Let's be perfectly honest: With the insane amount of portability that the iPhone/iPod Touch platform brings to the gaming world, you'd think that developers would make a more concerted attempt to take advantage of one of gaming's most heralded genres, the RPG. Most of what has hit recently has either been a poorly done over-priced port better served to be played on a console ('ello Final Fantasy), or something original but lacking in any depth whatsoever. So, what's a gamer looking for an RPG to do?
Get Ash, that's what.
Harkening back to the glory days of the original Final Fantasies, Ash is an iPhone turn-based RPG done right for a change mainly because it was actually built specifically for the iPhone. Everything, from control schemes to interactivity with the environment around you, was done with the iPhone's touch control in mind. For instance, instead of manually having to walk up to villagers in order to talk with them, you can simply tap them as you pass by in order to start up a conversation. Movement can either be handled directly by the touchscreen or via a virtual D-Pad located on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Even in battle, menus are flawlessly navigated via spacious drop-down menus that can be accessed with startling efficiency. All of this makes playing Ash a joy, rather than a bout with frustration.
Controls aside, Ash is, at it's core, a turn-based RPG that handles much like the rest of its genre. Battles are of your standard menu driven variety, while players are given the ability to treck across a large landmass in order to get from point A to point B. Towns, dungeons, and the like are all present in Ash, as are shops and other points of interest that will let you augment your character's stats should you need a boost.
And you will need a boost, because Ash is hard. Unlike a lot of other RPGs that have come out recently, Ash actually tries to kill you. Really tries. Although they have nerfed the game a bit since it first came out (weenies), Ash will still require you to grind quite a bit if you expect to get passed the next area. The difficulty tends to ebb and flow as the game progresses, as while at some points you may be just fine, at other points, particularly whenever you enter a new area, you will die. A lot. Some people may be turned off by this, and if you're not a huge fan of grinding out levels, this game is probably not something that you'd want to invest a ton of time in. But, for those of us that actually like challenge, Ash provides it.
Moving along, Ash also rolls out a competent story to compliment its gameplay. Basically, you'll be following the tale of two wandering mercenaries with a clouded past. They eventually get drawn into helping people, which then balloons the story into other places. While there is nothing here that will truly WOW you, there's also nothing here that make you hate it, either. The characters are likable and there is just enough humor sprinkled throughout to make things semi-interesting. The game does end on a bit of a cliff-hanger which will probably lead to a sequel within a year or so from now, but to say anything more would probably spoil the story.
Wrapping things up, it should be noted that Ash does look and feel like an old-school RPG. The game has a distinct anime style to the characters, while graphics look like something right out of an old Final Fantasy. The music is redundant to the extreme, so better variety would have definitely been a plus. It's not that it's bad music -- they just repeated it way to often for its own good.
Aside from those little niggles, though, I like Ash. It's a refreshingly new RPG that will take you a bit of time to beat (12-15 hours, give or take), while still possessing everything that you could honestly expect from it. The graphics are good, gameplay is solid, and the touch control is a model of consistency that other developers could look to follow. Kudos to SRRN games for making an iPhone RPG worth playing. For $3.00, you could definitely do a lot worse.