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ASH II: Shadows
 

ASH II: Shadows

Platform: iPhone/iPod
Category: RPG
 
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After putting some time into SRRN Games' RPG, ASH II: Shadows, provided to me by Konami, I can definitely say I'm impressed. ASH II has the classic RPG style and feel combined with rich graphics and 2D sprites. The game features some of the normal goals - find dungeons on the overworld, explore, talk to NPCs, and battle enemies. Its writing is it's strongest part, but I'll go into more detail on that later. I should note that ASH II: Shadows is the sequel to ASH, which I did not play. The game starts in medias res with players following what I assumed to be an antagonist. I might have known more about what was happening had I played the original, but the story was immediately engaging regardless. I didn't have any problems. In fact, it makes me want to go back and play the original too!

Graphics and Sound

In the game world, characters are short, fat, 2D sprites. Bright colors are abundant outdoors, while drab grays are the norm in dungeons. This provides a good balance and makes the game interesting. During dialogue, large, colorful character portraits are portrayed. The character talking appears bright while the character listening is dimmed, making it easy to follow the conversation. The game is a great mix of classic feel with modern definition. When the screen pans, there seems to be tearing in the graphics, but this doesn't happen often. Even so, I really liked the look. The sound effects are varied with different weapons making distinct sounds. The music changes depending on location, and it always seems to fit the mood correctly.

Gameplay

Like many RPGs, there's a world map with little detail. As you walk around the map, you'll see towns and areas of interest. When you reach one, the game changes to give you a closer view of the area. In this view, you can see NPCs and enemies. The enemies do actually appear on the map, allowing you to go straight for them or try to avoid them. Likewise, you'll see plenty of NPCs with whom you can talk.

ASH II has two different control schemes. The default allows you to touch anywhere on the screen and cause the character to walk in a straight line in that direction. You can also touch an object to interact with it. The second scheme displays an on-screen directional pad and button. The default seemed better to me at first; however, I found myself using my right finger always, reaching across the screen and blocking my view. For this reason, I preferred the on-screen d-pad. Yes, this requires two thumbs, and had I just used two fingers with the first scheme, there wouldn't have been a problem. I never said I understood why my hands do what they do! The second scheme did have its own minor problem; my thumb could be on the edge of the d-pad, and the game would act like I was tapping it, making me walk slowly. This isn't too much of a bother luckily, because as an RPG, it doesn't require precise controls.

RPG fans won't be surprised by combat. Along the top of the screen is a turn list. You have four choices - attack, special ability, wait, and flee. The buttons representing each are nice and big. They're easy to use and perfect for touchscreen controls. You can also tap an enemy without selecting a choice to use a basic attack. Special abilities include powerful attacks, debuffs for enemies, buffs for allies, healing spells, and other things you'd come to expect in this genre. More powerful moves cause a longer delay in the turn order. The delay can be seen before you make your final choice, adding an extra bit of strategy. Enemy sprites are large and highly visible; combat showcases them well. I have a minor complaint with combat, and that's just that it's too easy. I never really had any difficulties at all. There's really no reason that I found not to use a special attack. Yes, there's a longer delay, but most enemies die in one or two hits anyways. This is only a minor problem for me because I'm not playing the game for its complex system. What I love is the story and dialogue, which I'll get to very soon. I promise!

The menu is very easy to use and large enough to work easily with thumbs on my iPhone. The equipment menu lets you see what new weapons or armor pieces will do to your stats. I explored a lot, making sure to find everything I could. Every time I got something new, I compared it to what I was currently using and re-equipped my characters. Maybe this had to do with my feeling of being overpowered. ASH II might have been balanced for a more casual player who doesn't do this, but I don't know. Another great thing about the menu is that amazingly wonderful feature that for some strange reason is not in every RPG. Of course, I'm referring to the ability to save anywhere. Thank you so much for this. And auto-saves as well? You know me too well!

Now, I'd like to talk about the... well... the talking. Yes, I saved the best for last. Mechanically, dialogue is handled very well. When two characters talk, their portraits appear. Text is in the middle at the bottom of the screen. Along the left and right edges are arrows used to progress dialogue or go back. Going back in the dialogue is a feature that is incredibly useful yet I don't think I've ever seen it before. More games definitely need this. In ASH II, I never missed a line; if I accidentally went too quickly, I could very easily go back to check what was said. The dialogue itself is very humorous and engaging. There were lots of funny moments, and the writing is great. The overall story is also enticing. Learning the history of the world is fascinating, and the serious parts are mixed with the humor in a perfect blend.

Conclusion

While it doesn't feature a very complex or difficult system, ASH II: Shadows will delight RPG fans. The most important part of an RPG is the writing, and the game does a really great job in this regard. ASH II comes in two versions - silver and gold. The silver version is $2.99 on the App Store and features the first chapter, which will give a few hours of fun. The gold version is $4.99 on the App Store and guarantees all future chapters for free. Note that there aren't any additional chapters yet, but if you grab the gold version now, you won't have to pay more later! Pick whichever you prefer, but if you do like PRGs, I recommend giving ASH II: Shadows a go!













 
 

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