If you think the worlds of Marvel and DC had a huge amount of backstory, narrative arcs, and timelines then you might think again when you compare it with that of Hindu mythology. You see, that is where we find brilliant, complex, and amazing stories of creatures, gods, battles, and social morals, never more true than when taking into account the ancient Hindu poem The Mahabharata – more than 1.5 million words long as it covers 200,000 pages. Raji: An Ancient Epic is a game that fully explores that Hindu world, all told through an original story and adventure that also includes some of the stories of the ancients. Are you ready to delve in and be transported into a whole different world experience?
Raji: An Ancient Epic is a game that from the get-go was ticking all my boxes of gaming delights. Exotic locations? Check. Monsters and myths? Check. Beautiful visuals? Check. Throw in a good story, and I’ll continue to constantly check. The game has been created by a small independent Indian studio who wanted to tell all about their land, and the culture of Hindu and Balinese culture with its artistic practices. Why? In order to allow others to think of India more than just “the Taj Mahal”.
The story puts you in the shoes of a young woman – Raji. She is a humble circus tightrope performer and her brother has been kidnapped by a mysterious mystic who unleashes demons upon the world. What happens from there on out is that Raji – guided by the gods Visnu and Durga – sets out on an epic adventure across many lands to rescue her brother. Durga, the goddess of War, entrusts Raji with her first super-weapon – the Trishul – to combat the evil in her way. The story is a very good one, told in part through the gods’ discussions on Raji’s progress and mixes in some brilliant shadow puppet cutscenes. Their myths of the gods are told when Raji finds beautiful paintings, and as she activates them the storytelling begins to relate to the images.
The gameplay side of things in Raji plays out as part exploration, part platformer, part fighter, and part puzzler. The platforming and exploration elements will let you and Raji discover this stunningly stunning world, activating things like those paintings I talked about above. Raji can jump, hang on to and shimmy along ledges, and slide down banners – this all works great, reminding me at times of an old-school Prince of Persia in the way the character moves and plays. That is far from a bad comparison to make. The way the character animation allows the acrobatic elegance of Raji to come to the fore and bounce across the screen with grace is a great one. Apart from a few dream-like sequences at the end of the game, the platforming is quite easy to comprehend too and, nicely, you won’t die much from falling to your death.
The puzzle elements on hand include the likes of your normal everyday switch pulling, hoping to activate gateways, or in one sequence they will see you operating a mechanical cog pattern to whip open a waterway bridge. You can also throw in the likes of classic ring puzzles, ensuring your need to move circular tiles to create an image – images that reveal a moment of Raji’s Past.
Combat-wise and Raji: An Ancient Epic requires both skill and deft reactions, because you will be going up against, and fighting, a lot of demons. The main controls you need to worry about revolve around both a light and a heavy attack with your weapon, but what makes Raji special is that you can combine those with acrobatic movement, jumping off walls or swinging around poles to deliver a special attack on your foes. There are four different weapons to acquire too, starting off with a magical sword, then you gain a longbow, a saber, and a magical shield, and right near the end you have a throwing orb boomerang that destroys everything it hits in one move. You can switch between any of these weapons with a touch of the D-pad, with upgrades obtainable via orbs you find dotted around the levels. These include the likes of lightning strikes or fireballs attached to the weapons, utilised in special attacks or when you chain together a series of attack moves.
Honestly, the combat is my least favorite portion of Raji and that is because there is just too much of it. There are times when you may rock up to an area, and need to take down a series of waves of enemies in order to move forward. This begins to grate a bit as the progression gets harder and the waves become trickier. There are some boss battles included as well, with these involving elements of fighting and, in one, some stealth techniques. The end fight however is where it shines; well-crafted with some neat surprises that results in an excellent boss battle.
Visually and there is no doubting that Rai: An Ancient Epic is beautiful. In fact, it is so gorgeous to look at that it has surprised me that it’s been created by such a small indie studio – it easily looks like a triple-A game. The locations are stunning and across many moments it managed to take my breath away. The beautiful paintings to walking along the desert are right up there with some of the best scenes I have seen in a video game. The character design is equally as excellent, as are the shadow puppet cutscenes. Raji is an utter beauty from start to finish.
The audio is great too, with both the backing music and sound coming across excellently; there is a fantastically epic soundtrack that expands the culture alongside the storytelling and visuals. The effects are top-notch as well, as is the voice-over work from all the actors involved.
I’m trying not to be biased here as Raji: An Ancient Epic on Xbox One is a game I wanted to love from the off. From the moment I picked it up, right through to the telling end, I have to say I haven’t been left disappointed. It is a beautiful, epic journey with some fabulous storytelling and amazing visuals. Yes, occasionally the combat drags a bit, the waves of enemies grow dull as you progress to the latter stages, and the price is a tad high for the six-hour or so experience, but I think it’s worth it for the quality on show here. Here’s to a great epic adventure and here’s to hopefully many more to come with Raji as the host.