Price: $4.99 (Gold) / $2.99 (Silver)
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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About a year ago we described Ash as "one of the best role-playing games nobody played on the iPhone." But it seems that with its SNES-like visuals and well written story Ash charmed enough people out there for the rather lofty name of Konami to step in and throw its weight behind a sequel.
With that kind of backing behind it big things are expected of Ash II, and maybe more pertinently there is plenty of scrutiny being placed upon the decision to release it across downloadable chapters. Currently the game is on sale in a Gold edition, which gives players access to all chapters when they're released, and a Silver edition, which gives access to the first two chapters and 50% off the purchase of future chapters. Chapter 1 is the only chapter available thus far, so that's what I'm reviewing here.
While the art style had seen some tweaks, Ash II retains that instant Chrono Trigger style of charm with its understated but beautifully retro visuals and more significantly within the writing. The mix of almost out-of-place humor, like how Damien questions the ridiculousness of a settlement's secret defense weapon of a crocodile hidden in a tent, with the more considered, emotional continuation of the first game's plot takes me back to laughing and crying my way through Final Fantasy IV, Mystic Quest, Chrono Trigger and all the other J-RPG classics. If the first chapter is anything to go by then Ash II won't quite reach those games' heady heights, but even so for an entirely text-based game the comic timing is right on the nose.
Where Ash II falls down is in the combat. As before there are certainly plenty of interesting accessories and abilities to mess around with, but simply put the enemies are far too weak to ever want to delve into any of that. Even more simply put, the game is just too easy. Even bosses can be dispatched by spamming the plain old attack button, and even then all 'spamming' really amounts to is a couple of attacks at best. Even if you stick to the main road and don't delve into any of the side quests, not one enemy will pose a challenge. The first game had balancing issues but in the opposite direction, but it seems the response has been to go too far the other way, and at present it heavily detracts from what has the potential to be another absorbing fantasy journey.
Of course, all of this may exactly vindicate the decision to go with episodic releases. Hopefully the developers can take this on board for future chapters. The first chapter clocks in at around three to six hours depending on how far you want to delve into its world, and they will be plenty worth it if the future chapters provide more balance and build upon the opening release's potential.