Today’s game is Asura’s Wrath. “Asura” is, in this adventure, not a collection of demigods (though demigods are certainly involved), but one individual dude. Fair enough. Capcom is allowed to do whatever they want with religious beliefs, because being responsible for Street Fighter offers you a certain level of latitude. And there are enough guys named “Angel” in fiction anyway, right? I can name like three vampires off the top of my head. But I can only name one other Asura, and it’s this queen:
The last time I saw an “Asura”, she was a lady. And that got me thinking: why the hell aren’t women allowed to go crazy?
Asura’s Wrath is, for all the mythical trappings and anime-tastic explosions, little more than a “dad game”. Asura is a (super powered, maybe a robot?) general, but after a long day of battling creepy shadow monsters, he always comes home to his wife and daughter. They bring him joy, though Asura has concerns about his daughter’s divine power and eventual future as a high priestess. These concerns turn out to be well-founded when Asura’s fellow generals revolt, frame Asura for murder, kill his wife (in another, separate homicide), and kidnap his daughter. This pisses Asura right off, and leads to a quest that lasts 12,500 years (or roughly eight active hours), and sees Asura destroying entire armies and endangering the world to sate his rage. But don’t worry! It’s all justified, because Asura is a man, and his precious daughter has been kidnapped, so any damage he does to himself and others is wholly warranted. He’s a father, people! You get it!
And, frankly, we see this kind of thing all the time. It was taken to puppy-dad extremes in John Wick, but the videogame universe features a number of angry dads. From Kratos (reminder: he was a dad before the first game even started) to Mayor Mike Haggar, there are many fathers in gaming that absolutely flip the table over with righteous fury the moment their child is endangered and/or murdered. And, as ever, that’s allowed, right? Even if we’re not all parents, we all understand losing someone or something you care about. That’s universal! And, since we’ve decided to make videogame graphics startlingly realistic, it only makes sense that more and more games would find “legitimate” reasons to justify visiting violence upon worlds worth of people. They can’t all be zombie games. Every once in a while, you have to honorably put down an entire city’s population for a level, and what better reason than “they took my precious daughter”. I’m pretty sure Booker threatened entire realities with that excuse.
But if this trope is so justified by parenthood, why is it always dads? Why can’t moms flip their shit, too?
Obviously (and sadly), the first explanation is that videogames are assumed to be for almost exclusively men, and thus fathers are more featured than mothers. Even when rampages don’t happen, there are any number of dad games out there where daddy dearest must protect dear daughter from dangers. And, if we’re already assuming boys play videogames more than girls, then we’re also including the added benefit of your daughter character could be a sex object to your heteronormative younger set of gamers. Teenagers are certainly okay with having sex with sexy teenagers, but, flip the genders, and the boys are left to have sex with… their mom? No! Nobody wants that! (Sit down, Freud.) Sex sells, appealing to straight men sells, and appealing to even an imaginary paternal instinct sells. Think about how many reviews will identify your dad game as mature if you’re rescuing a daughter instead of a princess! This is a real world problem!
But, if we’re just pandering to clichés, why can’t we indulge in other clichés? For better or worse (almost entirely worse), there are any number of cants regarding “crazy” women. The “crazy ex-girlfriend” or “crazy bitch” tropes are so pervasive they’ve inspired entire songs and television series (that include songs); but consider the trope of the “unstoppable” mother. “My baby is in danger, and I will do anything to protect them!” is the rallying cry of many stories about mothers lifting cars or pushing buses out of the way. And you know who else does that? The Incredible Hulk. But even when you look to the comics, you’ll find that The Hulk is The Friggen’ Hulk, while his female counterpart, She-Hulk, is a character defined by the fact that she doesn’t experience Hulk’s heightened emotions every time she steps on a Lego. We have multiple insulting clichés regarding women going crazy, but only a handful of stories where “crazy women” use that power to do something heroic. We can hear about Karen wrecking a Starbucks over a mislabeled latte, but we can’t find a videogame where that same rage is focused on non-barista based monsters?
But we all know where we do see women in videogames. Asura’s Wrath, could you show us your woman?
Olga is the only woman in Asura’s Wrath. Excuse me, that’s a bit of an error. There are other women in Asura’s Wrath. There’s Asura’s wife, who is killed so Asura (and his brother-in-law) can experience man pain. There’s Asura’s daughter, who we’re told is super-powerful, but is only ever an object that Asura must rescue. And there’s Unnamed Villager Girl (who marginally has a name if you pay attention to developer interviews and gibberish cutscenes), who exists to remind Asura of his daughter, and then die, thus causing further man pain. Which neatly brings us back to Olga, what with Olga killing Unnamed Villager Girl an’ all…
So Olga is the only woman in the cast that is not simply there to make Asura feel bad. She is also the only lady on team bad guy. Not coincidentally, she is also supposed to embody the deadly sin of lust. Does she effectively display this during the story? No. At best, she is shown to be wholly dedicated to the (male) leader of the baddies, so maybe she’s at least sleeping with him between scenes? Obviously, “lust” is the kind of thing that is hard to work into a story. It’s not like you could just have some character hanging out in a hot spring with concubines while talking about his sexual conquests…
Or maybe you can do exactly that.
So Olga is the supposed personification of lust, but she’s shown up by a dirty old man that embodies greed. Whatever. She can at least prove herself in combat, though, right? No, that isn’t right, as she’s apparently the one “boss” that Asura never fights. In fact, if she didn’t appear in the “secret ending” coda, you’d be forgiven for assuming the writers literally forgot she existed about 80% through the game. And her final fate after that cameo of a reappearance? She’s the only one of the Seven Deities to not be killed by Asura. She’s there to be a sacrifice on the altar of “boy, this final boss is gonna be really tough”.
But don’t worry! She is eventually reincarnated… as a secretary. One of the other generals is reincarnated as a movie star. I wonder if he ever has to make someone coffee…
A number of videogames have problems with women. A number of videogames feature berserker male characters. Asura’s Wrath is both. Can these problems be fixed? Of course. Was there ever even an attempt to sponge some of the testosterone off Asura’s Wrath? Of course not. The women of the title are forgettable (and Asura’s own daughter could be replaced with a particularly sympathetic set of AA batteries), and not a single one gets to join in the fun. Asura shares the spotlight with another hero for a few chapters, but, guess what? He’s a dude, too. The message of Asura’s Wrath (and many other games) is clear: women aren’t allowed to be raging warriors. They can be moms. They can be daughters. They can be administrative assistants. But they can’t be The Hulk. That isn’t allowed.
That should make a lot of women mad as hell.
And I’d like to play their videogames.
FGC #456 Asura’s Wrath
- System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The general sentiment surrounding Asura’s Wrath was that it was kind of a sales bomb, so I wouldn’t expect a remaster anytime soon.
- Number of players: Two heroes eventually pop out of this story, but only one player at a time.
- 100% Completion: For the sake of pedantry, I want to note that there are plenty of great action women in videogames. Heroines like Bayonetta, Samus Aran, and even Juliet of Lollipop Chainsaw are all great, murderous female protagonists… just they’re not really all that mad. They’re more cool or professional (or occasionally bubbly) than anything. The only berserker lady that immediately seems to fit Asura’s mold is Zero of Drakengard 3, and even that is tempered by Yoko Tarro’s traditional commentary on violence and loss. But thank you to everyone on Twitter who offered suggestions! I’ll get to Darksiders 3 and Ronin soon enough!
- How badly does this game want to be an anime? Very. Very badly. Practically everything in Asura’s Wrath is organized like a 22 minute anime episode, complete with middle of the episode “bumpers” and a cryptic “episode preview” between chapters. It also commits the sin of repeating exactly what happened before and after the commercial break, even though there are no real commercials breaks. That’s just wasting my time, guys!
- Favorite Eight Guardian Generals general: I don’t really like, like, any of the characters in this game… though that may be the point. I’ll take Wyzen, though, as he’s the great big guy that is destined to die/fail early in the story, but at least he has the good sense to turn into a planet-sized deity and attempt to crush the hero with a meteoric finger. He still bombs, but it seemed like a plan that could have come together nicely.
- Favorite incidental weapon: Nunchuks connected together by lightning seems like the kind of thing that should be included in more games. Has that ever been seen in Soulcalibur? Or with the Ninja Turtles? Slam dunk, right there for the taking.
- Horse Armor: Technically, you could claim the “true ending” of Asura’s Wrath is only available through paid-DLC. However, the reality of it is that the DLC is much more akin to a (much smaller) sequel than a “pay-to-play” ending for the real game. Also, given the nature of the game, Youtube is right over there, so there’s really no reason to be upset about Capcom being a bunch of money-grubbing hogs (this time).
- Mind Blowing: Oh, there’s a spider motif recurring through this game because Asura often has six arms, thus giving him an arachnid-esque 8 limbs. Just got that.
- Did you know? You can’t actually pause the game during those fake commercial break moments. Now I’m going to rampage!
- Would I play again: Oh yeah, I barely talked about the gameplay itself. It’s basically paced like a playable movie, with very little “filler”, and absolutely no exploration. Which basically means that, after the visceral feeling of playing the game once “for real”, it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll rewatch it in the gallery player while I’m playing another, more active game.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blazing Dragons starring Cheech Marin! Hey, it’s entry #420 somewhere (no it’s not). Please look forward to it!