Over the course of the past few weeks Ive been forced to admit fault and
change my mind about one of the more controversial topics in video gaming today:
The iPhone/iPad/iTouch iOS, coupled with the Apple iTunes Store, is, in fact, a
handheld gaming platform on par with the traditional heavy-hitters, the Sony PSP
and Nintendo DS. Quality games are literally bursting out of iTunes at a pace
that can and should put traditional developers to shame, and at their insanely
low price points, players can pick up 10, 20 or more games for roughly the same
amount theyd spend on a single console or handheld title. And these arent all
games about flinging birds at castles or chopping airborne fruit, there are some
real, console-comparable experiences to be had. One of these is Ash from SRRN
Games. This RPG expertly uses old-school sensibilities to create an adventure on
par with any Ive played on a traditional handheld this year.
When I see the words old-school in a RPGs product description or review,
it usually means the title is a chore to play. Obnoxious random battles
occurring every three steps, hours spent wandering because no NPC can clearly
explain what you need to be doing (Theres a cave to the east does NOT qualify
as giving me an objective), a limp story and below average production values
have come to define old-school. Ash fits doesnt fit into any of these
categories. First, the story. I simply will not give too much away for fear of
ruining things for players, but Ill say this its good. Unexpectedly good.
The tale of two mercenaries sent to deal with some strange happenings unfolds
into an appropriately grandiose affair, with plenty of character development
reinforcing and elevating the narrative beyond the overused save the world
stuff found in way too many other RPGs. Even at the few points where the game
seems to drag, the story will keep you playing and pushing forward.
The games presentation is a bit harder to love, but when viewed in the right
context it is exceptional. The game looks and plays a lot like the original
Final Fantasy titles. A top-down view follows you through an expansive world,
complete with lots of locales to visit and dungeons to clear. The environments
and character models arent particularly detailed at first glance, but a closer
look shows quite the opposite. The best way to imagine it is a modern day remake
of one of the aforementioned Final Fantasy titles. The graphics are sharp, but
only so much can be done with the top-down view. The graphics during battles are
also fairly well done, with a first person perspective revealing some very
detailed, almost painted-looking enemies. The character portraits displayed
during conversations are also represented in this style, making Ash both
gorgeous and ugly at the same time. The sound isnt bad, either; the music suits
the games style, but there arent any memorable tunes that will stick with you
once the game is over.
As with the presentation, the gameplay is very much in the early RPG style.
You walk from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, etc., fighting random
encounters, leveling up and battling the occasional boss. Basically, if you
liked the RPG genre back in the NES heyday, youll be right at home here. It is
worth mentioning that when Ash first hit the iTunes Store, you controlled your
character by tapping the screen to watch him march over to the point of impact.
It didnt work AT ALL. But SRRN has since updated the game to include a virtual
d-pad, making the game that much more playable. It wasnt a bad game without it,
but the simple addition made this into one of the best RPGs on the platform.
If I have one complaint with Ash, its that it currently is unavailable in an
HD, or iPad, version. Yes, it will play on an iPad just fine, but the act of
doubling the screen size makes things look pixilated and ugly. SRRN listened to
fans when it came to adding a d-pad, so heres hoping well see Ash made into a
universal app or re-released in an HD version.
If you like old-school RPGs that dont stumble into the pitfalls usually
associated with that description, Ash is for you. Its cheap, its fun, it looks
and sounds pretty good and it will keep you busy for a while. Clear up your
schedule and give this one a try, just try not to be disappointed that it looks
so bad on an iPad.
Final Rating: 100%