The biggest challenge indie titles face is the outstanding number of shadows they need to get out from under in order to be noticed. Thankfully, there are a number of indie darlings offering reprieves from the often monotonous conveyer belt that is the Triple-A market. One of these darlings is, without a doubt, Journey – a game that clearly inspired yet another new indie hit: Raji: An Ancient Epic.
Raji: An Ancient Epic is one of the first games I have ever experienced with a heavy focus on Hindu mythology, and also the first game from Nodding Heads, an India-based development studio. As a westerner with a keen interest in Greek mythology and Roman history, other mythologies have flown over my head. As such, it will come as no surprise that I have zero knowledge about Hindu mythology and the gods and practices referenced in the game. Even so, I would be remiss not to mention how incredible the learning experience has been. Raji stands on its own as a strong contender against some of the greater indie titles available, with only one or two niggles in the way of its greatness.
Raji follows the titular character; who wakes up the day after her and her brother’s circus performance is besieged with demons and otherworldly entities led by Mahabalasura. The prologue showcases how the demons invade and slaughter everyone except for the children, who are kidnapped. In the process, Raji has been struck down while defending her home and those around her – including her brother who is now missing. Determined to rescue both her brother and all the children, Raji prays to the Goddess of War, Durga, and is granted a sacred weapon. She accepts the weapon and charges herself with saving the kidnapped ones and ridding the world of Mahabalasura. The game even ends in confidence, with a light cliffhanger, suggesting more may come in the future – and I certainly hope for a sequel.
While Raji’s narrative ties directly into Hindu mythology the same way God of War tied into Greek mythology, the game is also much more refined. The game’s scale, while exponential for Raji and everyone else involved, is much more reserved. The gameplay aesthetic also lends itself extremely well to the way the story is told, and how the narrative unfurls with every prompt from the player. While I may be digressing quite a bit, all of this is to say that the entire package helps to deliver a strong and solid narrative experience trying in beautifully with the gameplay on offer. Cutscenes, for instance, are created from mixed interactive elements. They play out as puppet shows, but in intricate environments telling stories of their own. This helps to convey the same emotions Raji is experiencing. Similarly, the voice over work from mythological characters Durga and Vishnu, flawlessly moves the plot forward while players move Raji through the many labyrinths of the game.
For how short it is (coming in at only four hours or so), Raji: An Ancient Epic has a lot of sustenance. In the first hour alone, it quickly teaches players about the gods, and what their roles are. From Raji’s perspective, these gods are all equally important, and none are better than the others. Similarly, their intended roles for Raji in the grander scheme appears clear from the start. It is all about balance, however, and the scale is being influenced behind the scenes. The overall experience in the way the game reveals these elements to players is surprisingly great.
The story and design blend into an exceptional narrative, one further complemented by the gameplay. Together they all tie into each other like a beautiful hasthagranthi (the ritual of “tying the knot”). As good as it all is, however, the very basic gameplay will leave gamers wanting; and it takes away slightly from the mythological artwork on offer. Nevertheless, gameplay is quite enjoyable with platforming elements suited to the stage design. Acrobatic gameplay makes up the brunt of the gameplay as Raji moves from room to room. There are weapons, and combat is also a strong aspect of the gameplay experience. Weapons feel empowering when Raji holds them, and the game also features a fairly simple upgrade system allowing players to upgrade the weapons they favour with elements and abilities.
As simple as the combat and upgrading system might be, I do not think that it removes from the already excellent features in place. In fact, it sort of serves as a boon, whether unintentional or otherwise, putting the aesthetic design at the forefront of the experience. Indie hits such as Journey and Hollow Knight have very deliberate art styles, and Raji: An Ancient Epic is no different. While it seems extremely plain at first, the aesthetics quickly bloom and show its full potential as the narrative matures. This is especially true when the camera pans out to showcase beautiful level design stacked onto neat light and shadow play bouncing off levels featuring Hindu statues and buildings.
Raji: An Ancient Epic proves it is worthy of its title. It is often easy to think of an indie title as good looking; or with masterful platforming segments in levels that make sense given the story. However, it is extremely rare for an indie title to have all those facets combined in a single package. At its core, gameplay may be uninteresting, but this entire facet allows for something way more important: world building. Raji also finds an incredible boon in its excellent voice over work and sound design, which is especially true for supporting characters like Durgu. Where Raji absolutely shines, however, is in its exceptional narrative. It combines level design and storytelling in beautiful ways that not only teaches, but also moves the plot forward. Raji: An Ancient Epic may not be a big triple-A hit, but it most certainly is a title that deserves to be experienced.
|Beautiful learning experience||Combat could be a little more involved|
|Top Tier narration and sound design||Only around four hours long|
|Beautiful level design|
Title reviewed on Microsoft Windows (Steam) with code supplied by Nodding Head Games.