Having recently posted a review of Asura’s Wrath, the small but perfectly formed interactive anime extravaganza, I found myself looking to other reviews to see how the game fared. And time and time again, the most common complaint was all about a lack of replayability.

Replayability, or more specifically the supposed need for replayability in games, has long been something that irks me. That’s not to say I don’t think games should be replayable – but I don’t think all games should be, or need to be.

Kicking this guy's ass is just as enjoyable a second or third time.

Let me explain. Narrative games are, by definition, narrative games. Narratives by their very nature typically play out one way, perhaps with the exception of viewing deleted scenes and alternate endings you might find on a DVD, or if you’re reading a Fighting Fantasy-style ‘chose your own adventure’ book. While some video games are brave enough to try to include some branching in their storytelling, far more video games play out one way only as far as story is concerned.

But does having one story to tell and play through mean a game isn’t replayable? That depends on how you consume your media. Are you the sort of person who buys a DVD and only ever watches it once? I doubt it. Typically, if you bought something on DVD rather than renting it, or instead of streaming it via NetFlix or an equivalent, then the very act of buying is stating that you intend to view it again.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that watching a two hour movie for a second time is far less an undertaking than a second play through of a game ten times as long (and that new DVDs are significantly cheaper than new games), but since the story plays out identically whether it’s the second, third or even fourth time you may watch that film, why are narrative games judged any differently?

"Oooh! He's got an arm off!"

With favourite films, there are myriad reasons we watch them additional times. Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that we humans enjoy repeating the things we enjoy. Sometimes it’s to watch the film with a significant other who hasn’t seen it before, to share a similar experience you had discovering it for yourself. While a subsequent viewing can never offer the exact same experience as the first, replays of any media can allow us to pay attention to details we may have missed, or subtle moments we didn’t notice the first time around.

I’ve just started my third play of Asura’s Wrath. My main motivation in playing again is that, because I enjoyed the game so much, I want to complete each of the game’s challenges and achievements, much as I felt about XBLA masterpieces ’Splosion Man and Limbo. For me, personally, the ultimate sign of respect I can pay to a game I truly love is to conquer it completely, to experience everything it has to offer.

Limbo – Short but bittersweet. Countless replays on my Xbox 360.

Other gamers are satisfied with just getting to the end of the game – for them, that’s a game finished with. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – I’m like that with a fair few games myself. Like the Foo Fighters once sang, “Done, done, on to the next one”. But, in my opinion, those sort of players aren’t generally bothered with replayability. They’re the sort of gamers who either rent their titles via a service like LoveFilm, or are the sort to continue with a buy it-trade it in-buy it cycle.

There are some games you do buy specifically for their replayability though, theoretically endless games like Street Fighter X Tekken, FIFA 12, or the online multiplayer of Battlefield 3. These are games of skill – rather than games of progression – where each time you play you have the opportunity to learn a little more, whether by seeing new tactics and techniques from your opponent(s), or by trying out new approaches of your own.

Boom! Infinite replayability? I reckon so.

Of course, the best games of progression have a significant skill-based side to them too. After all, if there was no learning curve, nothing to improve at, then you would just be watching a story with interactive interruptions, rather than playing a game. And it’s there that I think Asura’s Wrath fell down for some reviewers; on your initial route through the game, there isn’t a whole lot to get good at. Normal difficulty is a bit on the easy side (even for someone as rubbish at most games like me). The only real challenges offered by the game are those that you impose upon yourself, such as completing the game on hard with the ‘mortal gauge’ equipped (which significantly reduces your health).

My argument, though, is that whether a game is deemed to be replayable or not is an entirely subjective thing; any game has as much replayability as you want. After all, if you really enjoy a game you’ll keep playing it, or maybe return to it once some time has passed and revisit it, like a favourite novel. The key question comes down to your own personal spin on what you look for in a game and how much you think an experience is worth.

For me, Asura’s Wrath has as much replayability as I want. I’m not going to go through the game dozens of times, but enough times to get those last few achievements and enjoy getting them. The story will never alter, but when I had such fun experiencing it the first time, why would I want it to be different?


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