Ashes to Ashes
Ash of Gods: Redemption ended up being somewhat of a new experience for me. It’s not that I haven’t played tactical role-playing games before — quite the contrary actually. It’s more the fact that most my SRPG experience draws heavily from titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, Stella Glow, and Pokémon Conquest (say what you will, but I love that game). Still, I was happy to expand my gaming horizons with Ash of Gods: Redemption.
If there’s one thing that Ash of Gods: Redemption has down more than anything else, it’s urgency. I don’t think that I’ve ever felt so threatened by an SRPG before. From the very beginning, the game makes sure that you’re well aware of the fact that it won’t be holding your hand. It isn’t a game where you thrive, it’s a game where you survive. And, although I’m well aware of the fact that this isn’t the first title of its ilk, there’s no mistaking the fact that it does what it does fairly well.
Don’t Fear the Reaping (or do, Actually)
Out of all of the games that I’ve played this year thus far, Ash of Gods: Redemption definitely takes home the cake in terms of narrative complexity. The game begins approximately 700 years after “The Reaping” — a catastrophic event in which humanity barely defended itself from being utterly destroyed by a race known as the “Reapers”. The previous Reaping should have been the last of its kind, thanks to the noble sacrifice made by a group of individuals known as Curros. Unfortunately, that sacrifice didn’t didn’t go exactly as planned. One of the Curros — a man named Hopper Rouley — was hit with an arrow and fell unconscious before completing his sacrifice, thus merely halting The Reaping rather than completely stopping it. Now, after waking up 700 years later, Hopper must once again prevent what he could not stop before.
Hopper’s story isn’t the only one Ash of Gods: Redemption follows. Also highly important to the game is the story of Thorn Brenin, a retired army captain who, along with his daughter Gleda and a number of other compatriots, find themselves caught up in the second coming of The Reaping. Oh, and did I mention Lo Pheng, an extraordinarily powerful hired bodyguard from the Clan of Shadows who finds himself caught up in The Reaping as well? He’s got his own story, too. And you constantly switch between all three of them. You certainly can’t say that this game’s storytelling isn’t ambitious.
The further I got in Ash of Gods: Redemption, the more I found its profound knack for storytelling both a strength and a weakness. To its credit, this game does very nicely with its narrative (which even further complimented by its gorgeous art). It makes sure to give plenty of attention to each of its characters and remains steadfast and dedicated to crafting the most detailed story that it possibly can. Of course, there’s also such thing as information overload. This game is extremely lore heavy, and the fact that most of the game is split between three different scenarios just makes it all the more complicated. I won’t deny that there were times that characters were introduced, only for me to forget who they were the next time they were mentioned merely due to the fact that I had learned so many other things in-between.
Video game lore is absolutely fascinating. I love learning background information about video game worlds, and the individuals which populate them. But I don’t get into a game just because it has extensive lore. I need a game to hook me before I really start caring. Ash of Gods: Redemption, in my opinion, was only partially successful with this. I feel badly saying it because — translation errors aside — the game has some solid dialogue. There’s just so much of it. I’m someone who likes to know everything about a game as I’m playing it, and I usually eat lore up. But there were even times when I found myself thinking “is all of this information really that necessary?”
Although an SRPG through-and-through, much your success in Ash of Gods: Redemption isn’t based on your strength as a warrior, but your skill as an orator. A good portion of this game plays out much more like a visual novel than anything else (which, given the amount of dialogue present, only makes sense), meaning that what you say — and how your say it — is important. This might sound contrary to some of what I’ve said before, but I really like how much narrative power is placed in the hands of the player. And believe me, this power isn’t something to take lightly.
Ash of Gods: Redemption isn’t just an SRPG. It’s a roguelike SRPG. And a very unforgiving one at that. Players are not only constantly making choices, but are also constantly accounting for them as well. Sometimes, these choices don’t hold much impact. They may lead to events in which players may avoid or engage in fights, gain new information, or find treasure. Other choices, however, have much more gravity to them. These “important decisions” (which are always marked with a pen and quill in the corner of the screen) often times have far-reaching, and permanent effects on the game. Not thinking things through in these situations can lead to death. Because of the game works, the death of a characters doesn’t necessarily spell out the end of the game. Not even the death of a protagonist. But it sure makes things a heck of a lot harder.
A surprising amount of decision-making takes place on the map. Each of the games protagonists, for one reason or another, find themselves traveling quite frequently. Naturally, due the the shape that the world is in, that doesn’t prove to be simple. Players can expect to constantly face random encounters during their travels. Most of these encounters are never as easy as just peacefully passing by someone, and often time end in the player either needing to help someone out or fending off attackers.
Decision-making works the same way on the map as it is in other parts of the game. It’s almost impossible to predict the outcome of many of these events, though. I’ve tried to help people only to get robbed. I’ve attacked people only to have my party members get upset with me. I can appreciate the seeming randomness of many of these events. And I understand that the game is meant to be hard. But some of the predicaments I found myself in felt less like poor decision making and more like bad luck.
Fighting for Your Life
Much like the rest of the game, Ash of Gods: Redemption‘s SRPG combat doesn’t pull any punches. Foregoing many commonplace SRPG elements which could be seen as gimmicks — such as terrain — entirely, emerging from a skirmish unharmed (or at least not dead) rests entirely on the player’s ability to plan strategically. Mechanically speaking, combat plays out similarly to how it does within most other SRPGs. There are a few unique elements worth noting, however.
The most important combat mechanic to adjust to — and make use of — is Energy. In Ash of Gods, players can either attack a foe’s HP or Energy. Attacking HP works exactly how you would expect it to. Energy ends up being more unique, though. For the most part, Energy works the same way that MP would, allowing players to use special skills by expending Energy. Completely depleting character’s Energy means that they can no longer use skills. It also means that they take double HP damage, should you continue targeting their Energy. Although seemingly simple, the decision whether to attack an enemy’s HP directly or attempt to weaken them by first attacking their Energy ends up adding a lot of depth to combat. Not only does it force players to formulate strategies around attacking their foes, but it also might make them think twice about spamming skills.
Players are also able to bring with and use magical cards in combat. Although not quite as pertinent as the Energy mechanic, cards can still be a vital asset when used correctly. Each card features a unique ability. Many of these abilities are minor in the beginning, such as healing an ally’s HP or reducing enemy defense. As you get through the game, however, there’s a chance that you’ll come across more powerful cards. Rather than simply healing, buffing or dealing damage, many of these “advanced cards” feature unique gimmicks that require finesse to use. My personal favorite card to use ended up being the one that swaps the HP and Energy of every unit on the field. It’s risky, but man does it feel good when I can come out on top because of it. Cards don’t guarantee victory, but they can end up being useful with proper application.
Trial by Fire, Situation Dire
Although this game may not be the first of its kind, but it still stands out well enough. Featuring a darkly charming setting, strategy-oriented combat, and a story which places players in control, Ash of Gods: Redemption is a lore-filled SRPG that fans of the genre probably shouldn’t pass up on.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: AurumDust, WhisperGames ; Developer: AurumDust ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 23, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ash of Gods: Redemption given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.