Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk Review – Preying on it (Vita)
With this final entry, Aksys Games’ Summer of Mystery comes to a chilly end. I’m serious about it being chilly; unlike the first two titles, this one takes place in a world where winter never ends. But that’s really the only difference between this one and its predecessors. It’s still an otome with multiple endings, it’s about a girl who is learning who she is, there is a flowchart to follow and reload as needed, and multiple paths unlock as you complete various endings. Also like the others, its story is unpredictable and overall rather sad. Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was incredibly hard to put down once the story got going, although it would have been nice to have a little bit of a challenge when it came to finding all of the endings.
Come and Listen to My Story About a Man Named Jed
Our protagonist is a girl, as one would expect from an otome visual novel, but she doesn’t appear to be one. She has her hair cut short, wears men’s clothing, works handyman jobs, walks like a man, talks like a man (cue Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), and generally does everything possible to prove she’s a man. Her name is even the hickest man-name imaginable: Jed. Sure, I could have changed her male name easily enough, but you haven’t lived until you hear Japanese voice actors say “Jed.”
Jed has a reason as to why she poses as a man, and it’s not only because men’s clothing is more comfortable. One of her eyes can turn red if her emotions heighten, and legend has it that red eyes are a sign of witch. The town (that is never named) believes that a witch has cursed the land to forever be in winter, and she will bring doom and destruction if she is not killed on sight. Thus, Jed hides the fact she’s a woman just in case someone sees her one red eye. The only people who know she’s a she are her adoptive mother, Francisca, and her current roommate, Ashen Hawk.
Because Jed was afraid of bringing trouble to Francisca and her adoptive brothers, she decided to move out at a young age. She chose a tower she remembered on the outside of town, which already had Ashen Hawk as its inhabitant. He was fine with her living there, as long as she agreed to be his servant. While he does absolutely nothing all day, she works in the town for money so she can buy food for them. They have an unusual relationship, to say the least.
But that’s not her only reason for working all the time. She wants to save up enough money so she can leave the town, even though no one leaves or comes, and thus not be a possible burden on her family. Her adoptive family happens to be the Wolf Clan of the town, who half run the place. It would be a rather large problem if the Wolf Clan was harboring a witch. The other rulers are the members of the rivaling Hawk Clan. The Wolf Clan tries to lead by helping everyone get along, whereas the Hawk Clan rules with an iron fist. You can already see the ever-brewing conflict, can’t you?
Thanks to the church hiring Jed for a big job before the annual Masquerade festival, she can leave town as soon as she completes it. Her task is to find the church’s missing Kaleido-Via, which requires plenty of investigation, especially covert investigation. As a known member of the Wolf Clan, the Hawk Clan and its supporters won’t give Jed the time of day. But they would be willing to talk to Eiar.
Dude Looks like a Lady
When Jed/Eiar starts her investigation of finding the Kaleido-Via, that’s when the game’s unique gameplay finally surfaces. The town Map will open as part of the flowchart, and Jed can visit certain areas to move the story along. Each locale isn’t always available, and locales sometimes have a blue S or a pink magnifying glass. The Ses are short stories, which are sometimes needed to unlock the next main story sequence. The magnifying glasses are little interviews with townspeople. You’re not Jed or Eiar, but what appears to be a reporter of some sort, not that you ever see who it is. One question is asked, the interviewee gives an answer, and the player receives a Town Memory. Not only do Town Memories provide unique insights into the various goings-on of the town, but the player can use them to purchase additional short stories from the peddler’s Antique Shop. If you want to see all the endings, you’re going to have to do all of the Town Memories and short stories. You might as well do them all when you get there.
The Map changes each time it appears in the flowchart, as well, which further prods you into completing everything you can when you get there. In addition, there are short stories and Town Memories for both Jed and Eiar. It’s both hilarious and amazing to hear Jed, a woman, talk about cross-dressing as a woman.
Can’t Even Drive 55
Even with all of these various things to do, Ashen Hawk takes a very long time to get interesting. The main reason is that you play for a few hours before you can make your first decision. You don’t make a decision until reaching Chapter 3. That doesn’t sound like it would be that long of a time, but as you can see from the flowchart below, it most certainly is.
I started to wonder if the only decisions I would make were where I would visit on the Maps. Thank God that wasn’t the case or I would have needed caffeine pills to get through the story. I also would have wondered why it wasn’t an outright book at that point.
But thankfully, you do make decisions that determine which ending you get. Depending upon that individual decision or the culmination of decisions before, various branches will open, leading to different endings for Jed’s story. As has been the case with the previous two Aksys otome games, each ending opens up one small piece of the overarching story. Perhaps one ending will explain one mystery, but it will be a different ending that explains another. Two endings won’t unlock until you complete every other one before it, and it’s that very last ending possibility that explains the biggest mystery of all. Several of the endings were predictable, but plenty of them had rather incredible twists.
Once you get the decision-making ball rolling, it gets hard to put Ashen Hawk down. The plot really starts to thicken, and chaos ensues all over the place. It’s just a shame it couldn’t pick up the pace sooner. I fully understand the need to set a background story and lay the foundation for where the plot is going, but it doesn’t work that well with a video game when there’s no gameplay outside of “press X to continue” for a few hours. It really doesn’t work that well when the foundation is fairly boring to boot. I fell asleep on the couch with Vita in hand sadly more than once. At least I can say that it’s better late than never in this case.
On the other hand, since it does take so long for any actual gameplay and plot development, it’s possible players won’t wait that long to see how amazing the story is. It is an otome visual novel, after all! No one wants to wait hours before acting on your first romance target. If I wasn’t reviewing the title, I don’t know if I would have pushed through, which would have been a terrible shame. This is one story that mystery-lovers won’t want to miss, much less otome fans, as long as they’re willing to slog through an introduction that runs slower than molasses in winter. (It’s funny because the game is eternally in winter, you see.)
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.