Ashina: The Red Witch Review - Bewitching
Updated: Jul 7
Ashina: The Red Witch
Ashina: The Red Witch is an adventure game that's apparently a prequel to an earlier title from developer Stranga, although I haven't played it and can't say how much it adds to that story. Stranga's other games appear to be horror adventures, but while Ashina has some horror elements, it's fairly lighthearted overall. The tone most often recalls Spirited Away (sometimes to a fault) and the bright, cheery art style looks like it'd be from a casual JRPG. If that all sounds a bit dissonant, it actually works well.
Ashina begins with the title character getting trapped in the spirit world thanks to Tanto, a mischievous childlike yokai, stealing her mother's pendant. One thing leads to another, and before long you're on the run from an evil witch who runs a bathhouse and needs you and your sister for some kind of dark ritual. The early plot retreads quite a few tropes you'll have seen before if you're familiar with any even slightly similar stories, but it gets more unique as it goes along. I particularly enjoyed a city level near the end. Unfortunately, but probably inevitably as a prequel, it ends very quickly after that without reaching a real resolution. Is that forgivable in a cheap, short prequel? Yeah. But it's still a bit disappointing to have the story just abruptly end when in what should be the climax.
The plot may end on a sour note, but thankfully the music and art are consistently great. Every major hub in the game feels and looks completely different. They have their own sprite sets, types of yokai, and themes that you'll never see again after leaving. It's really impressive to see this much variety in a game that could easily be completed in one sitting, and it makes the world feel alive. This is a setting I'd love to see more of despite how familiar it can sometimes be. And the music! The city BGM in particular is one of my favorite tracks from 2022.
Lastly, gameplay. There's very little to say here. This is a casual adventure game and virtually everything you do amounts to interacting with a noun, getting another noun, and giving that noun to a third noun. Sometimes one of those nouns is a character and other times it's just a thing, but as far as I know there's nothing else here. No fail states, no other kinds of puzzle, no minigames. I'm fine with that in a short game, though even then I think it would have helped to have more variety. As it is, this could pretty easily be reimplemented as a hidden object game.
Ashina isn't perfect, then, but none of its flaws feel particularly notable in a game that is both very short and potentially available for an almost comically cheap price. I'd have been happy to overlook a questionable ending and very basic gameplay for the quality of the world and music regardless, but in a 2-3 hour game that can be obtained for a few bucks, they're negligible faults. This is very worth checking out, and even more so if you get it in the Stranga bundle - at time of writing I bought the dev's other games for a whopping $2.92.
Time to beat: 2-3 hours.
MSRP: $9.99, but can be purchased for much less on sale.
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