Gamasutra put up an article by Vincent Smith that really digs into the problems with modern day boss battles, and hopefully some solutions. Check it out, its a good read.
Asura’s Wrath is an interesting game, but I feel like I have played it before. I am going to go ahead an mention that there will be spoilers for both God of War and Asura’s Wrath ahead, so read at your own risk.
I am going to describe to you one of the games above and I want you to tell me which one I am talking about.
A general is betrayed by those whom he followed, and his family is killed in the process. He will stop at nothing to kill those responsible in the hopes of sating the anger and rage within…At the end of his journey, he reaches the one responsible and takes his revenge. He finds his rage still boiling, and finds himself at the precipice of an even greater mystery/conspiracy.
Any guesses? If you said “both” you are correct! Congratulations! You have once again proven that originality is dead, and you are a cynic. Go drink yourself into an elitist stupor!
Nonetheless, though the similarities in the games are astounding, it is the smaller details that define the line that separates great games from the average. Kratos, throughout the God of War series, has never been seen as a “likeable” character. This is mainly because he maims, kills, and/or dismembers anything that breathes if they get in his way. He is a violent creature, created out of the ashes of those fallen before him, and there is nothing that can stand in the way of his brutal determination. Yet, there is something about him that makes the player sympathize with his actions. Despite all the murdering, the killing, and rage; players find a way in their hearts to relate to Kratos’ struggles.
This is mainly due to the fact that Kratos’ motivation, the unintended death of his family, is constantly and consistently mentioned in the narrative. There is not a single character beat that doesn’t remind the player of why Kratos is doing what he is doing, and how he may even be justified to do so. Even within the later games in the series, II and III, the shadow of this initial incident still lingers. Kratos fights for vengeance over the family he had lost and, as the player experiences this over and over again, the narrative forces the player to come to grips the actions of his avatar in the game world, and in doing so creates and emotional bond, or at least one of simple understanding of one’s motivations.
On the flip side of this same coin is our new hero, Asura. Like Kratos, he seeks revenge for the family he has lost, in this case his dead wife and kidnapped daughter, and is intent on destroying all who get in his way. Yet, by the end of his tale, the emotional resonance that the game was trying to convey was non-existent. That’s not for the game’s lack of trying. Asura calls out his daughter’s name multiple times throughout, usually as he is beating the face in of one of his opponents, but it comes off as forced; as if it is trying to remind the player that your avatar is not a mindless maniac; despite the fact he is obviously shown to be one. This wouldn’t have necessarily been an issue had it not been for the fact that you only see Asura’s home life once in the entire game. In that one scene you are supposed to form an instant bond, so that when Asura goes off the rails, you feel that it is justified.
And that’s the issue with Asura’s Wrath; it doesn’t take the time to develop the relationship enough for it to matter. In God of War, the player does not see much, if any at all, of Kratos’ home life, but it is constantly beat into the players’ heads that that is his driving force. His dialogue conveys his pain for the part he played in who affair, and more importantly his rage at those responsible for setting the whole thing in motion. Asura’s wife being killed is simply a pretext for him to kick the living hell out of the people he didn’t like to begin with, and that should have been expected. In the concept art of the game, the player finds out that all of the generals in the game are empowered by one of the seven deadly sins, and Asura’s evil of choice is in the game title.
Ironically, the game does succeed at creating an emotional connection with the player, but not where it matters. At this point, anyone who has played the demo has enjoyed the over the top fight that takes place on the moon with Asura’s mentor and fellow betrayer, Augus. The fight is over the top and borderlines on ridiculous, but within the context of the full game the fight carries an unexpected amount of emotional weight. In the “episode” previous, no actual fighting takes place. It is simply a conversation between Augus and Asura at a hot spring as they drink tea. It is there only as a character beat; to add context to what is about to happen, and so when you finally kill Augus, the player feels something. If they had put this much effort into building up the emotion the entire game, the end result would have been much different.
Truth be told, Asura’s Wrath is not a bad game. Actually, it is quite fun and a blast to play through. It’s less Straw Dogs and more Transformers, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Asura may not be Kratos, but his journey is worth playing, if only for its interesting take on episodic game play and fantastic blending of Budhist, Hindu, and Steampunk imagery. Check the game out; the worst that could happen is that you’d get angry.