Every once in a while, you come across a game that is really unique from any other titles you have played. Stranga, known for releasing horror-themed titles, has released a narrative adventure game called Ashina: The Red Witch on the Nintendo Switch. At first glance, it may remind you of titles like Earthbound or Undertale, but its story is a lot deeper than it may seem on the surface.
You take on the role of Ashina — who goes by Ash — she is a young girl who works at a bathhouse as a receptionist and attendant. Conveniently, her apartment is located right above her work, but despite how handy it is, she just wants a change in her life and wants to leave her job. Her sister, Tena (she’s the flirty one), thinks that her sister has it so good that working at the bathhouse is like a dream compared to her job. She works at the local laundromat for an intense boss that she doesn’t much like. While the girls are talking over their ramen supper that Ash has prepared the exact same way that their late mother did, we learn that each sister received an item from her. Ash got a pendant that her mom used to wear every day, and Tena got a red ribbon for her hair. They disagree over the quotes that their mom would always say, like “To reach the top of the mountain, start by getting off your butt!” Ash disagrees with her sister, she says that it’s actually “To reach the top of the mountain, start by standing up!” It’s getting late, so Tena leaves as she has to work early and doesn’t have the convenience that Ash does by living so close to her work.
When Tena leaves, Ash decides to go to bed. The room gets dark, but then we see something weird. The TV is on, and someone is watching cooking shows while they are cooking alongside in the kitchen. This mysterious being is a ghost, and they have the pendant that belonged to Ash’s mum. Ash suddenly wakes up and runs to the kitchen to find the ghost making stew. The ghost bolts out of the apartment, and Ash chases after him, but as soon as she runs out the door, she finds herself at a bus stop. She is confused as to what is going on here. Where is she? A bus pulls up, informing you that you are now in the spirit world, but he knows that mischievous ghost, and his name is Tanto. The bus driver will take you to Shiruta, where Tanto usually hangs out at the local sushi restaurant, so you can confront him. His hangout is called Sushi Bois and is owned by Kenu, a Tanuki who knows our ghost thief quite well. He says that he’s lost the pendant, or rather, he has given it to someone named “Muma.” The problem is that you only have a few hours to retrieve it, as the portal to get back home to the living world closes at sunrise.
The afterlife in Ashina: The Red Witch is actually quite charming and cute; it feels more like something that you may see in a Studio Ghibli film than a frightening place filled with ghosts. Tanto, the kleptomaniac ghost, reminds me of Vivi from Final Fantasy IX as he has a similar cloaked outfit like that character wore. The residents of Shiruta warn you that the spirit world is not safe for humans, but almost every spirit you meet wants to help you out and is incredibly friendly. At the beginning of the game, it feels like you are constantly running around doing fetch quests. For Tanto to wake up Mama, he needs his radio, but it was thrown out of a window, so he’s not sure where it is. He suggests you visit Kappo, who lived near the building where the radio would have landed. You find Kappo, but the radio is broken, so you have to find someone to fix it. He suggests speaking with Gus, the resident handyman. Gus says he can fix it, but you will need to find speakers, batteries, and booze because you can’t do a job without that! While trying to find everything that you need, you will meet a lot of crazy characters to trade with, but as you progress, you will learn more about Ashina and her connection to this spirit world. Things are not totally what they seem!
The retro pixel-style visuals are super whimsical, and the buildings and characters you meet all look great. There is something about the look of this game that almost gives it a cosy feel, and I’m sure the helpful characters you interact with add to the charm. I felt a lot of affection for these residents and wanted to do all that I could to make them happy! The sweet instrumental music mirrored the feeling of the game and always felt like it fit along with the events in the game. Though a few moments had no music at all, which was a little odd, but I figure it’s better than music that didn’t fit in with the mood of the game.
Ashina: The Red Witch is not a complicated game at all. There is no fighting or puzzles to speak of. You instead spend more time talking to the characters and trying to complete some fetch quests at times, making the game feel more like a graphical adventure. This is not a long game, so you don’t get too tired of having to pick up and deliver items to the different inhabitants that you meet, as the story is so good that you just have to find out what happens. There are multiple endings that you can get. Some end up being quite dark and emotional at times, while others are shocking. I think that having a sequel to this title would be a great idea, and I need to learn more about this world and everything that happens here.
Ashina: The Red Witch is a title that will appeal to gamers who like simple gameplay and a great story. If you like games that are more difficult and challenge you, this is probably not going to be a title that you will want to check out. I feel that the complex story full of memorable characters and events makes up for the item retrieval and walking simulator feeling that you can get, turning this into a game that is worth checking out! I was surprised by how captivated I was by this game.
Ashina: The Red Witch (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Ashina: The Red Witch is a short and simple game that is full of fetch quests, but the memorable characters, great story, and beautiful whimsical visuals more than make up for it! I’m hoping for a sequel!