I do not want to do a game review, but I would like to express my commendation of Asura’s Wrath for its artistic, narrative and entertainment merit, even if it does not really qualify to be a “game”. In my opinion, Asura’s Wrath has been largely under-appreciated because gamers were expecting Asura’s Wrath to be a combat action game instead of appreciating it to be an innovative attempt at story telling. Kudos to the game developers for attempting this risky and innovative “game”.
Separately, I understand Asura’s Wrath naturally lends itself to comparisons with the God of War series. I am unable to comment on this as I have only played one game from the series (the original GoW). I may do so when I complete more games from the series.
[Major spoilers, including the contents of the unlockable bonus episode 18, and the DLC episodes 19-22.]
Like many other Japanese games which evoke religious imagery and expound on moral philosophy, Asura’s Wrath is chock full of interesting things to discuss (and perhaps one day I may give it an “Exegesis” treatment), but for now I would just want to focus on probably the most central theme of Asura’s Wrath – that life is only worth living if it is a life free from the manipulation of others, and the attainment of this ideal is worth fighting and dying for.
In the DLC, it was revealed that the entire history of Asura’s world, Gaea, was manipulated by its creator God, Chakravartin. Chakravartin’s purpose for guiding history was to find the one individual worthy of being his heir, the one to rule Gaea in his stead. Asura was the one who had passed all his tests, and was deemed worthy to be the ruling God of Gaea. Asura, when offered this position of Godhood, rejected Chakravartin by punching him in the face, and then by continuing on to fight and to kill him, so that the universe would finally be rid of his manipulation. Asura is aware that killing Chakravartin would also destory himself, as Asura was made of “mantra”, a substance dependent on Chakravartin’s existence. Regardless, he proceeds to kill Chakravartin, believing that his daughter would suffer less in the world which is not ruled by a God.
The underlying reason why Asura rejected the position of Godhood was his belief that humankind is better when they are “free”, without the interference of Gods in their lives. Gods who may very well make them suffer for their own purposes, just like his daughter Mitra had suffered. Asura believed that the only life worth living is the life of freedom, autonomy, independence; a life where man decides how best to live his life, and not one where another being decides for him. Not only was Asura willing to turn down the lucrative offer of Godhood to defend this belief, he was willing to die for it. In other words, Asura is the quintessential Captain America.
Asura acted out of a selfless love for his daughter – a good and noble intention worthy of our admiration and emulation. But from a Christian point of view, Asura also acted out of a misguided belief, a lie. In fact, to a Christian, he believed in the greatest lie ever told:
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had a special relationship with God. They were his subjects, and he was their Lord. He decided what was right and good for them, and in their willing and joyful obedience towards God, they enjoyed life, creation and a wonderful personal relationship with God Himself. There was truly nothing else that they need. Yet, the crafty serpent told them a lie which would forever change the history of humanity: “You cannot trust God to decide for you how to live your life. You must decide for yourself what you want and take it”. In other words, the life of a subject to a master, even if the master is the most benevolent God, is not a life worth living. Only the life where you are your own master is a life worth living. Only the life where you do not worship God but worship yourself is the life worth living. This was the greatest lie ever told, and is still the greatest lie being told today.
[If there are non-Christians reading this: I know I sound a little kooky, fascist even. There are two important clarifications I want to make. First, this is truly and unabashedly Christianity at its core – a Christian is someone who understands that he no longer lives for himself, but he lives for the sake of increasing the glory of Christ. This is non-negotiable for Christians to believe as true, although every Christian will admit they fail to live up to this at times. Second, Christians do believe in the principles of justice and mercy, and Christians should always be firmly against the oppression of humans by other humans. If we had failed to do so, it is to our shame.]
Back to the lie told by the serpent; you don’t even need to be a Christian to see how the lie is untrue. There is no such thing as “complete unbridled freedom”. I am not free to rob a bank. If I shoot someone dead, he is not free to avoid my violence. There is no such thing as “complete unbridled autonomy”. If I am hungry, I am bound by my hunger to eat. If I am tired, I am bound by my body to rest. There is no such thing as “complete unbridled liberty”. If I have a wife, I am not at liberty to sleep with another woman. I am not at liberty to violate your rights. The important thing to realize is that we are always bridled, we are always constrained, we are always yoked. The question is not “how may we be free of this yoke?” but rather “what is the yoke that we choose to bind ourselves with?”
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
The yoke of man’s self-centered autonomy, self-directed freedom, and self-defined liberty is certainly a possible choice. But it is the poorer choice, as Adam and Eve had discovered. As I had previously written, the life of man left to his own devices is anything but a Libertarian utopia. This has also been observed by atheist thinkers, and one of them has even suggested that though Christianity cannot be believed, it should still be emulated to escape from the suffering and pains of a self-centered society.
Asura believed in this lie. Asura believed that self-worship is the better choice. He believed it so strongly in fact, that his wrath could not be satisfied until the alternative to self-worship has been crushed and destroyed. The propitiation of Asura’s wrath is the murder of God Almighty. This is the incredulity of man’s self-idolatry – God has to die so that man can be God in his own eyes. If that cannot be attained, he will forever rage against God, His will and His purposes.
As Christians, do we realize that each time we sin, we are affirming the lie? Do we realize that sin is us saying that we refuse to accord God his proper place in our life, but elevate ourselves to God’s place? Do we realize that each time we sin, we murder God in our hearts?
How grateful we ought to be that, unlike Asura’s wrath, God’s wrath has already been propitiated by the death of Christ on the cross (1 John 4:10). For without this grace, we would surely perish for our insolence (Matt 10:28).
[For a different take on Theology and Asura’s Wrath, see Nick Dinicola’s article at PopMatters.com. ]