I played an hour of “Raji: An Ancient Epic” before I stopped and restarted. While it’s not uncommon for players to reboot a game after learning its basic controls, that wasn’t what made me want to begin again. “Raji” reminded me of a sensation I hadn’t thought about much during the pandemic: the feeling of exploring and discovering a new place.
“Raji” isn’t a replacement for a vacation, of course, but it sparked a desire to understand the in-game surroundings and its inspirations. A game that could be completed in a weekend stretched into a full week as I began writing down the names of deities such as Mahishasura and Kali for further research.
On the surface, “Raji” is an action-adventure game about a young woman rescuing her brother from forces of the underworld. But beyond asking players to tackle demonlike monsters with acrobatic fight moves, “Raji” is a labor of love that highlights ancient India and the culture it birthed.
Thus, as I mastered the game’s relatively robust combo-based fighting system, I discovered a decorative, lush world. Its interactive text is built on mythologies that have gone largely unexplored in modern Western media, especially games, where American obsession tends to dominate.
Narrated by the deities Durga and Vishnu, “Raji” made me feel like a traveler called to dig deeper into the Hindu and Balinese legends. One area of the game was inspired by the golden sandstone of the Indian city of Jaisalmer, home to a famed fortress whose tiered walls seem ripe for video game leaps.
“We had not seen a game made with this mythology. So we just went for it,” says Shruti Ghosh, co-founder of India-based Nodding Heads Games.
Completing the game, which is currently available for the Nintendo Switch and coming to the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in October, became something of a mission for the team, which at one point had to ask their families for grocery money. Of course, it helped that they were seeking to rediscover a history that, as children, they sometimes rolled their eyes at.
“I was calling my mother going, ‘Is this true? Is this actually true?’ ” Ghosh said. “I come from a part of India where goddess Durga is worshiped the most, and my family has been worshiping goddess Kali since who knows when. To read all this stuff has been eye-opening because I didn’t care much when growing up.”