Hidden away in the woods, in a town where it never fails to snow, a young girl must hide herself away. Born with an eye that turns red–the mark of a witch–she masquerades as a man to avoid prosecution. But what is this young heroine to do when her heart has been captured by someone who doesn’t even realize she’s a woman?
Jed has lived her whole life pretending to be someone she’s not. Instead of growing her hair out, wearing pretty dresses, and learning the tricks to applying makeup by her adoptive mother, she’s forced to bind her chest, cut her hair, and live on the outskirts of town in a forgotten tower with the ever mysterious Ashen Hawk, a self-proclaimed ghost.
These are not the only problems Jed faces. To make a living, she works as a handyman. Picking up every odd job she stumbles into is the only way to keep food in her belly. When Jed is given a job by the church to find a long-lost town treasure before the upcoming annual masquerade, she thinks it’ll be the easiest bit of money she’s ever made. But the town is old; the history is hazy. And how is she expected to get any information when the town is too busy fighting itself?
Together, the Wolf Clan and the Hawk Clan have governed this sleepy town for as long as anyone can remember, but the tensions keep rising between the two. Fights amongst the citizens break out every day and townspeople are being murdered left and right by a figure only known as The Black Shadow. With both clans blaming the other, the streets no longer being safe, and half of the town calling for a witch hunt, Jed is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Similar to Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk uses a flowchart to help players keep track of their route and to jump between the branching story paths, instead of having to rely on save points like many other Otome games. The flowchart also makes it a lot easier to go back and finish anything you might have missed, since you can see which sections haven’t been completed.
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is unique in how it goes about telling most of its story. Instead of having a linear path broken up by choices that divert the player into different paths, the player is taken to a map where they choose what to read and where to go. There are about nine different locations, and during the map portions of the game there will be anywhere from one to a few dozen stories available to read. Some of these stories are just a few lines long (seriously, I think one of them was just a single click of the X button and it was over), while others are short stories that actually give you some decent content. The main story episode is marked with a special color, making it easy to know which option will focus on the main plot and progress the game. (Protip: read all the available stories before progressing the game. It’ll unlock a lot of the branching paths so you can jump right into them instead of having to backtrack trying to find the one side story you’re missing.)
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is a great purchase for anyone who love mysteries, romance, and a little bit of darkness. The artwork is stellar, and the little tweaks they put in–such as having pictures for characters that aren’t important enough to get names, and including a ton of variations for the character models–definitely makes this title stand out in my mind.
All of the characters are unique and each has a well-developed backstory that, while full of interesting twists, isn’t so convoluted or overreaching that it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Even some of the side characters felt pretty fleshed out, despite their lack of screen time.
I really enjoyed being able to go at my own pace through the story, and I especially liked how I could choose to jump into the side stories instead of having to be force fed it to get anywhere else in the plot. This ability to choose how quickly I went through the game was a welcome change to how the genre usually proceeds.
There’s really only one complaint I have, and it’s that the story is really slow to pick up. The beginning easily sucked me into the plot, but then I felt like over half of the game involved me reading side stories that–while good and fun to read–felt more like filler than anything else. It wasn’t until over halfway through the game that I actually felt like the main plot was getting any TLC; by the time things were really moving, the climax had started and finished.
The only other issue I can give the game is that if you didn’t play Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, you’re going to miss out on quite a few tidbits sprinkled throughout the story, as well as the majority of one of the endings. While it wouldn’t take anything away from AH if you don’t play BB first, I think that the knowledge BB gives you going into AH is well worth playing BB first.
At the end of the day, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is a great addition to any otome gamer’s library. The artwork is beautiful, the voice acting is great, and the story is interesting enough to keep you paging through it late into the night, even if the side stories seem to have no end sometimes. If Aksys ever makes another Psychedelica game, there’s no question if I’d get it or not.
You can order Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk for the PlayStation Vita on Amazon.