Playing Raji: An Ancient Epic brought about two thoughts: firstly, there are extremely few games out there based on Hindu mythology; and secondly, there really should be more games out there based on Hindu mythology.
Raji puts us in the shoes of the titular heroine, an orphaned circus performer whose brother Golu has been kidnapped by demons. Early on in the game, she stumbles across the trident of Durga – one of the deities who both watches over her and helps narrate the story. With her ever-growing arsenal and her athletic skills, Raji sets out to rescue her brother at any cost. It’s a tale woven with Hindu mythology, with Durga and Vishnu providing excellent accompanying narration that helps give some backstory as to what is going on, and also information on the many, many deities of Hinduism as you encounter the beautiful paintings and carvings depicting their tales. Their narration is very well written and voice acted, and it really helps to captivate the player and make you want to learn more about the culture – as well as help Raji with her plight to save her sibling.
Gameplay wise, Raji is an isometric action adventure game, with definite Prince of Persia vibes. For the most part, you will be traversing the various beautiful environments by running along walls, climbing pillars, leaping from platforms, and stopping to do the occasional puzzle. It generally works pretty well, although it may take a little time adjusting to the isometric camera angles – which, coupled with the zoomed out camera, can lead to some frustrating moments as you completely miss the platform you are aiming for. That being said, things tend to line up in the cardinal directions, and leaping from pillars has its own visual indicator to aid you, so it isn’t a constant annoyance… but one you will probably experience at some point during the game. The movement in the game is also very satisfying; as a circus performer, Raji moves as acrobatically as you would expect her to – meaning that everything flows together really well.
What doesn’t flow quite as well, however, is the combat in the game. Frequently, the game pits you against multiple enemies in a closed off arena, which you then have to fight using your limited arsenal of moves. Raji starts out with a trident, but she will gradually gain access to new divine weaponry as well as some magical upgrades that can help beef up your attacks. The enemies are generally pretty well designed, with very distinguishable attacks, but I never felt that the combat was as smooth as it could be. It was functional, sure, with a wide range of attacks for each weapon, but the delay in performing actions means that dodging or blocking with a shield can only really be done to defend against slower and more obvious attacks. It’s an annoyance, to be sure, but considering that the combat is only really challenging in the early game, it doesn’t really add too much frustration. Once you start obtaining further weapons, you probably won’t even need to defend that much. Thankfully, the bosses fare a lot better: throughout her adventure, Raji will face large demonic creatures, which she has to take down in order to proceed – with every boss more enjoyable than the last. Whilst they also don’t pose too much of a challenge, they definitely make up for that in terms of spectacle.
A VISHNU TO A KILL
Here is what Raji can arm herself with:
NANDAKA & SRIVATSA
Whilst Raji: An Ancient Epic may not necessarily be the best looking game, it certainly has fantastic art direction and knows how to show off some fabulous panoramas. Given the perspective of the game, it really makes you feel like a tiny mortal being looked upon by the Gods.
AN ENDEARING EPIC
One thing that is clear from the offset is that Raji really is a labour of love from Nodding Heads Games; not only is it their first project, but you can tell they really wanted to put their all into making a game based on Hinduism that will fascinate the player. They wanted to show people that India is more than just the Taj Mahal, and they succeeded. Every level is set in a different location, showing off different types of Indian environments – from beautiful lakes scattered with lily pads, to lush forests and gigantic fortresses: it really makes you gawk in wonder at the beautiful scenery and architecture. These are intersected with cutscenes acted out using shadow puppetry, which emphasise the storybook-like approach to the narrative and make your journey seem like the stuff of legend. The development team really thought carefully about how to best present the game and it shows. Whilst it may not have the highest graphical quality, considering it is an Indie team’s first title, they still did a great job in making it look very aesthetically pleasing.
On the aural side of things, the game fares equally well. The music is very spiritual and fits in with the surroundings perfectly. It’s mostly peaceful, but then ramps up in intensity when in combat. They did an excellent job in arranging the perfect OST for the game, and I honestly can’t fault any of it. The voice acting and effects are all equally strong too, with Lord Vishnu and the Goddess Durga being particular highlights.
One area where the game does suffer a little is with the technical side of things. I played the game on the patched version and did not experience any notable framerate issues, but there were numerous other bugs that varied in severity. For the majority of the time, the game is fine, but I did experience a few occasions during my initial playthrough of the game where I had to reload the checkpoint due to not being able to progress. Thankfully the game has extremely frequent checkpoints (you can trigger a new CP within seconds of the last one, sometimes!), meaning that you never have to replay large chunks. The issues are unfortunate, to be sure, but the save points really do save it from becoming an insurmountable problem.
Whilst my review may sound a little mixed, I have to admit that overall it was a fantastic experience for the most part – it’s a real shame that it was over in only five hours. The final level in particular comes and goes quickly, with very little more than the final boss fight, making it seem like they ran into budget or time restraints. It is a wonderful journey through Hindu mythology, and I hope the team can bless us with a follow up in the near future.