Updated: Ash Review

The retro-style RPG Ash has received an update that addresses one of our big complaints, along with some things we didn’t complain about but are happy to see tweaked nonetheless.

Most notable is that you can now control the game using a d-pad and an action button. Instead of smearing your entire screen with greasy fingerprints in order to move your character around, you can now just muck up the corners. This makes the game a lot easier to play, even if the d-pad is a little smaller than we might prefer.

Another complaint some players have leveled at the game is that it was too difficult early on and required a certain amount of grinding before you were able to progress. They’ve addressed this by starting you off with better equipment and also scattering more health potions around the gameworld.

Lastly, they’ve done what hardcore gamers always appreciate and raised the level cap. It now goes to 40 instead of to 32.

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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