Let me get this out of the way right up front: I’m not really much of an RPG fan. I think I probably would enjoy playing role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons but I never did as a kid and just haven’t yet made the time to try it out as an adult. But RPGs on the computer, with their turn-based attacks and leveling up and all of that … I never really got into those. When I was in junior high, I remember picking up a copy of Ultima III for the NES. I think I was expecting something akin to Gauntlet (which I liked) but once I started playing I realized it was a totally different thing. I wasn’t very good at the turn-based combat and I never knew what to level up. (Again, my ever-present desire to do a little bit of everything probably worked against me, because instead of focusing on one strength for a particular character I wanted to upgrade all of their attributes.)
Ever since then I’ve not really played much in the way of RPG video games. I haven’t played any of the Final Fantasy series, and even Fable on the Xbox proved to be a little too much for me to finish. So when SRRN Games asked if I’d like to review Ash, their iPhone RPG game, I was a bit hesitant. However, I figured it was worth poking around just to see what it was about, at least.
… And then, several hours later…
I really got sucked in. The graphics are reminiscent of old-school games — well, a bit nicer than the old NES Ultima but with the similar style of graphics, the manga-inspired character designs, even the gradient-shaded text. Your party (represented by Nicholas) walks around the World Map, or in specific area maps like towns. You’ll have random encounters when you’re in dangerous areas, which puts you into the turn-based battle, or you can interact with people while you’re exploring towns and villages.
The intro, which you can watch here, is a mostly-wordless film that shows some events happening to a younger Nicholas. When the game begins, Nicholas and his younger companion Damien are collecting payment from a village elder for chasing away some bandits. The elder asks them to please continue because there are some strange things happening. A lot of the plot development comes in the form of dialogue, which takes places after key events or battles. You’ll gain a couple more people in your party as the game progresses, rounding out the team with a healer and a wizard.
The dialogue isn’t stellar (though it’s certainly better than that of many old Nintendo games), but there’s a lot of humor in it and sly references worked in (many of which I’m sure I missed). I think that’s part of what I enjoyed: the fact that although there is this serious overarching story with some mysteries to solve, it’s done with an occasional wink and a nudge.
The game is pretty vast: I’ve put in many hours playing the game, and although I haven’t completed the game yet I think I’m probably nearing completion. There’s a huge world to explore, with lots of towns and cities, some funny NPCs to talk to while you’re visiting towns, and plenty of gear and loot to find. (That’s also a running joke, the fact that you can walk around in a building and just open up cupboards and chests and take things from them.) You gain experience, learn new spells, equip stronger weapons, and encounter nastier bad guys.
The leveling up is done automatically, so you gain additional abilities and spells without having to choose what, specifically, to spend experience points on. I think that made it easier for somebody like me, who gets bogged down with analysis paralysis. The battles get progressively harder as you go, so you need to be sure to have plenty of battles throughout so that you can level up. (Sometimes when I was eager to get on with the story I’d just flee from battles, which saved on hit points but didn’t help me gain any experience points.)
I did have a few complaints: the interface isn’t always intuitive, with some things requiring more taps to navigate than I feel they should. Also, there’s a certain amount of “grinding” to level up or earn gold, and that can get a little monotonous sometimes — go out, fight some monsters, come back to town, cash in. Repeat. Also, I felt that some of acronyms and terms used in the game weren’t really explained: AGI? AMR? Most of it, I assume, will be fairly obvious to other RPG players, but it would have been nice to have some sort of help section to describe how all of those things work.
But the story is, for the most part, really well done and I’m eager to find out how it all pans out in the end. The graphics are fantastic, especially if you’re nostalgic for the days of the NES and old PC games. SRRN really captured the feel of an old-school RPG game with Ash. If even a non-RPG player like me could get sucked into it, I imagine that fans of the old Ultima and Final Fantasy games would get a kick out of it.