Asura’s Wrath is cathartic. One moment, you feel like the most powerful being in the universe. The next, smaller than an ant in a hurricane about to get crushed. Then you come back stronger than ever, overcoming the odds to gain your vengeance.
Released in 2012 and published by Capcom, it’s a uniquely blistering experience bolstered by visuals that are gritty in their bloody canvas. Think God of War as an over-the-top anime, and you’re halfway there.
At its heart, Asura’s Wrath is about revenge. Asura’s wife has been fatally wounded, his daughter has been kidnapped, and he’s been blamed for the death of the Emperor. The demigods have made a huge mistake in pissing off the most hot-tempered of the Eight Guardian Generals. His vengeance is like a black hole devouring a planet, or in this case, the demigods. In one of the earliest battle, Asura takes on Wyzen and the epic battle takes place over three stages.
The first two comprise of hand-to-hand combat and a giant mode with projectiles racing against each other in a mad dash. The third stage made my jaw drop, which was a common occurrence in Wrath. Wyzen grows larger than the planet and his attack makes Kratos’s gargantuan struggle against all the gods seem miniscule in comparison. Wyzen’s finger alone is the size of a continent and it begins to burn up as it enters the atmosphere. “Asura, the traitor!” Wyzen roars. “Asura, the destructor. You do not belong in this world!”
When the finger comes down to crush Asura, I was sure he’d be flattened into a flesh souffle. But that’s when he has a flashback to all the wrongs he suffered, memories as rage fuel. He starts punching Wyzen’s massive finger until Asura’s own arms disintegrate from the impact. That won’t stop him. With only one arm left, he strikes his death burst special move, causing Wyzen to start cracking apart. The impossible becomes possible as Wyzen’s fiery death results in a supernova and he screams in shock that Asura has triumphed.
But the victory is short lived, showing again the quickly changing vicissitudes Asura faces. He now has to duel against another demigod, Yasha, who makes mostly mincemeat out of his severely injured foe. Asura can only fight with his legs and his mouth. Predictably, he should stand no chance. But his headbutt to Yasha’s mask is one of the most satisfying acts of defiance before he gets sent back to Hell AKA Naraka via painful slash that ends his life for another five-hundred years.
This cycle repeats throughout the game, as when you fight Asura’s old master or when you single-handedly destroy a whole fleet of battleships like they were made of Legos. Asura’s Wrath feels at times like the game director is a conductor tugging on the player’s emotional chords, inflicting terrible wrongs on Asura, only to have him come back and annihilate the perpetrator.
The developers at Capcom wanted to channel the wrathful aspects of popular anime like Dragonball and Naruto as it’s a “human emotion that everyone feels—it’s not rooted to culture.” And that emotion gets stirred as the deities engage in personal politics, rivalries, and exploitation that feel all too human. Asura’s Wrath takes elements from Hinduism and Buddhism to wage a war against all things divinely unfair, thematically reminiscent of classics like Paradise Lost or Journey to the West. Whereas in the latter, the theme is about redemption and finding nirvana, the end goal in Asura’s Wrath is total destruction of all your foes. Never had anger seemed like such a virtue.
Part of Asura Wrath’s genius is that it’s never conflicted about its identity as the game embraces pure unadulterated anger, making it the only just response in an unjust world (no “two faces” about it). But there are some quibbles with the game itself, the biggest being the true ending required a DLC. I do also wish the controls had more impact than merely changing the score. Many parts felt more like I was an observer rather than an active participant. Still, it wasn’t just any observer, but one in the throes of the exhilarating action, feeling every blow, grunt, and global blast. Asura’s Wrath is a ride fueled by a mythology mixing science fiction, guns, Eastern religion, and a whole lot of rage.
My favorite part has to be the way you can deal with enemy monologues. Every villain talks way too much, explaining their overwrought plans while laughing deviously in tropish fashion. Asura’s Wrath gives players the option of shutting them up with his fists and punching their pompous pontifications straight down their throat.
It feels great.
The game also mixes the experience up when it lets you play segments as one of your enemies, Yasha. Yasha is agile, more sleek in his combat. Whereas Asura relies on his brute strength, Yasha elegantly slashes his foes to pieces. This sleek race across the Karma Fortress while destroying Olga’s futile attempt to stop you from preventing her using Brahmastra is a wicked rail fight that leaves you feeling conflicted loyalties to the man who killed the hero just a few episodes ago.
I loved the episodic-styled opening of the game, the middle bumper, even the “to be continued” sign with a preview at the end. It was like I was playing an anime over three seasons and eighteen episodes, totally invested, taking on the world, wrathfully enjoying every moment. Admittedly, there are times I’d rather sit back and watch a great new anime without having to smash my controls with repeated button presses. But Asura’s Wrath represents a good hybrid between a passive and interactive experience. It’s one of those underrated classics that deserves a playthrough, especially if you’re feeling angry and have a lot of steam to release.
*Parts of this were adapted from a list originally appearing on Kotaku’s Reader-run community, TAY