Raji: An Ancient Epic is an award-nominated action-adventure game from Nodding Heads Games, published by Super.com. In a world steeped in Indian history and Hindu mythology, you must help Raji pursue the fiends who have taken her little brother and stop the demon Mahabalasura from bringing his evil plans to fruition.
Story – Raji the Demon Slayer
The tale begins with a demonic attack on the town where Raji and her little brother Golu are performing with fellow carnival entertainers. When Golu is stolen away by the attackers, Raji is sent on an epic journey with the blessing and weapon of Durga, goddess of war, to get him back and stop the demons from wreaking yet more carnage on the world. Along the way, she travels through ancient ruins, an overrun fortress, a beautiful waterside temple and more – but there’s no time to admire the incredible visuals, for with every step the evil Mahabalasura is bringing his wicked plans closer to fruition.
It’s a relatively simple story, about love and determination in all its forms – towards family, towards one’s fellow man, towards a world that teeters on the precipice of calamity – and it is, like much else in Raji, charmingly executed. Gameplay sections are occasionally broken up with cinematics in the style of a shadow-puppet show, and much of the story is otherwise provided by simple narration and conversation from the gods Durga and Vishnu while you play. Incidentally, special mention must be made of the voice-acting here: Sourin Chaudhuri and Alka Sharma both voice multiple characters and their roles as Vishnu and Durga in particular provide a lot of character and authenticity to the narration.
While the cast of characters is small, each is pretty well-realised, and throughout the game you are presented with plenty of opportunities to hear about myths and stories featuring the rest of the Hindu pantheon: corridors of beautifully-styled murals tell stories from Hindu and Balinese myth about the birth of Durga, the legend of Shakti, the avatars of Vishnu and more. It’s a fantastic chance to learn more about the history and mythology of a culture that is sorely under-represented in video games and in media at large.
Gameplay – Parkour Power
The bulk of the gameplay in Raji is split between platforming sections and combat encounters. Raji is a nimble little thing (she was a tumbler with the carnival after all) and the majority of the jumping, ledge-shimmying, wall-running and the like feels very fluid and satisfying. The levels are generally pretty linear, with the occasional memorable set piece with collapsing platforms and the like, but there are opportunities to go off the beaten track to pick up a few collectibles along the way as well.
Of note is the fixed camera in the game – well, it’s not exactly fixed, but it isn’t player-controlled and it moves of its own accord as you progress through the level. The majority of the time this isn’t an issue, and can actually be rather pleasing as it invariably frames every stunning vista you encounter along the way. On occasion, though, the chosen camera angle can make it a little difficult to gauge depth for some of the platforming, sending Raji plummeting to her brief doom. Some effort has been made to rectify this, however: Raji has a small collection of animations to show a reaction to her placement – teetering on the edge of a cliff, for example, or reaching out to another pole when she’s in range to jump to it – and the game is frequently and forgivingly checkpointed, so on the occasions that you do succumb to a Wile E. Coyote-style drop into the canyons below, you are quickly set back on track.
The combat encounters can be pleasantly varied, as Raji amasses a small collection of weapons over the course of the game, ending up with a spear, a bow, a sword and shield duo and a chakram by the time you reach the end. The majority of encounters see you ambushed by a handful of demons in an arena enclosed with a magical forcefield, which disappears once all the monsters are taken care of. Sometimes the arena will feature a wall or pillar that you can use to get some aerial attacks in, but generally you’re simply trading blows with the enemies and trying to dodge out of the way before you take too much damage. I encountered one small glitch where the invisible barrier stuck around after a fight concluded, trapping me in the arena, but restarting the game sorted that out and with the aforementioned generous checkpoints, I lost barely any progress.
You will also run into a few bosses over the course of the game. Some, like the Demon Chieftain, will play much like a regular battle, learning the tells for incoming attacks and ducking in to get a few hits in whenever you can. Others, like Naga in the Mystical Lands or even Yangda in the Golden City to an extent, have almost puzzle-like elements to them, and necessitate a more measured and patient approach.
With two different attack styles per weapon, plus special attacks and animations incorporating the jumping and free-running mechanics, there’s a lot of opportunity for mixing up your combat choices. The variety is a nice touch, especially in how it ties into the story and mythos of the game, though I did find that I rarely returned to Durga’s Trishul spear after receiving Vishnu’s sword and shield – why would I risk a close-combat weapon that didn’t have a defensive option when I now had another with comparable attack power that did?
Generally the combat was fairly enjoyable, though I did find that it felt a little heavy. For how agile Raji feels when climbing and running up walls, it was surprising to find combat feeling clunky at times: it can be difficult to steer out of the way of incoming hits, and with no way to cancel an attack mid-animation and the risk of getting mobbed and stunlocked by enemies, there were occasions where things verged on the frustrating. However, between short fights and generous health restoration opportunities the combat is just forgiving enough that it usually stays on the right side of that line.
Graphics and Audio – Drink in the View
Right off the bat, it must be said: Raji is a visually stunning game. The landscapes you can see are beautifully crafted, and the camera always knows just the right angle to really show off the most jaw-dropping views. A big part of the marketing for the game has drawn attention to the medieval Rajasthani architectural style and the Pahari art style – drawn by hand and subsequently rendered in 3D – the team used, and the results speak for themselves. Even the shadow-puppetry interludes are made with incredible artistry, and are perfectly suited to the aesthetic and theme of the game as a whole.
It’s not just about the big picture, too – there’s so much detail in every frame of the game, from clusters of fireflies to lovingly-rendered flowers and much more. It wasn’t until a second playthrough, for example, that I realised that, in one of the puzzles which featured rotating bits of a demonic tree to match contorted faces together, the statues in the foreground of the shot started reforming themselves the closer I got to the correct position, a wonderfully subtle touch that was perfectly in line with the themes and aims of casting out corruption and rebuilding a ravaged land. That detail can however make it a little difficult to distinguish the correct route to press onwards on occasion. If everything looks like a potential path, sometimes you might find yourself cast out of the illusion by hitting an invisible wall or, worse, jumping to your death because you thought there was a viable platform or handhold up ahead.
The sound work is also brilliant: the soundtrack is filled with authentic Indian music featuring singers, sitars, flutes and more, and the voice acting is superb. Again I was struck by the little details: Raji makes little grunts of effort when jumping around and engaging in combat that just make her seem more realised as a character, and Sourin Chaudhuri’s narration as the deva Vishnu feels genuine and real. The game really is just a joy to look at and listen to from start to finish.
Raji: An Ancient Epic was reviewed on PC with a Steam key provided by UberStrategist.