Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Idea Factory
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk represents the third and final installment in Aksys’ “Summer of Mystery,” the publisher’s way of linking together three Japanese otome visual novels making the jump to English. After kind of enjoying the first installment (and sort-of successor, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly) and really enjoying the second (the awkwardly-named 7’scarlet), I was curious to see whether the final entry would live up to the modest expectations I’d developed so far.

The answer? Kind of. The good news is that Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk, like both of the other two Summer of Mystery games, is an otome game that surprisingly doesn’t spend all its time on romance. Sure, it’s there, but it’s presented in ways that feel natural, rather than shoehorned in for the sake of being an otome game.

Also welcome is that the main character is more than just a blank cypher. Rather than being your typical amnesiac with no backstory, the main character here knows some of her history. In fact, she not only has some sense of where she comes from (not entirely, of course, because…otome), she also has pre-existing relationships with the other people she encounters. The game takes its time to explain who she is in relation to everyone else, which adds to the feeling of this being a story, rather than just a vehicle for pairing off a blank slate teen girl with any number of interchangeable bland hunks.

The downside to all this is that the story definitely feels overstuffed. There’s a murder to be solved, peace between two warring families to be brokered, and, of course, the whole romance thing. Even allowing for the fact that much of the gameplay in any visual novel will consist of “Press X to advance,” Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk makes you read through lots. There are plenty of side stories and digressions and discursions to be found here, and you have to explore all of them if you want to unlock the dozen endings.

Thankfully, the game knows how to make you do this in a non-monotonous way. You explore the small town in which the game is situated via a handy map, rather than simply endless text screens, and the game provides you with a handy flowchart so you can get a sense of where you are in the story.

On top of that, there’s perhaps the game’s most interesting feature: the fact that the main character has a double identity. You learn right off the bat that she presents herself as a boy most of the time (for fully explained story reasons), and you often get a chance to explore the world as both a boy and a girl. In perhaps the best example of Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk giving its heroine a fleshed-out personality, this is presented factually — which is to say, there aren’t the questionable gender politics and portrayals that you might expect. (In fact, depending on how you interpret some of relationships, you could even go so far as to say that this is one of the more queer-friendly games around — Japanese or otherwise.)

Broadly speaking, then, you might say that, like 7’scarlet and Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly before it, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk succeeds as a visual novel generally and an otome specifically because it ignores its genre conventions in favour of telling a compelling story, with largely decent characters and enough content to keep you interested all the way to the end. I’m not sure what Aksys’ goal with the Summer of Mystery was, but if it was to showcase just how impressive and engaging the genre can be, I’d say it succeeded beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Aksys Games provided us with a Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: B+