Exploring Indian folklore isn’t something gaming has done very often over the years – certainly not in any depth anyway. This is what initially drew me in to Raji: An Ancient Epic. A new setting, lore and culture to get lost in digitally is always welcomed by me with open arms. Thankfully, for the most part, Raji lives up to its initial promise for most of its stay.
Raji sees her brother kidnapped by demons at the start of the game and as she chases through five worlds and an end boss battle to get him back, she is overseen by various Indian Gods who narrate her journey. Raji is exceptionally nimble. Running, jumping, climbing, sliding – even her parry and dodges are gymnastic. She moves like a ballet dancer and can cover a lot of ground quickly. The Gods then provide her a range of weapons over the story for her to use. The main thrust of the gameplay will switch between floaty but forgiving platforming and much more patient small arena battles against groups of enemies. The switch between them is a little jarring but over time you get used to it.
One of the best things about Raji’s gameplay is that the environment can be used to your advantage. You can run up walls and leap off them to perform different moves from your two attack buttons (light and heavy). Similarly you spin around pillars or run and jump off of or between them too. Its the actual attacks that are slower and as groups of enemies gang up on you or quick faster, you’ll need to balance attack and defence. This is especially true when you are given the sword and shield as you have to battle in close. When equipped with the bow and arrow or initial weapon, you can stay relatively at arms length. As more weapons become available you can switch between them at will and then add additional magical buffs from ice, lightning, wind and fire as you unlock those powers too. You do this by finding hidden orbs to add these skills to your weapons and in the lily ponds, you can swap out your lightning orbs to fire to get the elemental bonus. It is a well thought out system although the game rarely throws different enemy types at you to force you to switch between weapons to survive.
Equally easy is the platforming and puzzles. The puzzles are largely totem jigsaws and cog machine puzzles that you can finish in 30 to 40 seconds. They don’t pose any challenge but they are often tied to narrative beats in the story instead. Some more variety would have been nice but I wasn’t complaining much as I was engaged in the fascinating story. The platforming is forgiving too although I did run into several issues where the game would decide I wanted to run up a different object than where I though I was going to go. Restarts from death are almost immediate so you rarely lose much more than a couple of minutes of game time at the worst case scenario so it didn’t upset me to much.
What did feel cheap was the abrupt ending to the game. The ending takes place in a way that makes it feel like you’ve just played part one of a larger game, leaving you on a cliff hanger that did more to infuriate me rather than make me want the sequel. It is desperately unsatisfying after about five hours of gaming to get there. The culmination of art direction, music, sound, voice over and cultural learning through wall paintings was so well done – I think that’s why having a poor non-conclusion annoyed me more than usual.
Whilst the ending and some technical issues in the heat of battle did annoy me at times, Raji: An Ancient Epic is still one of the most engrossing games I’ve played in 2020. If the abrupt end and occasional technical gremlin due to floaty controls doesn’t put you off, add another point onto the score – if it does – remove one. Raji is a rough gem but it is one I very much enjoyed experiencing. This is one I recommend watching the video review below to see how lush it is.
Raji: An Ancient Epic
A fine folklore platformer that feels like it ends too soon and without a proper conclusion.
Beautiful art direction from the paper cutscenes to the lush worlds themselves.
Amazing soundtrack and voice over talent.
Genuinely engrossing story - well told.
Raji has grace and style to her moves and combat...
... but that means she will sometimes to the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Lack of difficulty throughout.
Ends way too soon and far too abruptly as if its about to serve us a sequel.
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