its flagship licenses. However, CyberConnect2 is not only that, and fortunately elsewhere.
Indeed, it is with a certain Tail Concerto that the studio, having not yet acquired its “2” began its career in 1999. A title that would speak to few people in the audience, was not unanimous at the time in the press, but obtained despite everything a real cult status over time. It must be said that he enjoys a universe really apart, mixing Steampunk and anthropomorphism. For students at the back of the class, a quick search on the internet will tell you what it is! Faithful to this first license, the studio will take eleven years to offer him a new opus, named Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, also passed relatively unnoticed despite great qualities. Then eleven more to send us Fuga: Melodies of Steelsuccess on all fronts, the commercial repercussions of which are not yet known (but which has every chance of being a minor failure, unfortunately…).
In parallel, CyberConnect2 is developing a long and consistent series of Action RPGs on PlayStation 2: .hack//. A license which, again, is unlikely to speak to you, since it has gone completely unnoticed in the West, where all the episodes have not had my chance to be released elsewhere. Again, the studio does not do things by halves, launching a real cross-media project, with video games on the one hand, and an animated series, novels, manga and playing cards on the other. All in a universe that will not be without evoking you Sword Art Online, imagined later, since the story propels us into an MMO-RPG. While we’re at it, we strongly recommend the recent .hack//GU Last Recoderemastered compilation of three PS2 games and an untold story.
All this to make it clear to you that, no, CyberConnect2 is not only Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm and its sequels. That it’s not all silly and nasty Arena Fighter. From the command set made in Bandai Namco. That the studio is better than that, and above all that it has been able to build unique concepts and universes during its long career, which unfortunately will not all have found their audience, or at least not as quickly as expected. Asura’s Wrathin contrast to Tail Concerto and of .hack//benefited from a rather noisy marketing campaign by us, which surely allowed it to sell better… although the absence of precise figures on the net does not allow us to affirm that it is a success total anyway.
A unique experience
Difficult to locate Asura’s Wrath in a single category, as it flirts with different genres, moreover quite opposed in the collective imagination. For starters, it’s a Beat’em All, in other words an action game that puts you in control of a character facing a plethora of enemies. It also incorporates notions of Shoot’em Up, since several sequences radically change gameplay. In addition, by continuously pressing the X button (at Xbox, round at PlayStation), our hero cements his feet in the ground and begins to shoot in the desired direction. Note that his fights are quite generic, unfortunately, since they only include a key to hit, which does not allow any combo, and therefore induces a redundancy that happens quickly. Too fast.
In addition, we note that all the fights, or almost, follow the same logic. Punch enemies until we fill our Anger Gauge and unleash Asura’s Fury state, which often triggers a battle-ending cutscene. A concept that works well at first, and which has something rather exhilarating it must be admitted, but which ends up again going around in circles. Fortunately, somehow, the app ends quickly, in about seven short hours.
But what it does best, and what it’s best known for, is using QTE, aka contextual actions, during often grandiose cutscenes. But don’t confuse it with a Shen Mue, the two games have nothing to do with their approach to this mechanic. If these same QTEs are found everywhere in the fights, and even outside, they especially hold an unmistakable place in the narration, coming to support the moments of tension as the epic moments, just like the more hollow periods. Although the word is perhaps not very well chosen, as the rhythm of the game is sustained, and above all goes crescendo. The last levels, yet the longest, are real adrenaline rushes.
As for its scenario, it remains very simplistic. We are faced with a classic revenge story, in which our hero is fallen, and will have to face his former comrades to recover what was taken from him: his daughter, Mithra. That said, it is indeed in its staging thatAsura’s Wrath excels and impresses. Very close to the interactive anime in the end, since offering fewer pure gameplay phases than cutscenes interspersed with QTEs, it competes with good ideas and references that involve the player. How not to notice the tribute to narutoor to Dragon Ball Zbehind the hatred that permeates the protagonist and will make his power grow as we progress in the adventure and we kill the generals of the enemy army.
What may have bothered many people at the time of its release was this profusion of QTE. Many have speculated on the boundary between the video game and the cinematic experience. Asura’s Wrath is a good subject of study at this level. He raises a lot of questions, and finally brings a fairly obvious answer to his detractors: we take pleasure in browsing his short adventure. An intense, evolving pleasure, provided you let yourself be carried away by its minimalist story and its very Japanese staging. It is obvious that, for this to work, you must not be resistant to Japanese animation, or more generally to manga. Especially since the polished artistic direction of the software, giving it a sublime and timeless visual aspect, does not hide its inspirations. A bit like the one, just as penciled, very good afro samurai.
We have seen it, Asura’s Wrath cannot aspire to be considered a great Beat’em All, since its gameplay in combat is too limited, although the visual feedback of each blow makes them quite enjoyable. His Shoot’em Up sequences are too few, too short, and not deep enough in general to really weigh in the balance. And it is true that the interactive cutscenes are not very original on paper. Still, mixing the three was pretty daring. The melting pot of genres, as in a Shadow of the Damned, or more generally Suda games for that matter, offers a nice variety of situations. And if he ultimately excels in nothing other than his staging, Asura’s Wrath still manages to score lastingly. And that is already a big success in itself!
Why a return, and in what form?
With its catchy universe and its timeless artistic direction, the title laid the foundations of an experience that it would have been easy to pursue through new opuses. Besides, it was probably what was planned, if we believe the “real” ending to unlock, which tells us that Asura’s adventures are far from over. But it goes without saying that Capcom and CyberConnect2 had to change their minds when they saw the rather cold, although generally good, critical feedback from all over the globe. No need to hope for the announcement of a sequel, especially since the developer is far too busy working with Bandai Namco, which regularly entrusts him with anime adaptations. Once again, this column will therefore be an opportunity to dream a little…
Thus, if it were possible to bring back Asura’s Wrath, we would first of all like it to be a remake or a reboot, which would retain the episodic structure that goes so well with the original. Adding to this interactive animated aspect that he would do well to assume in turn! We would also like his staging to go even further, with ever more violent outbursts of power, and for the character design to be even more caricatural. It would also be necessary that the lore is revealed a little more, that we learn about the generals that we are brought to fight, and that we understand a little better this particular universe. Because it must be said, the original title completely overlooks this aspect. Why not embark on a cross-media experience, as for .hack//…well, let’s not get too carried away.
But most importantly, obviously, the gameplay needs to deepen. A single key to attack is too little! Add real aerial combos on top of the market, just to get closer to what a Devil May Cry. In short, dynamism and a renewal of attacks sufficient to have fun without seeing the redundancy appearing the tip of his nose. Then, it would be interesting to keep the notation system at the end of the chapters. But making it something a little more interesting would not be refused there again. That these points allow us to buy a new playable character for a possible New Game +, for example! Or that it allows us to unlock new acts, as is currently the case, with a fairly high rating on a certain number of levels.
Finally, if Asura’s Wrath had to come back in the form of a remake or a reboot, we would like it to go even further. That he doesn’t hesitate to play with the QTEs, since it works well in the original. May it continue to make its protagonists howl with rage. That it offers itself an even more epic soundtrack, even more enormous dimensions for its fights, and perhaps a slightly more consistent lifespan too. Because it is true that seven short hours is not much…