Raji: An Ancient Epic will launch later this year. A demo is currently available on Steam as part of The Game Festival.
My knowledge of Ancient Indian culture doesn't extend much beyond the names of Final Fantasy summons Shiva and Ramuh. But if indie brawler Raji: An Ancient Epic had existed alongside Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, and Jason and the Argonauts in my formative years, I would have been just as absorbed by the fascinating, culturally rich world of Ancient India it presents.
Raji: An Ancient Epic explores the woefully underused world of Hindu Mythology, an intriguing setting of warring gods and grotesque demons that creates a fantastic backdrop for a hack-and-slash brawler. Unfortunately the early level demo is plagued with serious framerate issues and performance bugs.
The story opens with a young Indian woman named Raji being plopped onto a mountain filled with shrines, statues, and murals. Her younger brother Golu has been kidnapped by invading demons led by the demon lord Mahabalasura. Thankfully Raji has been chosen by the gods Durga and Vishnu to be their official demon butt-kicker.
The many-armed Durga grants Raji one of her relics, a magical trident called Trishul. Not just any weapon, the Trishul has magic lightning that spark and crackles with each swing, and can later unleash a stunning electrical storm.
The Trishul was once used by Durga to slay the buffalo demon Mahishasura, which I learn by interacting with the many colorful murals that dot the mountainous tutorial area. Vishnu's calm narration serves as a museum-like audio tour guide.
This exploration of Hindu Legends is captivating. I appreciate the focus on in-game mural interactions and rotating mandala puzzles, along with cutscenes that use inky, tattoo-like figures, emphasizing the detailed visual history. The uplifting orchestral music features classic Indian drums and stringed instruments, and the minimalist health indicators are displayed as flowery petals and bars around Raji and her foes.
But this isn't a visual novel, it's a brawler with a bit of light platforming. I jump, climb, and wall-run from one combat arena to the next, where goblinoid demons with painted faces, lolling tongues, and colorful underpants attack with clubs and poisonous spit-globs.
Raji isn't a powerhouse brute. She's fast and nimble, dancing around enemies and leaping forward with Trishul to stab, sweep, and shock with arcs of electricity, unleashing easy yet effective attack combos using light and heavy attacks.
Aside from basic button-mashing combos, Raji is something of a parkour athlete, and doesn't need fancy power armor or a jetpack to run on walls. I can use the environment to gain extra attacks, such as swinging around poles to knock back approaching enemies, and run up nearby walls to leap down with big sweeping attacks. The trident can also fire bolts of lightning, useful for targeting ranged enemies and solving a few simple puzzles.
Trishul's lightning-filled attack animations, quick combos, and slow-mo executions create fun, visually satisfying (and minimally violent) combat encounters. At least they would if the action didn't completely lock up. Throughout every single combat encounter, the game would periodically freeze for as long as 10 seconds, destroying any sense of rhythm and making combat unintentionally difficult and frustrating.
The constant freezing also hampered many of the cool-looking attacks, like the wall-jump, making them nearly impossible to execute. The freezes were less prevalent outside of combat, though still causing me to miss a few jumps and wall-runs.
The other major performance bug I ran into occurred during the final two cutscenes. The voice-over became choppy and scratchy to the point of almost incoherence, and the final cutscene before the end of the demo seemed to end abruptly mid-sentence.
In its current early demo incarnation Raji: An Ancient Epic is almost unplayable. It's a huge shame as Nodding Heads Games (based in India) has created a wonderfully immersive world based on a setting we rarely get to visit in games. When it's not constantly locking up, the combat system is fast and fluid, and new abilities are unlocked at a rapid pace. Assuming the performance issues can be nailed down, I look forward to revisiting this world again.