Though I am American born and raised, my family on both sides comes from India. I was raised Hindu, and though I don't actively practice the religion as an adult I cannot overstate the impact that my culture had on me as a child. Back then, the stories my grandmother told me every night were real. The story of Parvati building a son from clay and Shiva replacing his head with an elephant's. The story of Hanuman, the hundred-headed monkey god, stealing mangoes from merchants on the river. The story of Krishna, God's human avatar, breaking into homes to steal and eat their butter. This was all real to me as a child. Vishnu, Lakshmi, Kali - these characters are not just characters to me. And though I know they are just stories, they have become real in how much they've informed who I am and what I value. When I was handed the preview for Raji, I set my expectations high. Would this game really do what I had always wanted and let me truly live inside those old stories, as God of War had done for Norse mythology?
The short answer to that question is yes. This third-person action-adventure game takes Raji, an otherwise unremarkable Indian girl from ancient times, on a quest through the world of the gods to rescue her brother from the buffalo-headed demon king Mahishasura. Raji wanders into a temple with an enormous statue of Durga, the goddess of war. As she walks you can hear the Bengals on her right leg clanging together and the sound instantly invokes ancient India. I remember the chill that went down my spine as I walked into the temple and Vishnu spoke. The voice was calm, but certain and powerful. And then Durga answered him, her voice quiet but full of concentrated rage. This was the voice of God. I stopped in my tracks, my mouth agape. At that moment, I knew that the love and care Nodding Head Games had built Raji on was going to carry this project to success.
The 30-minute demo consists of only the tutorial level ending with a boss fight, but it gives the player plenty of time to see how the game will play out in the long run. In fact, this is a particularly well-made tutorial. Without inundating you with things to do, you'll be taught how to fight demons and monsters while learning just a bit about Hindu mythology through Durga and Vishnu's voice-over conversations. Combat feels surprisingly good and the game takes full advantage of rumble as well, so even if you're a diehard mouse and keyboard fan consider breaking out a controller for this one.
Raji has a light attack and a heavy attack, and chaining three hits together in different ways will achieve short combo strings. There's a certain rhythm to get into, dodging and chaining attacks. Your primary weapon at the beginning is Vishnu's own spear, Trishula, which can cast lightning attacks as well as deal damage. Later on in the full game, doing quests for specific gods will yield you control of their sacred weapon, each with different powers. As a circus performer, Raji also has the ability to parkour and wall run to chain different kinds of attacks from the air, making her extremely mobile during combat. Defeating an enemy yields small green healing orbs. The game doesn't appear to utilize items, loot, or and RPG mechanics at all - this is an action-adventure through and through.
There are roughly one billion people in India. About one-eighth of the world. As far as I have been able to find, there are two full video games that are about India. One is an indie management RPG called Unrest, and the other is Far Cry 4. You may be noticing a bit of a discrepancy in those numbers. Indian mythology contains some of the most complex, rich and intricate legends in the world, and yet we barely see it touched in video games. Regardless of your previous knowledge of Indian mythology, there's something special to be found in Raji. Even if you just don't care about the ancient war where Durga killed Mahishasura, the gorgeous visuals, innovative monsters, and satisfying action should keep the attention of most players. The voice acting is top-tier, and each actor clearly understands the gravity of their role in voicing a god. Though a much lower budget affair, it is immediately plain to see that the same care given to 2018's God of War was put into this project. I eagerly await the release of the full game and am truly excited to step into the world my ancestors came from so long ago.
TechRaptor previewed Raji: An Ancient Epic on PC with a copy freely downloaded by the reviewer.