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New App A Day: Ash

If you grew up on the likes of Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana, then you might want to take a look at Ash, a 16-bit style RPG that just hit the App Store.

We’ve only spent an hour with it so far, but the storyline already has us hooked. You control Nick and Damien, two mercenaries trying to stay off the radar of the crumbling Empire. Your first job is to investigate a mystery involving the mines that fuel the economy of a town you’re passing through. We won’t give any spoilers, but as you investigate you uncover some intriguing hints that Nick and Damien might not be exactly what they seem. After completing the first quest, we’re very eager to discover what happens next.

Aside from the stand-out storyline, Ash is a typical Eastern RPG. You’ll navigate menus to deal with an inventory of weapons, items, and armor. You’ll pick loot out of a seemingly endless supply of barrels scattered around the world. You’ll level up your party by engaging in random turn-based battles (fun, fun, fun!).

But Ash also has a number of neat little touches that tailor it for gaming on the go. You can save anywhere. Your characters’ stats and skills are upgraded automatically as you level up, which streamlines things considerably. And if you miss something in the dialogue, you can tap the back button to rewind the conversation.

However, the rest of Ash is a mixed bag. The most glaring problem is that there’s no d-pad, so you have to touch the screen in the direction you want your character to move. This means that you’ll be putting your fingers all over the place, and your hands block your view much of the time. We wish there was at least an option to use a d-pad.

Also, there’s no map, so when you’re spelunking through one of the multi-leveled dungeons, you’re on your own to figure out where you’ve been and where you need to go. And the random battles happen far more frequently than necessary, especially considering the limited enemy types we’ve encountered over and over again so far.

So if you love a good story and can forgive some fairly major faults, pick this one up. If you’re still not sure, stay tuned. We’ll report back with our full review once we’ve had a chance to finish the game.

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Ash Review

Retro-style gaming is all the rage right now, with titles like Sonic The Hedgehog 4 and Super Meat Boy burning up the charts. Like those, Ash, a new RPG that hit the App Store last week, will transport you back to a simpler time. It was the age of the Super Nintendo and Genesis, a time when popular RPGs sent anime sprites on fantastic adventures to save the world from the brink of destruction.

Ash fits snugly into this mold, using its old-school charm to tell the tale of two mercenary adventurers going about their business as they gradually get roped into a quest that will affect the whole continent. It’s a fantastic story, and it’s told with a higher caliber of dialogue and wit than we’re used to seeing on iPhone RPGs. If nothing else, the story will pull you through this game.

Um, I think those are called dragons’¦

Ash was clearly designed for touchscreen gaming: The inventory menus are easy to navigate, and the battle system is smartly designed to streamline basic combat commands. On the other hand, there’s no d-pad, so walking around in the gameworld is a clunky exercise. To move, you have to press on the screen in the direction you want your character to go. This means you end up putting your fingers all over the place, which results in a lot more work than rooting your thumb in the corner with a d-pad would.

Another pretty major issue is that there are no maps in the game, so navigating through dungeons and toward new towns takes a lot of needless trial and error. There is an overworld map online, but we’d definitely like to see one in the game. And since the random battles pop up out of nowhere, there’s no way to avoid them when you’re searching aimlessly.

Speaking of battles, the combat in Ash is turn-based and very traditional. A small timeline at the top of the screen shows the order of the turns, and you can either attack or use an item or a skill when you’re up. As you gain levels you learn new skills automatically, so there’s not a whole lot of customization on that front. Nor will you find any flashy combat graphics: All of the action takes place in text boxes.

Welcome to the stabbing store.

One thing to note is that there aren’t any side quests in Ash, although there’s still plenty of content to keep you busy for hours on end. However, we do wish there was a quest log to remind us of what we’re supposed to be doing when we boot up the game.

On the other hand, Ash features several smart design choices that make it ideal for mobile gaming. You can save anywhere at any time, which is great if you’re out and about. You don’t have to worry about missing key bits of info in a conversation, because you can scroll back through to reread.

In the end, it’s the story and writing that make Ash stand out. It’s not a perfect game by a long shot, but if you’re an RPG fan– particularly if you were a gamer in the 16-bit era– you’ll feel right at home in Ash. This is a game you’ll want to play through to the end.

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