Game Review: Ash
Release: November 9, 2010
Developer: SRRN Games
Available Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (Required iOS 3.1 or later)
ESRB Rating: 9+
Ash is a classic, turn-based RPG that brings a tale of adventure, mystery, revenge, and potatoes to the iPhone. Your heroes, Damien and Nicholas, are former Imperial officers who witness the slaughter of an entire village by the Imperial Black Guards. Nicholas’ wife and son are murdered after his failed attempt to protect the village, and the two men are forced into hiding to avoid certain death.
Your party is represented on the map by Nicholas, who is controlled by pressing on different areas of the screen. Tap on villagers to talk, tap a treasure chest to open it, tap barrels and drawers to take things from random villagers’ houses. In classic RPG fashion, you will find various items by investigating the furniture. Don’t go crazy searching everything in sight (Blue Dragon, anyone?), but you will discover some humorous writing throughout the game.
Ash is a clear tribute to the early 16-bit era of RPG gaming. The art and music are reminiscent of Final Fantasy IV, which makes perfect sense after I read on SRRN’s website that is CEO Aujang Abadi’s favorite game. I would like to applaud the music specifically, as this kind of score is unique to the iPhone. Each area has its own theme and the dialogue is enhanced by music that will often change mid-conversation to reflect the mood.
The combat screen is in a style similar to Dragon Warrior. Your well-detailed enemies appear in the middle of the screen, awaiting your commands. You attack them by tapping them, of course. The game defaults to “normal” battle speed, which displays the attack animation and descriptive battle text. I was happy to see there was an option to change the battle speed to “instant” since I didn’t find the combat to be particularly engaging. This evolved into me tapping the screen to rush through the normal battles.
The art, music, and combat have the traditional RPG feel, but the dialogue is far from traditional. There are at least two “Anchorman” references coming from villager NPCs: one guy says, “I don’t know why we’re yelling!” and another Ron Burgundy-looking character says, “Rumy rum rum. I love rum. Here it goes, down in my belly.” Clever dialogue is commonplace, especially on the pirate ship. I won’t spoil that one.
The story and characters seem cookie-cutter at first, but swiftly take a turn for the interesting. What started as another “help the villagers, destroy the Empire” becomes a captivating, original storyline. I played this game for 8 hours yesterday instead of Black Ops, and that was by choice. It was refreshing to have developed characters and an intriguing story in front of me.
As you win battles, your earned experience all goes into the “Party EXP” pool. It doesn’t matter if you win the fight with all characters alive or only one survivor, the experience all goes toward your Party EXP and your team levels as a unit. This is a great feature for when you meet new party members; they are automatically set to your Party Level. I was mystified by the level cap of 32, however. I hit the level cap with a couple hours of playtime remaining and the ensuing battles all seemed meaningless since I wasn’t leveling and getting stronger. I suppose more leveling wasn’t necessary, especially with my all-powerful “Agony—Richard Simmons” spell. That is not a typo; there is a headshot of Richard Simmons next to the spell. I still can’t decide if this good or bad.
If there is one thing I wish was different about this game, it would be the inclusion of a virtual D-pad. It was difficult to maneuver around the map and see where I was going with my finger in the way. This was also a problem when I was one space away from exiting an area and needed to touch the very edge of the screen to walk off. I have sausage fingers, alright? Get over it.
I got so into this game I jumped when someone called me, because I forgot I was playing this on a phone. This is the best iPhone game I have played, and easily in the top 5 iPhone games available. You won’t miss the five bucks this game costs. If there isn’t an Ash: Part II, I will be deeply disappointed.