Raji: An Ancient Epic (2020)
Developer: Nodding Heads Games
Two weeks ago, on my last review, I learned that making a video review is both really fun but also really time-intensive. I thought about making a video again for this review, but there's a whole lot to say about this game and not a lot of time in these busy work weeks for me. I'll be making video reviews again when it's a good match for the medium. This week's game is one I've been taking my time with for about a month now, since it had a fair bit of challenge. Raji: An Ancient Epic is an an action-adventure story set in ancient India, where a young woman named Raji must rescue her younger brother from a gang of demons.
Raji: An Ancient Epic starts with a story about Raji and her little brother Golu spending time together at a carnival, surrounded by friends and loved ones. Raji performs on a tightrope while Golu puts on a puppet show about when demons used to roam the world. Suddenly, the show becomes a reality as a gang of real demons invades, attacking people and kidnapping Golu. Raji is injured in her attempt to save him but she, chosen by the gods, pursues the demons on a quest to save her brother. Throughout Raji's journey, two of the gods, Vishnu and Draga, narrate her adventure and even debate amongst themselves whether she will be able to succeed. They grant her weapons that allow her to slay demons who are growing more powerful the further she progresses. She follows the path of death and destruction left behind by Mahabalasura, lord of demons. Raji is an excellent protagonist in that she isn't silent, and both she's emotionally and physically powerful. She stands up for others courageously, while also taking time to feel and mourn for those she couldn't save. Coming across temples, she also learns more about the other gods and great epics of their feats.
I saw Raji: An Ancient Epic on a recent Nintendo Indie Direct and was immediately drawn to its style so I decided to buy it that same day. There's an endless amount of games set in "Medieval Europe" but rarely do we get to see games about other ancient cultures, especially South Asian ones. The art in Raji is not only consistent and true to the inspiration of ancient India, but it's also breathtakingly beautiful. There's incredible detail in every piece of architecture and in every type of environment. It truly immerses you in a time and place and every part of it feels realistic and vibrant. The art of this game really exemplifies the passion and devotion that the developers poured in to creating this world for players to experience. The cutscenes are told in a sort of shadow-puppetry paper style, as if the story is being told through a puppet play like the one Golu put on. It's a unique and simplistic 2D style that contrasts well with the detailed 3D style that the rest of the game has.
The music, much like the art, was true to this world set in a past India. It's evocative and dramatic, using traditional Indian instruments such as the sitar, and yet has a modern twist as well. Unlike the art, though, I feel like it was mostly the same all throughout the game, except for cutscenes and a few other climatic points. I still think the soundtrack is well-fitting and well done for the game, just not as dynamic as other parts of the game. I was also impressed that this indie game had full, well-done voice acting for its characters. I, as well as other fans, was hoping that Raji: An Ancient Epic would have the option of switching the voice audio to Hindi or another Indian language, but I also totally understand that it must've already been a huge feat just to do one language. I'm hoping in the future they could perhaps add other voice-over languages, since it would probably fit the story even better if it was in an Indian language. Either way, the voice acting added a lot of depth to the characters, especially to the two gods who narrated Raji's journey.
Raji: An Ancient Epic has almost as much platforming as it has battles, so you also pick up new ways to move across the world. The platforming would have been a lot more enjoyable if the fixed camera perspective didn't work against it, unfortunately. Many times it was not clear at what depth a platform was since you could not adjust the camera in this 3D world. Most of the time, though, the platforming wasn't too challenging and it made great use of Raji's roll and jump moveset. It was really fun to have Raji run up and over walls, slide down long banners, and create lily pads to jump on.
Raji gains more weapons along her path, but the demons also grow more powerful. Fights in Raji: An Ancient Epic are much more calculated and timed than that of many action games. Attacks and movement is a little slower, so you can't slash away like it's a Zelda game. Instead, you have to be a little more patient and strategic, like that of a Dark Souls fight. That's not what I'm used to, so I definitely had to take my time and train myself when strike. However, the movements and attacks are pretty fun once you do get into a rhythm. Raji is able to run up a wall or pillar and strike down, which allows you to both attack and escape enemies at the same time. The different weapons you gain allow you to switch between ranged attacks, close combat, or even defense with a shield. Later on, the fights actually got quite difficult, to the point where I was starting over multiple times and trying different weapons. Unfortunately, a glitch in the game actually caused me to have an additional difficulty spike. At some point, Raji gains special elemental powers called "Favor Orbs" that she can use alongside her weapons. When you first unlock this function, the screen below appears and tells you to "hold R". I held R, nothing happened. I held ZR. I held R joystick down. I tried clicking them all. Nothing happened. I figured well, I must not have any orbs yet - that's why it won't let me do anything. I moved on and kind of forgot about it for most of the game. Around the last 2 hours of the game, I was having such a difficult time beating monster fights that I thought I had to be missing something. I remembered the orbs and I still couldn't get this screen to just "continue" until I finally googled it and figured out from the subreddit that you were actually supposed to hold "B". It's kind of unbelievable but I didn't get to have this function for most of the game because of a typo that has yet to be patched.
Raji: An Ancient Epic is a beautifully done game and piece of art with some mild but fairly obvious gameplay flaws. It released on Switch first so perhaps it still had a few issues to fix and these took a bit away from my experience. I still highly recommend this game as it brings an entirely new style and feel to indie games, with a powerful yet classic story of being courageous against great evil. You'll learn about Indian religion and folklore along the way and you'll surely be challenged by the fights both against regular enemies and large bosses.