Ash II: Shadows (iPhone) Review

In Short
Aren't sequels supposed to be better than the original?

What a surprise! As a fan of the excellent iPhone RPG Ash, I was pleasantly shocked to see its sequel, Ash II, pop up on the App Store with literally no warning. The original told a funny, entertaining tale and coupled it with some very satisfying old-school RPG action. A number of updates made the original even better, and it stands right next to Rocketcat's unbelievable Mage Gauntlet as my favorite iPhone RPG. For the sequel, it looks as though veteran developer Konami has thrown their considerable resources behind the title. Does the house Metal Gear built help or hinder this sequel? And can Ash II: Shadows recapture the original's simple glory?

The simple answer is "Who knows?" You didn't click on this review to find out I'm as clueless as you are, and luckily, that's not the case. I say "Who knows?" because as it stands now, Ash II: Shadows is an incomplete game. In a move that throttles the imagination, Konami has decided to go episodic for this sequel. What does that mean for you? Only part one of five is available right now, with the other four promised soon. You can either purchase the Gold Edition ($4.99), which will give you all upcoming episodes automatically as they come out, or the Silver Edition ($2.99), which will prompt users to pay for upcoming episodes one at a time. This move flies in the face of traditional RPG gameplay and length, as the game that exists now will only take about six hours to finish. So my answer stands at, "Who knows," but the first few hours are pretty good.

If you can get over the heinous pricing model and episodic, disjointed nature, Ash II: Shadows is an improvement over the original in a few ways, but a major setback in others. We'll talk good first. Its pretty clear that Konami's bucks helped with the game's look. Every aspect of the presentation is better than ever before, with the character portraits being a high point. The game has also adjusted its battle system. Instead of the Dragon Quest-style first-person battles of the first title, players view the action from the top down, more like how battles were handled in Chrono Trigger. It's a change that really works, and the improved pacing speeds up the whole game experience.

Now we come to the bad, and I won't even mention the episodic stuff. The biggest blunder is the softened difficulty level. Ash was a brutally hard RPG, and it looks like the challenge has been toned down to placate the masses. Of course I'm complaining because I like harder games, but it's more than that. Ash II: Shadows gives the player tons of equipment and stat building options, but you'll probably never need to strategize much beyond selecting attack over and over. And with the ham-stringed first episode length, the game feels more like a spectator sport than an actual challenge.

I loved the first Ash, enough to play it twice through. And while its nice to see old characters continue their journey, the episodic decision and lowered difficulty were terrible ones. I have to assume Konami was responsible for the sequel's missteps, and it's a real letdown to see loved game get a successor that falls so flat. My recommendation is to either skip this one, or at least wait until the game is available in its complete form. What a waste.

Final Rating: 40%

Transmitted: 4/21/2014 8:41:39 AM