The final four episodes of Asura’s Wrath take all of the game's crazy spectacle and mix it with some shockingly thoughtful themes.
Asura’s Wrath is a simple game that tells a simple revenge story. It doesn’t do anything new or interesting with this basic premise. This story progresses as you expect with the characters that you expect taking on the roles that you expect. There are no surprises... until the cliffhanger ending. Leaving aside the ethical issue of purposely cutting off the end of the game and selling it as DLC, this DLC is worth the price or at least a gander on YouTube (which is what I did) because the final four episodes take the crazy spectacle of Asura’s Wrath and mix it with some shockingly thoughtful themes.
It’s interesting to watch this DLC so soon after seeing Prometheus, since both that film and this game deal with similar themes in a similar manner. The biggest criticism of the movie is that it prioritizes themes above character and plot. Its supporters mostly agree but go on to say that themes and the exploration of those themes are effective enough to warrant seeing it -- despite the plot and character problems. All of this could also be used to describe Asura’s Wrath.
The game begins with Asura, a demigod who protects the planet from the monstrous Ghoma, being betrayed by his fellow demigods. He’s killed, but he comes back to life and seeks revenge on those who wronged him. This story has been told before. However, when the DLC begins we learn that all of the conflicts in the game -- the war between the Ghoma and the demigods and the internal war between Asura and the demigods -- were manufactured by one supporting character. This supporting character reveals himself to be “The True God” and explains that he gave the demigods their power and unleashed the Ghoma upon the world as a test: Whoever killed the source of the Ghoma would be deemed worthy of taking up the mantle as divine ruler of this world.
Like Prometheus, Asura’s Wrath uses theological questions as the basis for a standard genre story (that genre would be horror and action, respectively). In the game, the theological elements exist mainly to justify the over-the-top supernatural fight scenes, but the implications for the common man are thought provoking. The idea is that those without power are pointless in the divine scheme of things, that the entirety of human history is just a trial for eight blessed individuals. In other words, we’re all essentially NPCs in someone else’s game.
This nihilism is reinforced by the actions of the True God. He’s indifferent to everything that has happened previously. He just wants to officially end the trial by making Asura accept this new role as ruler. Asura doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He has completed the trial, and now he has to take the next step. This is why he was created and anything that he wants besides that purpose is irrelevant. The True God is completely unsympathetic to the plight of his creations, both human and demigod.
The sudden introduction of such a twist and character should be considered bad writing. It really is an unearned twist, but it works in Asura’s Wrath because the game realizes that this twist comes out of nowhere. The True God says, “I praise you,” to Asura multiple times as if this phrase is supposed to be an incredible compliment -- and from his point of view it is: God offering his praise to his creation. But Asura always rejects this praise -- usually violently --because from his point of view, which is also the player’s point of view, it is meaningless praise from a stranger who has just shown up out of nowhere. This moment raises an interesting theological question. Does praise from God matter if you don’t know who he is? In this case, the True God’s indifference to man is mirrored by Asura’s indifference to the True God.
Naturally Asura ends up fighting the this God, and at this point, the scale of the game becomes so big that it is almost unbelievable unless you see it for yourself. These visuals sell the stakes of the battle. When flying towards God’s big Buddha base in space (not making this up), you see galaxies in the background instead of stars, a subtle change that implies that your battle has ramifications for more than just your world. God then starts throwing planets at you, reaffirming his indifference towards the worlds that he (possibly) created.
The penultimate stage is an ethereal plain of water that stretches out forever under a blue sky. It looks like a heavenly place. However, when God enters his final transformation (again, not making this up), the moment that this new form touches the water everything turns grey and white, like the colors of the world have been inverted, like everything has been wiped from existence. It’s an element of spectacle, but that grand spectacle is backed up by the recently introduced grand themes.
For the most part, Asura’s Wrath is a fun and weird game but nothing spectacular. The epilogue DLC feel like a very different game as it very quickly takes on grand narrative ambitions and backs it up with a sense of scale that gives new meaning to the word “universal”. It proves that even the wildest spectacle doesn’t have to be stupid.