Playing a sequel to a game that I never got around playing is not an easy feat. Thankfully it is easy to jump right in without knowing the characters, the world of Aghaus or the prior story found in the first Ash.
In true RPG story fashion the world is in a state of turmoil, and our dashing heroes have to save the day. What sets the Ash series apart from most others is that it doesn’t take itself too serious. The characters intertwine RPG clichés with ordinary talk, such as stating that they are bored with other characters. It is the story telling that is the main selling point for Ash II: Shadows, and if it grips you the experience will be great. If not you will soon find yourself playing a rather simple RPG with a lack of strategic elements, and limited character development.
Walking about in Ash can be done by either a free touch method allowing you to swipe anywhere to walk about. This is cumbersome, as it often ends up with me covering up most of the screen with my hand. To interact with someone you have to touch in the rough vicinity. As not all NPC:s actually answer it can take a while to establish whether you have tapped near them, or if they are mute. Still this is the method of control I prefer, as it allows the game to be played with one hand. It is also superior to the virtual joypad that only responds within the designated area. Gliding off it means that the party stops abruptly. As you walk about you encounter enemies that are visible at all times. There are no random encounters here, thank god. There are also the usual chests to open, and a few puzzles to solve involving lighting candles, pulling levers and pushing stuff.
Once you enter battle the game goes into old school turn based fight mode. Depending on the speed stats of your characters it is decided who strikes first. You can attack, use magic, wait and run away. To me the game is a bit too easy fo the majority of the experience, and I ended up just using attack without any issues. This lack of difficulty seriously hampers the gameplay, as there is little to no reason to spend extra time experimenting with the spells.
Character development is limited as well with automatic statistics boosts when levelling up. There is no skill tree to explore, and the weaponry is quite limited throughout. What you can focus on is getting the party members specialised in using different weapons. The more they use them the better they get at that weapon type. Other than that the game made me feel like the party members were just following a single path of development.
The presentation is old school done in a really nice way with bright colours, and great attention to details. Despite this the battle animations have been more or less left out, and it feels like chess pieces instead of proper characters. The world map certainly takes me back to the early days of Final Fantasy, and Golden Sun. With an uncanny number of enemies the game manages to feel fresh in that aspect throughout the journey. The music is also a nice dreamy, but still adventurous backdrop setting the scene. One thing that I have noticed is skips, and pops in the audio when for example finishing a battle. This is really annoying, and should not have been an issue if it had been properly tested before launch.
There are two versions of Ash II: Shadows: Gold and Silver. The difference between the two is that the Gold version includes all future episodes for free, and the Silver will have all future episodes at half price. If you are new to the Ash saga I think it might be better to start with the first game instead of Silver. If you are an avid fan of the first you might as well go for Gold right away.
Ash II: Shadows is a mixed bag of witty dialogue, interesting story, nice 16-bit graphics, technical issues with the sound, too little challenge and too little character development. I think those who have already invested time in the first game should consider continuing.