One of the games in Aksys’s delightful summer of otome, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is a visual novel with an engaging fantasy setting and plenty of intriguing mysteries to solve. Add in a small yet very likeable cast of pretty boys, and you’ve got a title that’s easy to get drawn in to.
In a town where it is eternally winter, witches are known by their red eyes and said to bring ruin. To hide her identity as a witch, Jed disguises herself as a boy and takes up residence in a tower deep in the forest. There, she attends to the eccentric Tower Overlord and works a handyman, doing odd jobs for the townspeople. She is given a request by the church to find a mysterious artefact called the Kaleido-via, which is said to be a symbol of peace between the two clans that govern the town and could lead to war if it is not found. What’s more, a series of murders have started, carried out by an entity known only as the Black Shadow.
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is a visual novel with an engaging fantasy setting and plenty of intriguing mysteries to solve.
There’s a lot going on in the story of Ashen Hawk! A hidden identity, a missing artefact, a feud between powerful families, a string of murders, and an eternal winter! While these strands combined weave an overarching story of tension and mystery, it can get a little clunky trying to juggle all of them and sometimes feels like the game’s trying to do a little too much. Each aspect is interesting on its own, but it probably didn’t need all of them.
When it comes to visuals and sound, the lovely character designs and great soundtrack both really help build the setting and atmosphere. There are some stand-outs when compared with a lot of other visual novels too, which set Ashen Hawk apart and give it an extra layer of polish. For one thing, the characters have sprites from the side and back in addition to the standard front-on portraits, which are used to add a real sense of movement to their actions. Characters bobbing down to sit on chairs is kind of weird at first and takes a little getting used to, but it’s actually a really nice effect and makes the game a lot less static. Of course, there’s plenty of gorgeous CGs to collect as well.
The lovely character designs and great soundtrack both really help build the setting and atmosphere.
Perhaps the most notable and most pleasing feature is the integration of the protagonist herself. Not only does she have default names (one as a boy and one as a girl) which are voiced if you choose them, she is also voiced herself and has her own portraits. These additions do wonders in making her feel like a fully fleshed-out character and are something it’d be really nice to see more otome games do in the future. When it comes to her character, she is strong-willed and independent, and is more than capable of holding her own be it in a sword fight or an argument. Her only drawback is that she slightly outshines the love interests! If you’re looking for an otome game with a good protagonist, you should definitely consider checking out Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.
If you’re looking for an otome game with a good protagonist, you should definitely consider checking out Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the map feature. It works in theory, and makes a change from the linear structure of many other visual novels, but not so much in practice. For starters, breaking the story up into short stories with little to no connection isn’t particularly engaging. It says something that the map function fades out later into the story, when things in the plot become more exciting. There might be some kind of negative correlation there. The initial excitement of “I have so many places to go and things to do” quickly sours into “are any of these scenes necessary for me to progress the story?” with little in the way of indication from the game itself as to what is and isn’t important or compulsory. Also, you can’t save on the map screen, which is pretty annoying.
The map is divided into main story, short stories, and Town Memories by place. The Town Memories are brief scenes with various characters where you collect currency for buying side-stories about different groups from the Antique Shop. This is a nice idea, but gathering them is pretty slow. You don’t know what you’re going to talk to the person about and it’s just a few lines anyway; so there’s not much drive to do them, unless it’s for a character you find interesting, other than building up to get the side-stories. Ploughing through generic statements from nameless townspeople can be a bit tedious. These conversations aren’t directed at Jed, so she gets a few of her own and it’s really nice to see her included.
Ploughing through generic statements from nameless townspeople can be a bit tedious.
The side-stories you have to buy are more of the short stories in the map mode and they can only be unlocked that way. This combined with the extra scenes in the notes section (accessible through the flowchart except for one time it crops up during the plot) makes the whole story kind of disjointed. It feels a little like there were too many scenes that needed to be just shoehorned in somewhere for further details and explanations of things the characters might not talk about. Some of the less important scenes are pretty sweet, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to learn more about the characters, but they don’t really do any favours when it comes to making the story more cohesive.
Thankfully, there are some more standard style choices, predominantly in the latter half of the game. These tend to be the ones that influence which of the 12 endings you get. Some of them will only become available after you’ve completed particular scenes or routes of the game, but the flowchart makes jumping around the plot to tick off alternative choices and discover new options a breeze.
Unfortunately, some fundamental flaws in the storytelling also prevent Ashen Hawk from quite living up to its potential. The story is a bit all over the place and can quickly shift from being exciting and unexpected to contrived and predictable. There are some good twists, but there are also some trite and obvious twists.
Even after getting all the endings, I’m not much less confused about the plot as I was when I went in.
Similarly, even after getting all the endings, I’m not much less confused about the plot as I was when I went in. Nothing ever feels fully explained or resolved, which somewhat dampens the satisfaction from reaching an ending. Though there may be some wobbles, there are still a lot of good ideas and some excellent moments to be found in the confusion.
The cast really does make this game. It’s very easy to like the characters, even the ones who are initially presented more as bad guys, and the stellar voice acting helps in places where the script itself is not as strong. It’s somewhat a shame that there aren’t multiple endings per character, as there often are, as it limits the romance of the endings somewhat. Even so, everyone gets some time in the spotlight and the relationships between Jed and the other main characters are charming and compelling.
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is an enjoyable visual novel that deserves a place in your otome collection.
There’s extra to be gleaned from Ashen Hawk for those who have played Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, but it also stands alone perfectly well. Despite its few setbacks, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is an enjoyable visual novel that deserves a place in your otome collection.
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