Technical hiccups can't sink this Hindu-inspired odyssey
A festival’s reenactment of an ancient war between gods and demons acts as a prelude to a new demon uprising. A young Indian girl’s brother, Golu, is kidnapped by the demons, starting a pursuit to save him and, in the process, the world. Raji: An Ancient Epic has you embodying the eponymous character as she takes on a bevy of demons, towering beasts, and the lord of demons Mahabalasura. This journey is reinforced by the gods that bestow ancient and powerful weapons and abilities in your journey to save Golu.
Gameplay is largely inspired by the likes of early entries in the God of War series. Combating waves of enemies with light and heavy attacks coupled with a dodge feels right at home to anyone familiar with the genre. It’s easy to get in the groove of chaining moves together in a combination that stuns an enemy, dodging a different enemy’s attack in the nick of time, then returning the favor to them. In between each battle arena are various types of platforming challenges that are fairly rudimentary. The puzzles, rotating segments of trees or circular tiles to put together a painting of Raji’s key memories with Golu, are simple but break up the action sequences nicely. The staff Raji sets out with has a heavy damage focus, but as you proceed, additional weapons are doled out (such as a bow & arrow and sword & shield) that provide a wider set of combat options that feel distinct despite limited button inputs.
The story, setting, and style are the peak experience in Raji: An Ancient Epic. The front and center tale of Raji chasing after Golu itself can seem rote, but the way it’s told, how it’s intertwined with a lesson in Hindu mythology, and its distinct art style makes it shine. Cutscenes highlight key story sequences with a flat cut-out style; characters appear in silhouettes with tethers to their arms as if part of a puppet theatre. As Raji walks along different paths, the gods tell tales of epic battles in history, using gorgeous mosaics in the background to tell their story. The architecture of each environment is ornate, and lighting is used to great effect in producing appealing contrasts in color.
Regretfully, the game’s technical performance is where it falters. Nearly any battle with more than a handful of enemies’ results in combat animation feeling like it’s moving in slow motion. While Raji features an array of beautifully composed music, several tracks are split in a way that isn’t seamless, making the stop of the old loop and start of the new one produce a stutter that’s jarring. Worst of all, certain bugs require a restart entirely. A notable example for me was when I was climbing a structure to the top of a building and Raji got caught near the top and then was stuck air walking without being able to get unstuck. While the free roaming allowed me to explore some of the infrastructure a bit, it’s never fun having to close a game because of a bug. It’s worth noting the developer announced a bugfix update is in the works, but tread with caution if you decide to buy-in beforehand.
But all that said, those demerits weren’t enough to sour my experience with Raji: An Ancient Epic. The well-worn game structure is adorned with a decorative style that’s wholly unique in video games; a striking soundtrack with heavy sitar notes and an ancient Hindu history lesson compel you to see this personal story of sister and brother to its conclusion. Even with performance caveats in mind, there’s a lot of beauty to uncover here if you give it a chance.