Games designed in India are a rarity and Raji, in development for a while, has been eagerly awaited by people who first saw its showcase at Nasscom’s 2017 Game developer conference. Designed by a team from Pune, the expectations from Nodding Head games cannot be overstated as they aspire to tell an Indian tale completely designed in India.
Designed on the unreal engine, Raji packs quite a punch in terms of visuals and the overall design. The Indian aesthetic is well done and the background score and hand drawn animations give the game a wonderful new dimension. As you power up the game for the first time, you cannot help yourself as you strive to take it all in.
The actual game, though, is an altogether different experience, as it struggles to find an identity and a purpose. Narratively, Raji’s brother Golu has been kidnapped by demons and she must rescue him; a plot as old as Mario and Dave but ineffective here as the plot is threadbare at best. The game bestows Raji with mythic weapons like the trident of Durga and the bow of Vishnu as the celestials narrate the game but the narration is more a commentary as, at times, it feels disjointed, shallow and alienates the player from the main character.
The narration and depiction of Indian goddesses and gods is a significant track in game but it offers almost nothing in terms of gameplay and the overall experience. This uncharacteristic mix makes Raji feel like two things — an action, puzzle-based side scroller and a primer on Indian mythology. There are several better games like Journey and Bastion that offer what Raji (at times, the inspirations from them become evident as one progresses in Raji) does but are superlative on all fronts. However, they don’t engage with Indian mythology.
In terms of gameplay, the combat is repetitive and predictable; the special effects, while spectral and visually appealing, can’t mask that you are fighting the same monsters recurrently. As Raji slays her enemies, her characterisation is devoid of emotion for most of the game and when she shows it, it is jarring.
The shallow gameplay, the overtly oriental feel and a plot steeped in mythology almost make one feel that the game was designed for an audience not living in India. To serve as a window to Indian culture maybe? Our suspicions become more substantial when you realise that the game for now is released only on the Switch, a console not officially available in India.
Raji is a small step for the Indian gaming industry; hope it becomes a giant leap someday. As it stands, it is disappointing on several fronts.
|What Stands Out||Fails to impress|
|The game looks beautiful and at times stunning, the Indian aesthetic is very well done both in terms of visual design and background score||The game’s narrative and character development arcs are sub-par at best. Raji as the protagonist is stolid, wooden and lacks substance|
|The game is stuck in an identity crisis, is it an experience of play or is it a narrator of Indian mythology, lacking on both fronts|
|Title||Raji: An Ancient Epic|
|Developer||Nodding Head Games|
|Game Type||Third Person Action Platformer with RPG elements|
|Platforms||Nintendo Switch (released) Microsoft Windows, Xbox One and PS4 (forthcoming)|
|Game Handling & Quality||3|
|Value for Time||3|
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