Review – Raji: An Ancient Epic

I’ve had my eye on Raji: An Ancient Epic ever since I first saw a trailer for it several months ago. Countless games have depicted Greek, Norse, and Japanese cultures over the years, but this is one of the first games I’ve seen that focuses on Indian culture. While I do love exploring those other cultures, they’ve been done so many times in gaming that they’re starting to feel a bit stale. This was the initial draw of Raji: An Ancient Epic for me. Finally, a game that looked to dive into a rich, relatively unexplored culture that I’m not overly familiar with. I just hoped the game could prove to be as interesting as it looked.

The story of Raji: An Ancient Epic takes place a thousand years after the last great war between the gods and demons. Still feeling humiliated after their defeat, the demons invade the mortal realm, where humans have grown complacent after so many years of thinking they were completely vanquished. Unprepared for the attack, they fall to the demons easily. You play as the titular Raji, a young girl whose little brother, Golu, has been kidnapped by demons. Sensing great power within her, she is chosen by the gods to become humanity’s protector against the dark forces.

Raji: An Ancient Epic

The demon seizes Golu out of Raji’s arms.

This is the majority of the story that you’re given and it’s cleverly delivered through a shadow puppet art style, very similar to another game I recently reviewed, Projection: First Light. While I do wish the narrative was a bit deeper, it still provides just enough to keep you interested. Throughout the game, two gods, Vishnu and Durga, watch over Raji and comment on her progress. Occasionally, they’ll reminisce about past events with other gods, which is a clever way to make explanatory exposition feel more a bit more organic.

Other story threads are parceled out in various ways. For example, any story element that’s relevant to the central plot, will be told through the shadow puppets. However, you will be able to learn little snippets of Raji and Golu’s history by completing mandala ring puzzles, which will form a picture of a moment in their past. You’ll also be able to learn about the numerous Hindu and Balinese deities through various tapestries and stone carvings. While it is fascinating to learn more about the many gods in Indian culture, I feel there was a missed opportunity here. I would have loved to have had more of the gods make actual appearances in some way, instead of just a couple of boss battles.

Raji: An Ancient Epic

Is it just me, or does the god on the left look like Ron Swanson?

Luckily, the gameplay is a lot of fun. Raji: An Ancient Epic is an isometric, fast-paced hack ‘n’ slash, very similar to early God of War games. My first thought when I saw the trailer for this game was that it looked like old school God of War set in India. Honestly, that’s still pretty much the best way to describe it.

The combat is quick and fluid. Raji will eventually gain access to four different weapons: a staff, a bow, a sword and shield, and a chakram. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and Raji can level them up when she finds favor orbs from the gods. These will allow her to infuse them with mystical power in the form of three elemental branches: lightning, fire, and ice. The idea is great, but unfortunately it’s a little on the basic side in terms of variety. Each branch essentially offers the same type of move or power-up as one another, just with different elements. What first seemed like an exciting leveling up system, quickly became underwhelming.

Raji: An Ancient Epic

You’ve got to appreciate the grand scale of some of these creatures.

The same could be said for the combat in general as well. To be fair, the controls are tight and responsive. The problem is that for all the flashiness of the moves, they don’t quite pack enough punch. You can see the attacks landing just fine, but there’s not a big enough sense of impact. This could be a lack of more dynamic combat animations, or perhaps even the weak sound design, but somehow it feels lacking something. The finishing move animations aren’t anything spectacular either. Then again, perhaps I’ve become a bit too spoiled by God of War.

One of the biggest issues with Raji: An Ancient Epic is with the controls. Periodically, Raji will move in a direction completely different than the way you’re pointing the analog stick. This isn’t a big deal when you’re running, although it certainly is confusing. However, its detrimental to any sections that have her doing any sort of platforming. There were a couple sections were I kept dying repeatedly because Raji would make a flying leap into oblivion. Luckily, the game autosaves fairly frequently, but it’s still frustrating and can kill the flow of the game. Hopefully a patch comes out at some point to fix this issue.

Somehow, even the desert is beautiful.

Finicky controls aside, Raji: An Ancient Epic is absolutely stunning visually. Being an isometric game, the camera is fixed into position, but thankfully, that never got in the way of the gameplay. Plus, much like in God of War, this allows for dramatic sweeps to reveal the landscape in epic fashion. The art design is with a doubt the game’s highlight. Each level looks completely different from one another. The levels range from city marketplaces, to serene temples, to overgrown jungles, to arid deserts.

Each area has their own set of enemies, but these are limited to only about three to four types in each level. While it’s great that each area feels so different, I still would have liked to have seen more enemy varieties. Luckily, the bosses are truly unique. Not just in their appearance, but also in how they fight. Some you’ll have to brawl, others you’ll have to learn the timing of when and how they attack, and one involves pure stealth. The boss battles were the most fun aspect of the game and I only wish there were more of them.

Is there a snake charmer anywhere?

The sound design is the area where Raji: An Ancient Epic struggles the most. The main soundtrack is great, but the themes for the boss battles simply aren’t epic enough. It sounds like more of the same from the regular levels. The sound effects are decent, except for the combat. As I previously mentioned, the sound for the attacks just doesn’t quite have enough impact. The blows don’t sound like they have enough weight behind them to give the attacks that visceral quality an action game needs. Then there’s the voice acting which ranges from mediocre at best to downright laughably bad.

There’s no denying that Raji: An Ancient Epic is a visual treat.

While Raji: An Ancient Epic has its share of shortcomings, especially with the controls and sound design, I still highly recommend playing it. Considering this is Nodding Heads Games first outing, I’m thoroughly impressed with the results. The combat is fun, the environments are gorgeous, and the mythos is a refreshing plunge into new territory. I was disappointed when the story ended so abruptly, but it does appear to be clearly setting up for a sequel. Hopefully if Raji: An Ancient Epic does well and Nodding Heads Games can get more funding, they can create a second installment that’s truly epic.

 

Graphics: 8.5

This game is absolutely gorgeous. Each level feels completely different from one another in terms of setting and the bosses are grandiose. I wish there was a bit more enemy variety though.

Gameplay: 7.0

This is a fun, fast-paced hack ‘n’ slash game with lots of flashy combat animations. There are few different weapons that have their own distinct feel. However, some of the attacks don’t have enough weight to them and there are glitches that will make you move or jump in a direction other than where you’re aiming.

Sound: 5.0

While the soundtrack is good, the music during boss fights isn’t nearly epic enough. Some of the sound effects for combat need more punch to be effective. The voice acting ranges from bad to mediocre.

Fun Factor: 8.0

While Raji: An Ancient Epic does have some technical issues and a story that ends abruptly, it’s still a blast. The combat is fun, the environments are jaw dropping, and the boss battles feel as grand as those found in early God of War.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Raji: An Ancient Epic is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

A copy of Raji: An Ancient Epic was provided by the publisher.