Ash iPhone Review
|Publisher(s):||SRRN Games, LLC|
|Developer(s):||SRRN Games, LLC|
I’ve played around with a number of RPGs for the iPhone (Dungeon Hunter: meh; Song Summoner: unbearably awful). Ash has been my favorite, by leaps and bounds. I mean, I actually beat it. And not only did I beat it, I’ve been playing it pretty compulsively for the past week, every time I’ve had 30 seconds or a half hour free to run around.
Hit the jump for my full breakdown.
The story is classic RPG fantasy fare: a kingdom in danger, a spreading corruption, an evil ruler to defeat, and a group of misfit protagonists with mysterious pasts who are thrown together by fate and their own intrinsic badassery in order to save the world. Ash doesn’t provide anything novel on the storytelling front, but what it does offer is still satisfying, at its heart a tale about friendship and regret that’s often funny and occasionally touching.
Fair warning, though: although this isn’t marked as “part one” or “chapter one”, there is a whole second game in development, so don’t be surprised when at a critical moment the credits start to roll. The abrupt ending irked me a little, but at the same time, I’m happy the story will continue, so I can’t complain too much. Stick around after the credits for another cut scene that will prepare you for what’s in store next chapter.
What really shines in this game are the characters and the writing. Nick and Damien are a great pair, and their interactions are hilarious and earnest. The other two characters, Yuka and Olesanmi, appear late in the game and are fairly undeveloped, but since this is clearly the first in at least a duo of games, I’m assuming that Yuka’s developing romance with Damien and Olesanmi’s mysterious origins in the “Southern Continent” will be explored more in Part 2.
The writing is also clever elsewhere in the game, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to pop culture (there’s a Game of Thrones “Winter is Coming” gag that made me grin) and RPGs in general.
If you’re looking for challenging gameplay and lots of strategy, this is not the game for you. The fighting system is what you would expect from this kind of turn-based game. Tapping on the enemies until they died got me through most of the fights. On rare occasions opponents were too tough to be killed within a few hits, so spells and skills were necessary. I’ve heard other people found it helpful to grind through the first part of the game, and while the beginning was a little tougher than the end, the only reason I found to grind at the beginning was to get a little extra gold for equipment. None of the bosses were particularly difficult. This might be a strike for hardcore gamers, but I’m just in it for the story, so I was perfectly content with the type of fights the game offered.
The RPGmaker graphics will impress no one, but for children of the 80s like me who were weaned on RPG fare like FFIV and VI, the 16 bit graphics will definitely induce plenty of warm and fuzzy feelings. The 16 bit style is also a great option for portable RPGs, in my opinion. Although the iPhone can clearly handle much more advanced graphics, so far the other RPGs I’ve played with snazzy graphics have been difficult to maneuver in. With a more classic design like Ash, there are no surprises in functionality – I know where I can walk and where I can’t, I know what objects are likely to have hidden treasures. I’m never frustrated by a pretty road I can’t walk down or a well-rendered tree I can’t seem to walk around.
The controls in the game are easy, work well, and are customizable. I used the d-pad throughout the game, though there’s also the option to tap and have the characters move into position. I found that the tap-and-go way blocked the screen too often, and the d-pad was much more functional than in other games I’ve played. The game also has an “Action” button to make talking to NPCs and searching chests easier, a big A in a circle, which was helpful when I finally figured out what the heck it did. It took some head scratching and Google searching to figure out what it was for (“Do I search for ‘Ash big A’? ‘Ash A circle’? ‘Ash A button’? Why do I keep getting porno sites with some girl named Ashley?”). I feel like an idiot wishing for a help menu for controls as easy as this, but in this case I definitely missed it.
Much as I enjoyed it, the game is certainly not perfect. There are a few improvements that the developers should keep in mind for future updates, or at least for the next chapter of Ash.
The game needs to do better with making objectives clear and giving better guidance to where the characters need to go next. An in-game world map, or at least clear roads leading to the next location, would be a huge help, and save the player a lot of time spent wandering through empty space.
What would also help would be something like the “journal” often seen in other RPGs, which might record things like the story-so-far, or at the very least the current quest objectives. People play portable games in tiny chunks, sometimes setting them aside for days or weeks, and it would be great to have some way to remind yourself of what you were doing.
SRRN Games have already compensated for this by posting a World Map and a game walkthrough on their site. Strangely, the walkthrough is a full guide for both the current game and the unreleased sequel. So, spoiler alert.
The flaws in Ash are relatively minor and forgivable. SRRN Games has put together a simple little RPG with a good story, great characters, and well-written dialogue, perfect for any fan of classic turn-based games.
Ash was played through to the end on the iPhone 4. Available now for $4.99 from the iTunes App Store.
Check SRRN Games, Inc website for more maps and a strategy guide.