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Raji: A HISTORICAL Epic can be an unusual thing – a console-quality game manufactured in India, centred on Indian culture, and produced by an Indian studio taking the lead. Pune-based Nodding Heads Games makes their debut with Raji, a hack-and-slash platforming adventure inspired by Indian mythology, which follows the titular teenager as she battles a range of demons across a number of otherworldly environments with the aid of Hindu goddesses and gods such as for example Durga and Vishnu.
It has been in the works for a long time – we spoke to game designer Avichal Singh in late 2017 when it went through to Kickstarter, and it had been said to be release in mid-2019 – but it’s finally on the Nintendo Switch as a timed exclusive, and just around the corner to PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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The big charm of Raji is its unique visual, aural, and scripted landscape, due to its Indian roots and thanks partly to the fact that it is rarely depicted on screen in the gaming arena. We especially loved Raji’s background score and sound design, which incorporates local folk instruments including the sitar (necked bowl lute), tabla (twin hand drums), bansuri (side-blown flute), ravanahatha (bowed stringed violin) – and ornaments in Raji’s payals (anklets).
Increase that the stories of Hindu mythology that are weaved into Raji, either within the game’s central narrative or depicted as murals, which are explained by method of reflecting on memories by Raji’s narrators, the Goddess of War Durga and the God of Preservation Vishnu, and there’s lots of intricate detail to take. In doing this, Raji becomes a gateway to introduce Indian mythos to newer generations and audiences.
But in rendering it accessible, Raji loses from a few of its authenticity. The overall game is basically in English with small parts in Hindi. There are no Indian language options for the subtitles either, despite the fact that Raji supplies the likes of Spanish, French, Korean, Russian, and Mandarin. But that’s understandable from a business perspective. The (non-mobile) gaming market is a lot more robust outside India, which explains why it seems sensible that Raji is targeted at the international audience.
And given the prevalence of English in India and the premium crowd that it is targeting – it’s limited by the Switch for the present time, a console that’s not officially sold here, and the actual fact that the overall game costs $25 (about Rs. 1,900) – Raji may easily manage with just English. Its bigger problem is too little polish using departments, but Raji continues to be a strong effort.
Raji commences by introducing two orphaned kids, the circus performer Raji (voiced by Alka Sharma) and her younger storyteller brother Golu (also Sharma), on your day of Raksha Bandhan, a festive holiday that celebrates the sibling bond where brothers promise to safeguard their sisters. However in a feminist spin on proceedings, it is the elder Raji who must come to her brother’s rescue after he’s captured by the demons whose tale he tells for a full time income. The opening cut-scene – and the ones that follow – deploy shadow puppets to depict the many characters, which also poetically emphasises Raji’s connections to Indian folk art.
That cultural link can be observed in Raji’s mini-puzzles that are inspired by mandalas – geometric artwork that is part of Hinduism and other religions around the world – and help develop the brother-sister relationship that gets a couple of minutes initially. Other puzzles need you to pay attention to the surroundings, instead of the puzzle itself. As a casino game mechanic, these factors serve as a much-needed break between bouts of combat.
Talking about combat, Raji has you fighting a range of monsters whose designs also draw off Indian mythos. There are huge, hulking beasts with a huge club as weapon. There are fast-moving money-like creatures that are looking to bite your mind off. Others launch bile-filled projectiles, be capable of fly, or are shaped just like a chakra with an eye in the centre.
The enemies you face as Raji change as you traverse new worlds, while some carry over across worlds. As Raji chases the demons to free Golu, you get started in a temple to Durga (Sharma) that feels inspired by royal Rajasthani architecture. The next world – “Hiranya Nagari” – is intended to be focused on Vishnu (Sourin Chaudhari) himself and revolves around lotuses and water. As the Durga world is tinged by fire, involves misshapen rocks, and feels inhospitable, Hiranya Nagari is elegant, beautiful, and serene because of its cool colour palette and design aesthetic.
As you progress into newer worlds with Raji, you can also unlock new elemental powers and weapons gifted by the gods. You start with a Trishul and lightning talents because of Durga, with Vishnu later granting fire and a ranged weapon.
Raji’s weapons and powers could be upgraded too. There is no open world exploration on Raji, nevertheless, you should explore every area. At times, Raji will leave you at a T-junction. Among the paths will push the overall game forward, as the other will be at a dead-end. But it is the latter which will usually give you usage of coloured orbs that restore your wellbeing, boost your favour with the gods, or works extremely well for these upgrades.
Durga gives you chain lightning, electrocution, and electric bolts, while Vishnu permits you to inflict burn damage, link a fireball, or drop a meteor on the battlefield. You can improve the probability of the attacks by assigning orbs. However they aren’t permanently spent and will be reassigned anytime.
Raji delivering a location of effect damage in Raji: A HISTORICAL Epic
Photo Credit: Nodding Heads Games
As the god-gifted weapons and powers form her attack, Raji increases that with her excellent acrobatic movement abilities, thanks to enough time spent in the circus. It quietly justifies how she’s in a position to leap past chasms, cling to and swing around poles, and run up walls. The overall game offers just a little tutorial of the mechanics whenever it’s first needed, showing you ways to incorporate movement and attack to create several combos, be it back-flipping off walls like in The Matrix or triggering area damage together with your Trishul somewhat like Aquaman.
Raji’s versatility even turns up in attack if you are not explicitly using it. Smash the same attack button multiple times, and Raji will hop, cartwheel, and fling herself to increase distance, allowing her to evade enemy attacks and reach further with her own attacks as well.
Though she’s agile and powerful, Raji is fairly reliant on the landscape around her. Without walls to scale and poles to swing around, she’s much less capable in attack. And she’s little in the defence department to get started with, at least in the first few hours, which ensures that it’s even more vital that you prioritise dodging – or blocking, once that can be found – enemy fire.
A lot more so during boss fights, which need you to strategise much more: identify your opponent’s patterns, preserve your wellbeing at all costs, find out the attack solution, and execute it to perfection. Otherwise, you will be staring at death again and again. And you can’t try to escape from any fights. Each time you face enemies, Raji locks you in a imaginary boundary that you can’t leave until you win.
Where in fact the game falters is in the graphics department. For example, all of the stairs on Raji are made of quite large polygons. Raji can’t put her foot on individual steps and instead feels as though she’s gliding down them. More annoyingly, Raji’s face itself is one giant polygon and does not have any detail to it. Some environments are actually saturated and/or dark. Despite having the Activate full brightness, I’d trouble seeing where I was going. Having it on TV didn’t make it any easier.
And regardless of the mediocre graphical fidelity, Raji isn’t always a smooth experience, with the overall game lagging in heavy environments. We also ran into bugs where we got stuck in an even, were forced to reload a saved slot, and doing this crashed the game. A few of this is right down to the Switch’s capabilities, as we are able to attest from spending a few hours with the demo on Xbox One.
An object out of Indian mythos in Raji: A HISTORICAL Epic
Photo Credit: Nodding Heads Games
They are all signs of these insufficient polish in Raji, which can be evident in select items of voice acting. But also for a debut effort – Nodding Heads Games spent some time working with a global team, but it’s their brainchild and them at the forefront – it’s proof that Indian studios with the proper push can deliver titles for major consoles, rather than be stuck in the free-to-play mobile mess that dominates Indian game development.
It’s also proof what India can donate to the games industry from its vast culture – with the proper eye. While both Durga and Vishnu watch over Raji across her journey, the latter is sceptical and wonders if she’s capable as the former steadfastly believes in her. The goddess who was simply created by a coalition of defeated gods as a final resort against an all-powerful demon.
In a heavily patriarchal society where religion can often be twisted to serve misogyny, kudos to the developers to make a teenage girl the playable character, who prays to said goddess and is empowered by her. Raji isn’t just a dutiful Durga devotee but also a believer of her own abilities, as she jumps around within an Indian dress and banters with demons while slaughtering them. The overall game that takes her name is a genuine feminist fable.
Lovely background score, sound design
Visual influences and detail
Narrative threading of Indian mythology
A feminist fable
English voice acting impacts authenticity
Combat doesn’t innovate on genre
Poor graphical fidelity
Lags sometimes on the Swit