I've played a number of iOS games for RPGFan, but I recently got the chance to do something that was a first for me: play a preview build of a game that's still in development. The game was Ash, from SRRN Games, a small studio whose founders grew up loving 16-bit games. Ash grew out of that love and is their attempt to bring the look and feel of that 16-bit RPG experience to the iOS. I played the first hour or two of the game and wanted to pass on what I saw.
Ash is a turn-based RPG where you play as two mercenaries who try to do good, get paid for their efforts, and stay off the radar of the authorities. The reasons they have to lay low weren't revealed in the early going but will clearly play a part in the full game's plot. In addition, as they go about the game's first main mission, one of the pair is injured, and it appears that their quest for a cure will form the core of that plot. Thus far, the cliché factor is pretty low and the writing is humorous and entertaining.
Interestingly, neither character could cast spells and they don't think of magic as a real thing. Perhaps magic is introduced later in the game – there is room on the menu screen for a few more party members, after all. Regardless, the game's setting begins as straight medieval fare, except for some jokes that clearly show more modern sensibilities – the two PCs make a joke at one point about being gay (fear not, though. I'm fairly sensitive to such things and didn't find it mean-spirited or offensive).
Happily, the lack of magic doesn't mean that the fights are simply one character after another taking simple attacks. Statuses like "exposed" and "hamstrung" can be inflicted on PC and enemy alike. When a character is exposed, his defense is lowered, and he is especially vulnerable to certain special attacks. Being hamstrung lowers the character's agility, making them easier to hit, and that's useful because some enemies are hard targets.
Ash's graphics will be familiar to those of our readers who play indie PC games – although RPG Maker software was not used, Ash's developers licensed its graphics. That is probably a wise move for a small studio like SRRN – even the big guys license things, and a known commodity like the RPGMaker graphics allows SRRN to focus on other elements of the game. Of course, only playing the final product will show how well those graphics were used, but it looks pretty good at this point.There's clearly been an effort to keep the screen as clean and HUD-free as possible, but the information you'd want to know is very accessible – for example, in battle, the player characters' portraits turn more and more red as their HP goes down, and while their remaining HP does not display on the HUD, tapping on their icon displays all current status info, including HP. Outside of battle, there's just a small "Party" icon in the corner that brings up status and inventory info – there are neither joystick nor action icons. The player simply touches the screen to the side of the PC in the direction they want to walk and taps on people and items with which they want to interact.
Unlike the graphics, the music is all new. Ash features an orchestral-style score with a lot of piano. While I don't pay as much attention to game music as some of my colleagues, I did make a point of listening to this game, because I was rather impressed by what I heard. It's tough to know from a preview just how many different tunes will be in the game, but the few that I heard were worth listening to.
There were a few small bugs in my build, as one would expect from unfinished work, but the developers say that they've already been addressed in their current codeline. As you can tell, my time with an incomplete version of Ash was pretty positive, so I'm looking forward to its release, planned for some time in August or September 2010.