Dark Light

An eternal war between the forces of good and evil. Mortals and their petty squabbles in the grand scheme of things. Gods reincarnated as human beings and tales of brave kings, queens, and peasants achieving the impossible in order to fulfill their destiny Indian mythology is definitely an untapped stream bristling with potential. It might sound ironic coming from an Indian guy, but I put the country’s fables and legends on par with the likes of Greek and Chinese myths. It’s a surprise indeed that the native entertainment industry doesn’t do much with the material readily available to them (discounting the cringe soap operas serving as an ad campaign for models with chiseled physiques and a dire need of an acting class). I’ve always envisioned a video game based on the Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, developed natively as computer role-playing games exploring the complex moral and philosophical questions they impose. But that is a pipe dream for the time being as video game development in India has a long and arduous journey ahead.

Raji: an ancient epic

Taking the crucial first step is Nodding Head Games with their much-anticipated Raji: An Ancient Epic. It’s not been an easy road for the Pune-based studio and the difficulties the studio went through are well recorded by The Mako Reactor. Tanushri also examined the fruits of their labor in our Switch review for Raji over a month ago. But the real legacy (and long-term sales figures) of Raji rides on the PC version, which happens to release today. With that said, let’s dive deep into Raji: An Ancient Epic and see what all the fuss is about.

Cultural Appreciation 

Staying true to the title, Raji is an Indian epic. Well, at least what the first two chapters of a 1000 page text would look like. Durga, the goddess of war, narrates the story of our protagonist Raji and her beloved brother Golu – two orphaned street artists in the scorching sands of Rajasthan. On the day of the celebration of Rakshabandhan, a horde of demons led by Mahabalasura invades their town, captures Golu and leaves destruction in their wake. The plight of Raji as she takes on the daunting task of rescuing her brother from the demon horde with the help of the Gods forms the crux of the story.

The narrative is pretty straightforward and extremely linear but it’s one that is told through beautifully crafted cutscenes mimicking scenes from a mix of string and shadow puppetry. It’s a really charming and fresh take on the standard (and at times, awkward) 3D cutscenes usually present in small-budget games. Even though you go through a straight line from point A to B, there are tidbits of lore from Hindu mythology to learn along the way in the form of beautiful and fully narrated wall paintings. While the stories told through them might be a little hard to comprehend for outsiders (there are like 3 trillion deities in the Hindu Puranas after all), I loved listening to each and everyone, so much so that I was disappointed to see that there aren’t more of these. The non-intrusive background storytelling by Durga and Vishnu brings a nice sublime touch to the game.

Raji is a visual treat, there are no two ways about it. The gorgeous handcrafted backdrops combined with the colorful, low-poly art style elevates the whole experience to another level. Overgrown hilltop shrines, the dusty courtyards of forgotten Rajasthan castles, the semi-submerged temple city dedicated to Lord Vishu all wonderfully created and a welcome change from all the retro-inspired pixel art indie games out there. Tanushri already talked extensively about the beauty of Raji in a more articulate way in her Switch review of the game. Check that out!

Raji: an ancient epic

I was surprised to see that every cutscene in the game was fully voice acted – a rare sight in most indie games. The voice acting, for the most part, is decent with the actors for Maa Durga and Lord Vishnu putting in a commendable effort. The voice work for Raji, on the other hand, can come off as pretty unconvincing. The actor has a hard time conveying the necessary emotions of Raji through what sounds like an exaggerated version of the Indian accent typically heard on those terrible Cartoon Network shows. Unironically, the whole thing would have felt much more organic if there was an option to have Hindi audio, but considering the budget and troubled development, I can let that one slide. Aside from that, Raji: An Ancient Epic does a stellar job of presenting itself to the player.

Raji is pretty straightforward when it comes to the gameplay side of things as well — it’s your typical action platformer that plays safe to genre strengths. As the talented acrobat Raji, you’ll run, jump, climb poles and do all sorts of shenanigans you expect from Abe or the Prince. In your journey, you’ll duke it out with a variety of demons in picturesque levels straight out of a fairy tale. Raji does give you a lot of options to help make your experience with the traditional hack ‘n’ slash combat more forthcoming including multiple weapons that all function differently, a lot of cool moves to pull off, various power-ups, unlockable elemental passives, and weapon-specific attacks to decimate your foes.

Sadly, the combat never elevates itself above the average level. It’s serviceable for sure, but it just lacks the tightness and fluidity compared to other indie games. Raji’s attacks lack impact and enemy feedback isn’t any better. She has sometimes trouble auto-targeting enemies and figuring out whether to go for a contextual attack using a pole nearby or deliver a standard untargeted attack and pray that it connects. The lackluster sound effects also contribute to the combat feeling pretty uninspired. I hope the developers will be able to fine-tune the combat via post-launch patches because there’s definitely potential for fun in there.

But, it’s not all roshni (sunshine) and indradhanush (rainbows) in other departments as well. Raji’s biggest failing lies in the length of its campaign and the final act altogether. Around the 5 hour mark, the game ends in a rather abrupt and anticlimactic manner accompanied by a huge cliffhanger. It just ends without any closure or even a satisfying epilogue. Since we do not know anything about the future of the game, it’d have been better served as a self-contained experience with a definite start, middle, and end. It’s quite possible that the developers ran out of budget and had to rush these parts. Hiranya Nagari, possibly the most enchanting level of them all is also dragged out severely. It very well could have been cut by half to given us two fresh levels to explore. The game also likes to stay a bit too safe in the moment-to-moment gameplay side of things and repeats the two ‘alignment’ puzzles far too often, wasting the opportunity to pick the brains of the players in creative ways.

Real Talk

Raji: An Ancient Epic is not without flaws. It’s quite short and a bit rough around the edges. But it’s also possibly the start of something beautiful and something most indie fans would enjoy playing. The gorgeous art design, decent storytelling, and the overall aesthetics make it worth experiencing at least once. Here’s hoping to see great things from Nodding Head in the future.


1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts