Thanks to CIRCLE Entertainment for the review code
System: 3DS (eShop)
Release date: 04/28/2016
The main game/story
In this RPG adventure, you take control of two mercanaries, Nicholas and Damien, who barely survived a terrible tragedy that struck their hometown five years prior. When mysterious events occur in the nearby mine, the two set out on a journey to investigate, only to realize what they buried years ago is coming back to haunt them…
Right off the bat from the moment I first laid my eyes on the menus for this game I realized just how off everything felt. With neither the usual 2D sprites or unique art style other RPGs usually have, the visuals in this game felt like an odd mix between the Penny Arcade Comics for the overworld and the Lufia series for the character portraits. When it comes to the battle system however, that’s where things get really out of whack, with enemy art that ranges from looking like the character portraits to enemies that look as if they teleported in from an entirely different game. And don’t even get me started on the clunky, delayed menus. It gives off an odd, cheap feeling that I just can’t describe all too well, but in the end I managed to get used to it to bear through some of the game.
Music and Sound
The music is all over the place with this game, honestly making me wonder if my 3DS is on the verge of exploding. Some songs like the title theme sound fine when the volume is turned up, with a melodramatic tone to set the stage for the story. Then when you actually get going in the game, some themes like the town theme suddenly spike in volume, even if the volume slider is at the same level. At times, some of these songs sound so poorly compressed that I actually feared at one point that my New 3DS XL speakers would blow out if I left it on max volume for much longer. The music also suffers in quality, going from the nice theme from the intro to a themes that don’t sound like they fit with the other tracks at all, often due to completely different instruments being used. Definitely do not play this title with headphones, especially if you happen to be defeated in battle.
In fact, before the time this review went live, some of the themes would actually loop poorly in noticeable ways, stopping for a second before restarting from the beginning instead of flowing smoothly. Just recently, a patch was issued that resolves this issue somewhat, with a couple of the troublesome themes looping correctly despite a few themes still having this issue. (One theme being a cutscene theme that plays during troublesome situations in ruined towns) Unfortunately, they didn’t fix the issue with the compressed sound.
Sound effects are rather loud as well, most of the time overriding the music. (especially in battles when doing normal attacks)
In terms of gameplay, ASH plays pretty much like your ordinary Dragon Quest clone, with the player character exploring the overworld map, visiting towns and dungeons along the way. Battles take place with random encounters from the overworld or dungeons, and they play out in a very basic first person perspective, where you can choose to either attack, use a skill or item, skip a turn or run away. Contrary to most RPGs, the battles aren’t entirely turn based, with the order of attacks being based off of the speed of the characters, somewhat similar to Trails in The Sky. Another difference from the norm is that the party as a whole gains EXP, instead of the individual characters, which at least helps cut down on some grinding, although you’ll still have to do some of that the further you progress in the story. The higher you level up, the more skills you obtain which can do different things to enemies, from weakening them to stopping their movement for a few turns, along with the standard stat boosts you’d come to expect from a level up.
Unfortunately, right off the bat you’ll realize just how crucial level ups are, as trying to enter the first dungeon without at least a few of them is pretty much suicide, mainly due to the enemies hitting hard with little in terms of healing items and money to spend on them in town. Thankfully, sleeping at the first town’s inn is free, so it does give you a fair chance to explore the overworld and tackle some enemies to gain the money and experience needed for better stats. Once you beat the boss of the first dungeon, its pretty much rinse and repeat for everything else in the game, making the experience feel very repetitive rather quickly.
Luckily, one thing that kept me engaged in the game a bit longer than normal was the clever writing in some situations. Whether it’s a comment about a silly piece of equipment or mocking the current situation for being too cliche, the main duo (and eventually the group of four) have a lot to say, pretty much showing that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and wants to just set a mood of its own. Most of the time it works well, although there were a few times it fell flat, and ultimately didn’t help me much in terms of my enjoyment of the game itself.
In conclusion, Ash was pretty close to being the worst RPG that I’ve ever played, due to the odd visual style, inconsistent audio, and slow gameplay that gave me not much reason to care for the game at first. Thankfully, the low price point and the clever writing in some spots save this game from being completely abysmal, but just barely. If you are a RPG fan who cares for a deep story, good music or fun gameplay, this is definitely not the game for you as Ash has none of those qualities. Yet if you can get yourself to bear through the rough parts of the game, you’ll find lots of humorous writing and some clever humor that’ll be sure to make you laugh. Come for the price, stay for the humor, that’s pretty much what you pay for in this case. I give ASH a 4 out of 10, and only recommend it to folks with good patience and for those willing to put up with the presentation issues to get to the quality writing. For $4, there’s not much to lose and you will at least get your money’s worth in terms of the hours needed to beat the game.
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