Rarely in games do you experience such a dramatic turnaround. A couple of levels, or episodes as they're known, into Capcom and CyberConnect2's Asura's Wrath, and things are not looking good at all. "What is this nonsense?" I uttered to myself with a look of contempt and mild disgust on my face. Cutscenes, QTEs and some on-rails shooting, with endless talking about absolutely nothing and a gameplay-to-bollocks ratio of approximately 1:infinity.
Then, for some reason - call it inspiration, call it despair - I glanced at the options screen to see if the original Japanese language track was available. It was! Suddenly, this cloying Final Fantasy vomit-fest now sounded like a Kurosawa flick and looked increasingly like an episode of Dragon Ball Z animated with the thick black edges of Street Fighter IV. Fast forward 8 or so hours, and I've ended up delighted. So what the hell happened?
Understand one thing: Asura's Wrath is a game like no other. In many ways it's barely a game at all. Cyber Connect 2 has built an interactive anime, one where huge sections are literally unplayable and others only ask for the bare minimum of QTE inputs. You play as Asura, an extraordinarily angry demigod plucked from the footnotes of Hindu texts and filtered through a touch of Shinto, a smattering of Buddhism and a great dollop of modern day Japanese crazy. Early on in this bonkers tale of revenge and regret, he's banished from the story's equivalent of heaven, his wife is killed and his daughter captured. When he wakes up from his fall (he's literally cast out), understandably he's a little peeved. So, naturally, it's time to find the seven demigods who betrayed him and have stern (violent) words with them. It just so happens that 12,000 years have passed in the meantime.
The other thing to understand about Asura's Wrath is that it's absolutely, unequivocally insane. This is a game where the first boss is at least twice the size of the planet. It's a game where you fight a Vega-cum-cowboy in the desert while you happen to have no arms, to the sounds of a Sergio Leone-alike rock remix. Later, you have to get drunk on Sake while the Hovis music plays in the background. If ever a game wasn't a title designed by focus groups and marketing men...
It takes a couple of hours to uncover it, but there's actually a game hiding in here too, and it's a pretty good one. So good, in fact, that all that non-gamey stuff starts to become a hell of a lot more fun once it pops up. When you're not having your eyeballs torn out by some of the most incredible scenes of unfathomable madness ever put on screen, chances are you'll be smacking seven shades of Shinto out of the Gohma, the red-tinged ancient enemy of the people of Gaea. They range from grumpy gorillas to angry elephants, with rhinos, giant turtles and some truly enormous stuff I won't dare spoil in between. Hitting them is easy enough - Asura's pretty good at hitting things, if you hadn't already guessed - with one button delivering a heavy strike with a cooldown timer. There's also a dodge and a lock-on, and you can counter when on-screen prompts demand it.
Every one of these battles, or indeed any scrap in Asura's Wrath, have a singular goal - getting old spiky head so angry that he flips out and unleashes galaxy-rippling levels of violence on anyone who dares glance in his direction. There's a red bar at the top of the screen, and the more damage you inflict, the quicker it fills up. Max it out, and a flaming right trigger and the word BURST pop-up on screen . Tug that sucker like you mean it and await the colossal asswhoopin' that always follows.