The mythology of India is vast and varied, but its richness has rarely been the focal point in video games. Many outside of India will be at least somewhat aware of Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, and Hanuman, while the story of Diwali featuring Rama, Sita, and the demon king Ravana has also become known in nations around the world, but most won’t be aware of much beyond that.
Raji: An Ancient Epic is a game that explores aspects of these myths with its own twist, and the Indian studio Nodding Head Games has made a valiant effort to bring Indian mythology to gamers.
The game follows Raji as she attempts to rescue her brother Golu from the demon army of Mahabalasura. Mahabalasura was imprisoned by the gods but escaped took his revenge with this invasion. After seeing her brother kidnapped, Raji is blessed by the goddess of war Durga and given her first weapon, the Trishul, with further gods granting her more weapons as she continues her adventure. Each one allows for different approaches in fights, especially as they can be imbued with elemental powers of fire, lightning and ice.
Combat is quite simple to get to grips with. Switching between weapons is quick, going hand in hand with Raji’s acrobatic abilities, thanks to her circus upbringing. She can run up walls and flip off them to land strikes that look more and more impressive as weapon abilities are upgraded.
There is some good enemy variety, going from fast-paced monkey-like demons to towering demons that are slow but deal a lot more damage. There are moments when enemies swarm Raji and it can be a bit overwhelming, but once you learn enemy styles they are easier to manage. A few boss fights are sprinkled through the seven-hour playtime, but they lack that spark to make them particularly entertaining or memorable. The final boss in particular is let down for lacking difficulty and featuring music that doesn’t make it feel as epic as it should.
The other side of Raji: An Ancient Epic is platforming, and it’s here where the game really falls down – excuse the pun. Controlling the direction of Raji’s jump feels inconsistent, leading to missing platforms, or she will sometimes simply not jump far enough even when the jump is perfectly lined up. It can be quite a frustrating experience alongside the path ahead that’s sometimes hard to spot. It also doesn’t help that a lot of actions are tied to one context sensitive button, be it climbing then grabbing a ledge or climbing then jumping off a wall. Sometimes Raji will do one thing when you want her to do another. There is also very little exploration off the beaten path in Raji: An Ancient Epic as most levels are linear, which makes these things feels that little bit more frustrating.
Where Raji: An Ancient Epic fares better is with its environment designs. You can tell Nodding Head put a lot of focus into the presentation of the game, from the environments Raji traverses – one particular area is a visual masterpiece – to the cutscenes having a shadow puppet style. They also delve into other Hindu myths through murals found in the world, their significance explained by the narration of Vishnu and Durga.
The voice acting for Vishnu and Durga is great, but Raji’s portrayal lacks a certain punch. She might be in a battle against demons to save her brother but sometimes the emotion just comes across as a bit flat, while the opposite is true of one of the bosses who is very hammed up. It’s backed by a soundtrack with traditional Indian inspirations that accompanies the action and visuals very well… outside of that final boss battle.