Raji - An Ancient Epic takes you into the mystical world of the Indian faith. A story about loss, hope and one goal: saving your little brother. Come with us into the enchanting, mystical but also dangerous world of ancient India.
Not only is it the debut of Nodding Heads Games, an India-based studio founded by Indian developers, but it's an action-adventure game that completely basks in its ancient Indian setting, inspired by a treasure trove of Hindu and Balinese Mythology that we've only seen marginally, if at all, from games. Raji treats a setting that is wonderfully fresh and new. First of all, the word enchanting is mentioned very often in this test.
The story - not innovative, but gripping
The focus of the game is the heroine Raji, an orphaned street circus artist who is on a journey to save her younger brother Golu. At the same time she is chosen by the gods to defend her world from invading hordes of demons under the leadership of her master Mahabalasura.
Given her background, Raji is agile and acrobatic. She climbs tall pillars, jumps over chasms and walks over walls with the ease that some action heroes have in a video game. The game even plays a bit like an isometric Prince of Persia, though the camera moves a little more to dazzle you with the stunning scenery and architecture of its mystical realms. All in all, the game is very atmospheric and the mystical world casts you under its spell immediately.
Durga and Vishnu watch over you
Sometimes the camera feels a little too far away, which makes Raji an insignificant spot, especially when playing with the Switch in handheld mode like we did. But that also makes sense, since it is as if the Hindu gods are watching over their journey, which is actually the case, since this story is told between Durga - the goddess of war herself - and Vishnu. More than just observers, they also give Raji their strength through weapons, initially in the form of Durga's iconic trident weapon, the trishula.
The game follows a relatively linear structure as you progress through the levels, until a magical ring or shape locks you in a room, until you have dealt with an incoming demonic wave, similar to Devil May Cry. Combat is a straightforward affair with light and heavy attacks and an evasive throw. The slowness of the attacks makes the inputs seem a bit more methodical than mere buttonmashing, and it's easy for an opponent to put you in multiple stuns in a row if you're not careful. All of this makes the fights tactical and varied.
Acrobatics makes the game flexible
Fortunately, Raji's acrobatic skills come into play as you can usually take advantage of the environments in the ad hoc arenas, such as running up and jumping walls to unleash an AoE attack, or swinging around a pillar to get around stun a nearby enemy.
Other mechanics include the ability to do a finishing move on weakened enemies to restore your health, as well as some other switchable weapons and bullets that give your attacks elemental advantages. Occasionally you may encounter one wave of battle after the other, although those are also interrupted by platform throwing and some fairly simple rotating and cog-spinning puzzles.
As enchanting as the journey is, it is over quickly
At its core, these are fairly familiar mechanics that have been seen in many games in this genre. In the worst case, the controls can be a bit clunky, because we liked to have the problem that we jumped into ruin, even if it should have been a very simple jump. It is not always easy to position an evasive maneuver or an attack when some opponents are moving faster than your inputs allow. But these are just little things that don't stand in the way of fun. What remains in the memory, however, is how short the whole epic is, because after a few short hours the mystical journey is unfortunately already over. But how do you say: when it's at its best, you should stop. Although we would have been very happy to stay longer in this mystical world.
Because what really compels you to keep playing is the rich Indian culture that can be seen in virtually every picture. At all times we were enchanted by the exquisite murals depicting stories of only a fraction of the many Hindu deities told by Durga and Vishnu like old memories; the ambient strings of the sitar and the ravanaahatha as one traverses each area, suddenly interrupted by the excitement of the tabla drums when a section of battle begins. The inspired inclusion of Indian shadow puppetry is also a clever way for a low budget indie production to convey the more emotional and dramatic moments of the story without the glossy cut scenes. We had a really lovely time with Raji and we can only recommend it to everyone.
Number of players: 1
Age: from 6 (USK)
Long-term motivation: medium
Publisher: Super Dot Com Limited
Developer: Nodding Heads Games
Year of publication: 2020
platforms: Nintendo Switch
Languages: German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese
Cost: 24,99 Euro
Raji An Ancient Epic is a sure sign that there is a real appetite for more diverse stories like this one. The setting is wonderfully fresh and the developers have given heart and soul to bring the mystical world of India closer to us.
Much like Raji gaining confidence as a warrior and inciting her demonic enemies after knocking them down for Durga's amusement, it's a confident debut from Nodding Head, and we can only hope that next time it will be the stepping stone for another slightly longer one Epic will be.
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