Review: Raji: An Ancient Epic

 A look at Hindu Mythology through the lense of a pretty decent game.

Console: Nintendo Switch

Raji: An Ancient Epic is the first game developed by Indian development studio Nodding Heads Games. It’s a game that puts Hindu mythology at the forefront, which is what drew me to it. Being the patient (and stingy) gamer that I am I checked out the free demo of the game first. It's safe to say that, since you are reading my review on it, that I enjoyed the demo enough to buy the full game.

So, how is the full Raji: An Ancient Epic experience? Does it keep the momentum of the demo going or is it only downhill from here? Well, no. The full game sticks very close to the demo, both the good and the bad.

Let's dive in.

Raji: An Ancient Epic follows Raji, an extremely nimble acrobat and caretaker of her little brother Golu. While celebrating Raksha Bandhan, an annual festival, a group of demons attack the circus and kidnap, amongst many others, Golu. Forced to take a detour through a ruin, Raji stumbles across the temple of the Goddess Durga who talks to Raji from the heavens together with her fellow Deity Lord Vishnu. Recognizing Raji pure heart and bravery, Durga bestows upon her the divine Trishul, a trident, to help her in her quest.

The story of Raji is pretty basic yet engaging and entertaining. The story of finding a kidnapped loved one is as old as the medium but the sibling connection along with the mythology and the puppet show like cutscenes keeps you engaged. The story is very basic, not a lot to it nor having any real twist and turns but the execution smooths out most of the kinks. Durga and Vishnu serve as the stories narrators and are quite a hoot. They've got pretty distinct personalities, making their interactions with each other and Raji very enjoyable. The puppet show like cutscenes is also an interesting, if not a bit stiff, way of getting the major story beats across.

The Hindu Mythology also helps. There are multiple points in the game where you find large tapestries or wall paintings showing figures of events out of Hindu Mythology. It's not that relevant to the narrative (and if it is, the connection is very much up to interpretation) but its very nice to have here nonetheless. Part of this game's appeal IS learning more about this stuff after all.

Describing the cutscenes can be difficult so why not show what I mean, right?

The only real big problem with the story is the ending. It's very abrupt and unsatisfying. Can't really go into details without spoiling anything but at first, I thought that the ending wasn't an ending at all. That there would be one final boss to beat. When the credits started to roll I was rather confused and disappointed. Was this some sort of bad ending? Nope, it's the one and only ending and one I don't care for. It's abrupt, mean-spirited and just left a bad taste in my mouth. If it's a form of sequel baiting, which could very well be the case, then it's not a good one.

The gameplay of Raji is rather basic as well. It's not bad it's clunky and just feels a bit outdated. The combat is simple. You have both light and heavy attacks as well as a ranged attack. The game gives you plenty of options for cool combat moves by incorporating parkour into the combat or by switching up your weapons. From the trident to a bow to a sword and shield combo. You can even infuse these weapons with upgradable elemental secondary effects to do stuff like stun an enemy. Even with these options. It nonetheless feels shallow. I spend most of my time in combat doing a combination of dodging and button-mashing, which worked out just fine. More finesse wasn’t required.

What is also genuinely frustrating is the lack of a lock-on system. With how much Raji jumps around when performing an attack it's surprisingly difficult to just attack one enemy especially when fighting against groups. The out of combat controls also leave something to be desired. They're, again, not terrible but Raji is much heavier and much more sluggish than you'd expect from a dynamic action platformer. The controls are responsive, it never misread or failed to read or anything like that and the button mapping feels pretty natural so it has that going for it.

This game looks stunning.

So the gameplay and controls aren't great but not actively bad either. What is really great about this game is the look of the game. The atmosphere, the tone and the style. Raji's is graphically based on Pahari Paintings, "an umbrella term used for a form of Indian painting, done mostly in miniature forms". I would personally describe it as a top-down perspective that switches to a more 2D perspective on occasion. This perspective can make it difficult to spot Raji, enemies and details by the virtue of how much it zooms out at times. That's definitely annoying but my only problem with the graphical style.

The world is very well designed, architecturally based on medieval Rajasthan alongside some dessert, jungle and even imaginative settings like a city with large but ancient mechanisms. It gives this game a very different, unique feel it. Even on the less powerful Switch hardware, this game looks beautiful. The graphics might not be as sharp or the effects as flashy as you would get on other consoles but the game doesn't need this to fully immerse you in its atmosphere. The soundtrack of the game is the cherry on top when it comes to this. It's, just as you expect, completely in Indian style. Style of music and instruments and all. It blends near perfectly with the game's themes and style.

Conclusion

Raji: An Ancient Epic is an interesting package. It's a good game with some pretty clear flaws. When it comes to the actual gameplay it stumbles. The controls and combat are clunky but it also has a superb graphical style and an engaging, if not minimalistic and unsatisfyingly abrupt ending, story.

If the cultural, mythological aspect of this game appeals to you then go right ahead and pick it up. If not, then I don't think that you will get much out of Raji: An Ancient Epic.

Comments