Developer & Publisher: Calathea Game Studio/Selecta Play
Released: June 29, 2023
Requirements: OS: 64-bit WIndows 7
Processor: Dual Core at 2.5 Ghtz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 1060 or similar
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 17 GB available space
Calathea Game Studio/Selecta Play
You have to admire a game that, as well as seeking to entertain, looks to explore a difficult or unconventional game topic. Inner Ashes is one such game.
Henry Hughes is a forest ranger, recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As well as dealing with what that means day to day, he is on a quest to remember why he is estranged from his daughter Enid. His journey will take you into two different realities - his real world, and the dreamlike islands that represent the internal symptoms of his condition.
In the real world you won’t leave Henry’s home, and the bulk of the events takes place in his mind, accessed through a scrapbook on his desk. His home though plays an important role, not just in terms of understanding some more about how Henry manages but as a source of recollections or insights that will be utilised as he explores his memories.
Perhaps not surprisingly this game is best experienced by embracing what it is that the game is trying to portray. When you do, things that you might pick at can be appreciated in a wholly different light. So it might be that the construction of various ‘realms’ leads to some aimless wandering, or that one realm in particular is difficult to navigate because it is almost searingly difficult to see in parts, but in the context of Henry’s condition it makes sense. If it was easy for Henry to remember stuff you would have a simple path to everywhere you needed to go; the fact that it can be a bit of a muddled struggle reflects Henry’s reality.
To assist that experience, you will find carer's information throughout the game, dealing with various aspects of how the disease manifests itself. It's factual, but it helps paint the game-world picture.
Post-it notes play an important narrative part, one that you can explore for yourself. So too tangrams, of which there are a fair number. Henry uses them to keep his mind in shape, so expect to solve them at regular intervals. Apart from finding and using things in the various realms, the tangrams provide most of the puzzling.
The visuals are best appreciated by looking at the pics. The home is flat and a tad drab, but the realms of Henry’s mind are much more appealing. There are also cutscenes which present as pages from a picture book, and which I thought worked well, particularly as they are often an exchange between Henry and his young daughter.
The game plays in the first person and uses both the keyboard and mouse. WASD gets you around, the mouse and some other keys interact with the world/s. The game autosaves fairly regularly, although there were a couple of occasions I wanted to stop but couldn’t without losing progress.
As well as the carer's notes you can find pictures created by Enid throughout your journeys, and these and everything else you come across can be accessed through a journal. You don’t have to find all of these collectibles to finish the game. The soundscape (voice, ambient sound and score) was perfectly fine. If you play with hints you will usually know your next objective. Places you can do stuff will generally by indicated by a large exclamation mark, and a small array of icons will indicate the associated action.
As well as your collectibles, the journal contains tabs for tweaking various settings, including whether you want hints or subtitles. Once the game ends, you can review your journal and the things you did and didn’t find, but you can’t go back into the game to look for missing things. Starting a new game wipes the slate clean.
Two other characters are present, through various bits and pieces and the memories, and the narrative that unfolds isn’t a surprise but seemed contextually valid. It took me about 4 hours.
Inner Ashes is a thoughtful game, one that provides some gentle puzzling and associated perambulation, but is really about a whole lot more. Kudos to the makers.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB