SRRN Games, LLC
Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
Requires iOS 3.1 or later.
Age Rating: 9+
“This is a well. You might think that there is something to it… but in fact it is just an ordinary well.” So says Ash, an impressive new iOS role-playing game by SRRN Games, when you try to investigate a well located on the eastern side of the town in which you begin your quest.
The game tells the story of two mercenaries, Nicholas and Damien, whose fate is inextricably tied to that of the collapsing Empire of Aghaus. As the title suggests, Ash is (loosely) about what comes after the fire – which in this case is represented by the death of the King, and… something else (I don’t want to give the story away).
It is pretty standard RPG fare – there’s an overworld from which you can enter towns and other landmarks, combat encounters occur randomly, you have a party of four, there are inns and shops, and you can wander into people’s homes to steal their belongings while they talk to you about the weather. The graphics are disappointingly generic in style, with little of the finer detail found in the best Super Nintendo-era RPGs – such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI – from which it takes its cue.
But if you look beneath the surface, Ash is nothing short of remarkable. The main narrative arc has a surprising depth to it, with far more at stake than it initially seems. Characters’ motivations are believable and, in some cases, multi-layered. The subplots add an extra dimension to the four characters that eventually make up your party. And it is a joy to read their discussions and observations, which are often tinged with fantastic humour.
Even investigating the environment – normally a tedious way to grab a few extra weapons and items – is a fun experience. Ash is a game unafraid to poke fun at RPG conventions, while also striving for originality. I found myself tapping on almost everything in hopes of receiving another witty observation or snide remark. There are several recurring gags and pop culture references, plus a few very unusual moments – such as when you look out of the window of a house to see “a funny man dressed in all-pink skip across your field of view outside”.
I also discovered a few surprisingly touching descriptions of objects in the environment that only a handful of others are likely to see, which shows just how much love and attention to detail has been poured into Ash.
Combat is a fast-paced, turn-based affair, with each character possessing unique abilities that are learnt as the party levels up. Health and skill points are completely replenished when you accrue enough experience for the next level, which helps to reduce the reliance on expensive healing items. Battle menus are quick and easy to navigate — you tap once to choose between attack, special ability, wait, and flee, then, if necessary, tap again to select the ability before tapping on the enemy or ally to target. Each action has a distinct icon, and a text box at the bottom of the screen gives a running commentary of the battle’s state.
Many bugs that were present shortly after release have already been fixed, including a horrible one that would leave you stuck in a thicket of trees (which set me back around two hours). Problems with game balance and uneven or excessive difficulty – especially in the early parts – have also been resolved, and an alternate control scheme has been added – the new option allows navigation via a d-pad and action button; the game previously offered only relative controls that involve touching all over the screen for movement and directly on top of objects for interaction. (I appear to be in a minority for preferring the latter.)
The only issue that still jumps out at me is the absence of an in-game map. It is extremely tiresome to wander the world with little indication as to where you are, trying to figure out exactly where the next town is located – especially with random encounters constantly dogging your progress. The developers have made a map and partially complete strategy guide available for download from their website, but it is unlikely many players will know about that – let alone go to the trouble of using it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ash, and not just as a throwback to the SNES-era – it is a game that stands up in its own right. Ash doesn’t have the deepest RPG mechanics, but they are nonetheless fun to master. It has a captivating story with lively characters, which always leaves you wanting to know more. The ending will make you stop and think about right and wrong; good versus evil, and your unwitting role in furthering the cause of both sides. The soundtrack is good but unspectacular, with a few memorable tracks.
With at least 15 hours of gameplay (I spent nearly double that), it is far from a short experience. But the time investment is certainly worth it.Ash,