Boss Rush: Asura’s Wrath Shot for the Moon in its Best Battle

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Boss Rush: Asura’s Wrath Shot for the Moon in its Best Battle

Frequently, at the end of a videogame level, there’s a big dude who really wants to kill you. Boss Rush is a column about the most memorable examples of these, whether they challenged us with tough-as-nails attack patterns, introduced visually unforgettable sequences, or because they delivered monologues that left a mark. Sometimes, we’ll even discuss more abstract examples, like a rhetorical throwdown or a tricky final puzzle or all those damn guitar solos in “Green Grass and High Tides.”

It’s always nice when a work just fully goes for it, leaning so wholly into its own bonkers internal logic that you have little choice but to marvel at its commitment to the bit. Asura’s Wrath, a cult-classic action game from 2012, is a perfect example of this, an escalating spectacle with sequences so grandiose that they still haven’t faded from memory more than a decade later. It delivered larger-than-life struggles by combining interactive action segments, well-choreographed cutscenes, and a sci-fi backdrop inspired by Hindu and Buddhist iconography. And of its many battles, none hit as hard as when our protagonist trades blows with Augus, his older mentor, in a fight that managed to eclipse the rest of this tale’s cosmic scope.

Let’s set the stage a bit: Asura is a perpetually angry cybernetic demigod who is betrayed by the other members of his techno pantheon. They kill him and his wife so they can steal their daughter Mithra, a priestess who is able to efficiently channel the energy source Mantra, which the other demigods believe will allow them to triumph over their eternal foe, the Gohma. But of course, even death isn’t enough to quell Asura’s rage, and after a 12,000-year sleep, he awakens to free his daughter. Along the way, he battles and kills his old allies, culminating in a fight with his former teacher, Augus, who is arguably the strongest of the Seven Deities.

Augus is a caricature of hypermasculinity who embodies the Deadly Sin of Greed (yes, I know I said this story is based on Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, but the Deadly Sins are here too), and of all the earthly pleasures, the one he enjoys most is combat. After Asura reminisces with his old master in a misguided scene in a hot spring, the two finally cross fists.

Aside from the heavy dosages of techno-religiosity, you’ll be forgiven if some of the previous details sound a little overly familiar, particularly the fridge-stuffing—after all, revenge stories about angry men with murdered wives and/or kidnapped daughters aren’t exactly hard to find. However, what is novel is how far Asura’s Wrath’s presentation goes in selling each of these beats. Instead of delivering events through the lens of a traditional action game, this is an interactive movie that punctuates its frenzied fight sequences with just enough player input to drive home these absurd turns. The Asura and Augus fight is just one example of how the game successfully melds these mediums.

Asura's Wrath Augus Boss Fight

As we cut to Chapter 11, we see Earth from space, the camera slowly panning out to reveal these two have somehow ended up on the surface of the Moon. It sets the stage for a battle so large we literally had to leave our planet, lest it be destroyed in the resulting struggle. The shot continues to widen, and just before Asura and Augus enter the frame, the first strings from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 begin to play. The piece serenades the rest of the fight, creating an incredible contrast between this esteemed, sweeping work of classical music and these buff anime robot men beating the absolute crap out of each other. And despite this melding of supposed “high” and “low” art, or whatever, these two halves complement each other beautifully, the grandeur of the New World Symphony matching and elevating the battle shonen intensity of the brawl.

As these former allies trade blows, the game cycles through each of its modes as interactivity is gradually introduced: we go from the previously described cutscene, to quick time events where Asura wallops his old mentor, and then finally fully playable action sequence. Here, you have to doge Augus’ strikes and chain together combos as you build up your burst gauge to kick off the next leg of the fight. While the game’s combat isn’t particularly complicated, it is quite flashy, with abundant hit stop, crunchy sound effects, and air juggling shenanigans that don’t look too different from the cutscenes if played well. The one-on-one nature of this specific struggle makes it feel even more like a cinematic duel, and after filling up your meter, things smoothly transition into another volley of quick time events (QTEs).

While QTEs, sequences where the player reacts to on-screen button prompts, are frequently maligned as gimmicky and uninteresting, Asura’s Wrath shows that as long as they correspond with the coolest things you’ve ever seen, you can very much get away with them. As these two duke it out at close range, the button prompts from the quick time events neatly align up with the actions of the characters as you cue up strikes like a rhythm game, twist the stick to contort Asura’s torso for uppercuts, and mash in time with an extended flurry-of-punches (that are a JoJo reference), making it feel as if you’re orchestrating the violence. On some level, this is essentially how every implementation of QTEs is supposed to work, but the differentiating factor is execution. The feedback here is tangible, from how each strike carries a hefty impact to the sound of these blows landing.

Asura's Wrath Augus Boss Fight

Once the pair have punched each other for a good while, things somehow get even more serious. Augus commends his pupil for making it thus far and rewards him with a rare sight: his swordplay. The demigod unsheathes his blade, which he’s apparently only ever used against one other opponent, Deus, the lord of the gods. He winds up this katana and brings it down, but you catch it with all six of Asura’s arms (by using both joysticks) and redirect it, the slash so powerful that it slices through the surface of the Moon as its two halves shift in opposite directions like tectonic plates. It’s so profoundly dumb and cool at the same time.

Then it’s in action game mode again, and you’re jumping over slashes as Augus’ sword extends to Sephiroth-esque extremes. This sequence allows you to perform one of the coolest QTEs in the game, where you catch his blade a second time and keep it pinned between two of Asura’s palms as he runs full speed at his foe before pummeling him with three of his fists, the camera zooming in as each punch connects. While plenty of games want to emulate other visual mediums, few cut to the core of their inspiration so well, and these ridiculous scenarios deliver action anime flair through striking shots and editing.

And just as it seems Asura may have the upper hand, things escalate again, because of course they do. We’re back in cutscene mode. Augus stabs at our hero, who catches the tip of the blade. But then, even if you nail the QTEs, the sword extends and keeps going, seemingly forever. Eventually, Asura is pushed back, and then he’s off his feet as he’s launched into outer space, still clutching the tip to avoid impalement. The shot changes, showing that the blade and Asura are pointed at Earth, making it clear that Augus intends to shish kebab the protagonist through the nearest terrestrial body. We’re treated to a truly ridiculous visual as Asura is propelled hundreds of thousands of miles through the void by a sword the length of a planet as Dvořák’s orchestra builds until Asura is burning up in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Augus talks smack about how might makes right and how he and Asura’s violence makes them the same. You know, classic villain stuff.

Then, Asura collides with the planet. His grip finally breaks, and the weapon stabs into his body, frictionlessly carving through him and the Earth’s crust like butter. We get a shot so wide that it frames the entire planet as the katana pierces one side and, a brief beat later, emerges from the other, molten lava shooting into space as if from an open wound. This guy just stabbed through more than 15,000 miles of rock as if it were nothing, with Asura in between.

It is very silly, but entirely sold by the execution, as the orchestra complements the mythic scale of what we’re seeing. The blade grinds through Asura’s metallic frame, and it seems like it may be curtains for our hero. But as Augus is about to land the killing blow, he asks his pupil why he thinks the two are so different, coaxing out that last bit of rage from our protagonist. As an image of Asura’s daughter fills the screen, he (angrily) retorts, “… You wouldn’t understand, even if I send you to Naraka.” While there are so damn many videogames about dads that are sad, angry, or both, what makes this one work is how it heightens these sentiments to such extremes that it takes on the shape of a classic epic instead of an overly self-serious prestige drama.

As Augus is about to end the fight, we get the first quick time event in a minute, a twisting action that results in Asura cocking back his last remaining arm and letting loose a punch that shatters this several thousand-mile-long sword. Asura catches the shattered blade in his mouth, spins, and slashes through the belly of his old master. As the warlord falls, he declares again that might makes right, acquiescing that his apprentice’s goal of rescuing his daughter must be one worth pursuing. Like a true battle freak, he goes out smiling.

Asura’s duel against Augus is an excellent shorthand for what makes this game so memorable: its aesthetics elevate these quick time events to herculean extremes, the soundtrack matches this massive scope, combat is simple but works as a solid bridge between the big moments, and most of all, its outrageous set pieces convey the rage of a guy willing to rewrite the rules of the universe to reunite with his daughter. There’s spectacle, and then there’s Asura’s Wrath.

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

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