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Ash Review:  Retro 16-bit RPG designed for the Modern Era

It’s no secret that I love a good RPG. Probably even less of a secret that I love my SNES classics. So with those two thoughts in mind, I eagerly loaded up Ash by SRRN Games. I must say not only did this not disappoint but it was beyond whatever expectations I had. With Ash’s 16-bit sprites, combination of map exploration, dungeon crawling and turn based battle system, you will feel swept back into a time where cartridges ruled the gaming world and a bottle of air (or a very strong breath) was necessary to blow away the dust. Ah, but back to the present time.

SRRN Games has done one better with Ash, not only is Ash true to it’s retro inspired roots, but it brings you into the 21st century, no bottled air needed. The story is fresh. No cliches of saving the princess or avenging the death of your parents here, just a story of a hero and his protege; mercenaries ready to save the world. Ok so that does sound a little cliched, but what RPG isn’t? Where Ash differs however is in the engaging, humorous and clever dialog. I literally laughed out loud at some points in the story and will not ruin it for you here. Let’s just say the story is as original as it is cliched – and that is indeed a good thing.

And for good or for bad, the game was designed from the ground up for the platform. This makes some portions of the game easy to control, others a little frustrating. Easy is the combat. With turn based battles, simply tap on an enemy and he will be the target of your next attack. Drag new equipment to your party with a well designed interface. Check your stats and save your game all with the virtual press of a button. The bad? Well the control mechanism is a little clumsy at the moment as you press “around” your character to move in the direction you want to walk. It takes a little getting used to but soon you will be maneuvering through the mountain passes with ease. As I write this however, I am told that a new option for a virtual d-pad  is in the works for an update already. So if you don’t like blocking the screen with your fingers like me, then you will look forward to what this new control mechanic will bring!

Likes:

Story: As I already touched upon, I love the story. Perhaps it is best summed up via this quote from SRRN’s press release about the game:

Ash tells the story of two mercenaries on the fringes of the Empire of Aghaus, a once-great kingdom now fallen into ruin after the death of its king five years prior. When a routine contract takes an unexpected turn, the two men are gradually embroiled in a conflict that consumes the entire continent—and brings to light the mercenaries’ mysterious pasts.”

But what this quote doesn’t touch upon is the humor, the puns, the interaction between characters, and depth. It is refreshing to see such an in depth dialogue in an RPG. And speaking of dialogue, as an example of the care that was taken by the developers to really polish the title, as you talk to NPC’s in the game, their talk bubbles fade from bright white to a faded shade of gray. This prevents hearing the same comments over and over as is often the case for those that like to explore every nook and cranny of an RPG. Though in Ash some of the comments are worth hearing, er, reading, again. A shopkeeper or a critical character will have a yellow talk bubble and that will indicate to the player a crucial point in the story not to miss.

Battle: One of the easiest turn based battle systems I have played on the platform. Simply tap an enemy and consider it attacked. Skills are available, especially as you level up, but by and large I have just used brute force through my battles with great success.

Art: Retro 16-bit. What more needs to be said?

Dislikes:

Touch Controls: Well, they are made for the platform after all, but they can take a little bit of a learning curve to get used to them. That being said, you will indeed get used to them. But I like to be able to see the screen and control my characters from one position as opposed to moving all over the screen to simply move through the forest. But as stated, an update is already in the works which will offer an additional control scheme.

Lack of Map: With such an expansive world to explore it would have been great to be able to zoom out and see the entire map and get an idea of where to head off to next. I have to admit I got a little lost a couple times and found myself well over my head in battle. I also was spinning my heels a little not really seeing a place to go next. Luckily a map is found here on the developer’s website but an in game map would be great to have, especially if it can be added to the world exploration.

Enemy Health Indicator: The game has two ways to tell your health levels. There is the standard health meter that decreases as you get hit. But a clever thing also happens to your character’s portrait as your health decreases. Turning colors from a glow of white to bright red, you can determine how close to collapse you are. But that is lacking for the enemy. A nice feature would be to determine how close you are to winning the battle as some of even the earliest battles are pretty tough and with potions few and far between, you really don’t want to waste one if your next hit will knock out the enemy.

Music: Everything about the game screams 16-bit — except for the music. The music is some mix of new age piano that just gives the game an identity crisis. While change is always good, this change just is just a little too different and disorienting for the classic gamer. For those that had no idea what my bottled air reference was about, I am sure the music will be fine; but for those that did, this style might be a little bit of a shock.

Ash by SRRN Games is a wonderful title in the grossly under represented Turn Based RPG genre. Fans of all RPG’s will feel right at home with all aspects of the game, even the obligatory grindfest necessary right from the start. And since no RPG is complete without a strategy guide, SRRN is rolling one out as we speak here on their website. Complete with character stats and item locations even the strategy guide reminds me of my tattered and torn Final Fantasy guidebooks.

Perhaps best summing up why anyone who loves RPG’s and owns an iOS device should own Ash is summed up, again from the press release:

“We decided to develop Ash for the iPhone because there’s really nothing like it on that platform yet,” says SRRN co-founder Aujang Abadi. “There are surprisingly few turn-based RPGs on the App Store, and nearly all of them are ports of older games. We wanted a classic, story-oriented RPG that honored the games we played growing up. The story behind Ash is completely original.”

Ash by SRRN Games is a journey. A journey that will have you facing over 100 enemies, exploring dozens of dungeons and towns, conversing with comedic NPC’s and taking an average of 15 hours to complete. It is a perfect RPG for the mobile platform and is surprisingly simple to pick up and play. Though I suspect once you get involved with Ash, you won’t be able to put it down until you see what happens next.

Ash by SRRN Games is available for $4.99. Version 1.0 (Version 1.11 now available) was reviewed on a 2g iPod Touch with iOS 4.1.




  1. Matt on Monday 15, 2010

    Lovely review, Hope. This one had somehow slipped by me. Downloading as I write this, and I am much looking forward to digging in.

  2. [...] NoDPad thinks we’re a solid buy! [...]

  3. sharksarefriendly37 on Monday 15, 2010

    You said in the conclusion, “It is a perfect RPG for the mobile platform,” and yet only gave it a “Buy”? Since when does a “perfect” game not get a “Must Have”? No offense intended, just something I noticed.

  4. [...] can check out our review for more information regarding Ash, but honestly, I suggest just downloading it. And from the looks [...]

  5. Sanjeev Kumar on Monday 15, 2010

    The third picture with Olesanmi, I’m at that part. But all I see is the dragon. I can’t interact with the dragon, it’s just there. What should I do?

  6. […] can check out our review for more information regarding Ash, but honestly, I suggest just downloading it. And from the looks […]