Sunday, April 21, 2013

A.S.H. DS Review

A few weeks ago, when I mentioned buying Chrono Trigger, I'd said that there was a game shop in the basement of the Best Denki electronics store a 10-minute walk from my apartment, but that some of the used games had been moved up to the third floor of the building. Well, the basement shop - Wonder Goo (the Japanese pronunciation of "Wonder Goods") - had a much bigger selection of games than was on the third floor, so a few days back I returned to the shop to find out what else was available for the Gameboy DS. At first, I couldn't find the stairs down to the basement, and it took a while before I realized that Best Genki had set up some shelves of headphones in front of the stairwell. Finally, I saw the sign on one shelf saying that Wonder Goo had moved to the third floor. So I guess that at least half of the original stock that had been in the basement shop got dumped during the move, for both used and new games, plus the machines and accessories. Sigh.

Anyway, once I returned to the third floor, I wanted to get some kind of RPG, if the price was under 2,000 yen ($23 USD). I'd visited the Bic Camera store, located in the main train station building, that morning and all they had was new games in the 4,500 to 6,500 yen range. Saving only 30% on a used game that's more than 2 years old didn't appeal to me, which ruled out the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. So, as I went through the Best Denki games, I was as interested in the title as in the price. Along the way I discovered two games priced at or under 300 yen. I can afford $3-$4 USD for something just for the artwork, and I can share it with other people later as an example of a particular genre.

Now, in the U.S, you can't necessarily judge a game on price. Some very good games are available used for cheap simply because the store has so many copies. Some very bad games are expensive only because there's one copy, or it's still a recent release. But in Japan, a cheap used game is cheap because the stores figure no one wants to buy it. Good used games that are 5 years old can still be 1,500 - 2,500 yen. So, I know not to expect much from a 300 yen game (remembering that Claymore, which is garbage, was 650 yen).



ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat. Mistwalker, 2007.
Hmm... A name derived from a meaningless acronym. Not a good sign. New game animation is good, but there's no opening credits beyond just the A.S.H. logo. 15 minutes into the introduction, I finally get the option to save the game. Annoying but not crippling. Dialog is in Japanese - game has never been ported to the U.S. Could be a good excuse to practice reading Japanese. Silly story. Even sillier premise - Young girl is about to become a princess of a small kingdom on her 17th birthday, when a firebreathing dragon swoops in and fries everyone but her. When she approaches different ash piles, they turn back into people that become supporting party members. In investigating additional blazes in the distance, the princess, Aisha, witnesses a fire control team from a different country imprisoning the dragon in a metal box. Later, though, the control team is attacked and the dragon escapes.



I could get to like this game except for one thing - it's a tactical RPG, and I don't like tactical RPGs. I like hack-n-slash RPGs, like Final Fantasy. I can handle puzzle RPGs like Zelda, because often the puzzles can be very challenging. But tactical RPGs are too stiff and linear for me. You start at point A on the war map and you're either trying to get to point B, or clearing all the monsters from the map. Finishing chapter 1 takes you automatically to chapter 2. You can replay the previous two chapters, but it can take half an hour to finish one run-through and you don't get that much experience for it. And this is where I start disliking the game - if a monster is too tough for the level, it will kill of one of your characters. You can replace the dead one with someone else from an infinite pool, but they start out a couple strength levels lower, pretty much guaranteeing that they'll also be killed off quickly, and there's no real option for building someone up before starting the next chapter. I got to chapter 4, lost my cleric 10 minutes into the battle, had a chance of exiting the map alive, picked up a weakling character that acted like a second, unsupported team, watched as the weakling got pummeled into the ground, and I got slapped with the "game over screen", turning the entire 30-minute exercise into a big waste of time. I then spent a couple hours replaying chapter 3 to build the party up 3 levels, and when I start chapter 4, the cleric gets killed again even faster. It's like the enemy levels up as you do. Since there's 31 chapters, and I'm having this much trouble on chapter 4, I don't see much point in playing all the way through.



I do like the graphics and animation in ASH, and I've pretty much figured out the game play, and weapons and magic systems. It's the whole tactics thing that bugs me. I guess I could keep completing certain chapters more than once. You get graded at the end of each chapter based on speed, the number of monsters killed, etc., with bonus experience for A grades (compared to C or B). I'm shelving this game, although I may come back to it later when I have nothing else to do. In the meantime, I don't really recommend it to anyone else.




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