Asura’s Wrath: Style over Substance and is that a Bad Thing?

Asura’s Wrath comes out on Tuesday and it has been getting its first set of reviews. The reviews have been raving over the stylistic insanity found in the game, but have been far more critical on the actual amount of gameplay found within the game. With 19 chapters and only a handful of minutes of actual gameplay in each chapter, Asura’s Wrath does indeed come up light in this regard. If you’ve read my blog, you’d know that I stand by the fact that in video games, gameplay is king. However, does the lack of gameplay truly cripple Asura’s Wrath or any other game, which focuses more on style than substance? Many developers have set out to tell a story, or have very quirky ideas on gameplay and don’t connect these ideas well to the main game itself. Should games like these be immediately thrown out as “not being proper games”? Should we broaden the definition of games to encompass more interactive novel style games, or should we stay steadfast in the belief that a game without gameplay is no game at all? This is the question at hand today, and I will take you, internet, through a variety of games who favoured style over substance.

Style over substance? No way!

When discussing games which favour style over substance there is no better example in my head than No More Heroes. Created by famed escaped mental patient-turned video game developer Suda 51, No More Heroes was a game that exuded a quirky style and humour, which made it a cult hit. Combining lightsabers, wrestling, assassins, and the weirdest rogues gallery since Bob Kane spent three weeks on an acid bender, No More Heroes was not shy of insane ideas. However, in execution, No More Heroes fell very flat in terms of gameplay. Most of the game was taken up by small side job minigames, which quickly became boring. The combat itself, while still extremely quirky, was stilted and weak, which was made especially apparent during the otherwise epic boss fights. No More Heroes is a game, whose developer cared more about quirky details than he did about making a workable combat system, and fans love him for it. Suda 51’s approach to style over substance works at its very best in titles such as No More Heroes, independent, cult titles, which will attract fans not because of gameplay, but because of the insanity surrounding it.

I wonder if Darth Vader would be as loved today if he had to jerk off his lightsaber to power it.

Next lets look at a game, which preferred style over substance in a very different way than No More Heroes: Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain, like its predecessor, Indigo Prophecy, is a game totally based on quick-time-events. Every part of the gameplay was designed around these QTEs from opening a car door, to combat. Heavy Rain is a game built entirely for its story and the permanence of the player’s actions. In other words, it takes itself way too seriously. Because of the general lack of any actual gameplay, Heavy Rain is not a game that a player will likely replay many times; however, it balances this shortcoming, by delivering a very unique and memorable experience the first time through. There is a reason that Heavy Rain enjoys an 87 on Metacritic and that it has such a rabid fanbase. A game, which can deliver an experience like no other in six hours can sometimes be more valuable than a game, which allows for an endless multiplayer gameplay experience.

I think you know what to do.

Next I’m going to briefly discuss a genre of games, which frequently gets accused of being devoid of gameplay: turn-based JRPGs. I don’t want to dwell too much here, as it is an ancillary point and is based on generalizations, but many gamers accuse traditional JRPGs as being nothing more than button mashing affairs, whose story takes total precedence over gameplay. This is generally an untrue statement. Most JRPGs allow a level of customization, and combat often involves a level of strategic choice based on enemy weakness, class choices, and so forth. JRPGs rarely limit grinding and many of them are on the easy side so a powergamer would have more of a button mashing affair than in the average WRPG. While story has taken precedence in JRPGs since Final Fantasy IV made such a splash on the Super Nintendo, very few JRPGs will reduce gameplay to the extent that the accusation of being an interactive movie is valid.

Just because it isn’t an interactive movie doesn’t mean that it’s any good.

This of course leads quite nicely to the biggest accusation of style over substance: that the game is nothing more than an interactive movie. I can think of two good examples of games largely accused of this. Firstly there is Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (I have no idea why I though the full title was important to put here). Metal Gear Solid 4, is the most recent console game for the Metal Gear Solid series and the latest game chronologically. It was created to bring Solid Snake’s story to full conclusion and tie up the countless loose ends inherent in the insane story telling of the Metal Gear Solid series. Because of this, Metal Gear Solid 4 was extremely light on gameplay segments, and that is saying something considering that the Metal Gear Solid series is about as cutscene heavy as they come. The developers tried to make up for this by including Metal Gear Online, but it didn’t stop the accusations that people paid $60 for a movie. However, that is exactly what Metal Gear Solid 4 was intended to be. The reason that there are so many rabid fans that support the game was because of the impact of the story and the resolution it brought to the series. Did it make sense? Well, no more than anything else in Metal Gear history, but fans were willing to overlook the lack of gameplay, because, like Heavy Rain, the experience of the game mattered more to them than the amount of gameplay segments.

One of the greatest final boss battles of all time is far more memorable than another sneaking segment.

The second example I had thought of concerning interactive movies was the Xenosaga trilogy. The Xenosaga series was originally meant to include six games and the fourth or fifth one, if I recall correctly, was to essentially be a remake of the famed Xenogears. To say that the series had a grand scope is an understatement. Xenosaga’s scope makes Mass Effect look like Pac-Man. The problem was that the developers had to rely on an immense amount of cutscenes and supplementary materials in order to properly flesh out their space epic. This led to the same problem seen in Metal Gear Solid 4 that a huge game really only consists of a handful of gameplay segments. Unlike Metal Gear Solid 4, the Xenosaga series never reach mainstream popularity, and died in relatively obscure cult status. However, that isn’t to say that it didn’t have its adherents. Xenosaga took a very different approach towards games, and one, which is generally looked down upon. It created an amazingly huge universe, filled with a vast array of characters, and the game made sure that you knew just how big it was. Was it a failure? Probably, yes, but it was a spectacular failure.

Being so anime-based definitely didn’t help its mainstream appeal in the west.

Finally we get to look back at Asura’s Wrath. What we know is that it will come up very short in terms of actual gameplay, but it will be a game unlike any other. Whether this makes it a total waste of money completely depends on what the purchaser is looking for in a game. For someone, who wants endless hours of enjoyment, Asura’s Wrath is not a good purchase, but for someone looking for a unique gaming experience with the same quirky style as seen in games such as No More Heroes, Asura’s Wrath may be worth looking into. A frantic mishmash of random gameplay styles and a crazy anime-inspired story may be exactly what some people want in a generation largely populated by realistic shooters, and I would bet money that there will be some very vocal fans for this game when it is finally released.

I don’t like memes, but this seems like a really good place for a “Come at me bro”

If games are to be judged most heavily on their gameplay, where do games such as Asura’s Wrath or Heavy Rain fit? Should they be dismissed as games, or has gaming evolved to the point where gameplay shouldn’t always be the primary concern? At this point, nobody can answer these questions. Most games will continue to be built on the principle tenant that gameplay comes before all else; however, as gaming becomes increasingly mainstream, there will be more times where this strict definition of video games comes into question.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


2 thoughts on “Asura’s Wrath: Style over Substance and is that a Bad Thing?

  1. Personally I'm a big fan of 'interactive movie' games because I feel that, if told correctly, they can deliver a bigger emotional impact than a book or movie because they let you control the story instead of passively witnessing it.That said I do wish they would find a way to subjectively lower the price of these kinds of games, since they usually don't have enough content to warrant a 60 dollar price tag, and most have little to no replay value.

  2. There is definitely a place for interactive movie type games. The question is whether or not they should be judged by the same standard as regular games. It's a tricky question. As you've said, price and replay value tend to make these games less attractive on the outset, and, for the most part, lack of gameplay does not appeal to the vast majority of gamers. On the bright side, gaming has evolved in such a way that niche, and independent markets do exist for strange, and novel games such as Asura's Wrath.

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