A Critical Look at Red Ash

It's been over half a week since Comcept first teased Red Ash, with the full announcement coming just last weekend. I was away from home when the Anime Expo panel took place and I only shared the press release, and my initial impressions were similar to those from many of you.

I've given the subject a good bit of thought in the time since, and figured that a more analytical look may not only be in order, but also befitting of this very site.

First, some full disclosure: I did not back the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter, so I've got no personal investment in how things went from there. The reason for this wasn't due to a lack of faith or enthusiasm, but because I was attempting to raise my own funds so I could put on the Sonic Lost World First Play Charity Marathon. (This will come up again later.)

In fact, much to my dismay, I began my Indiegogo campaign the exact same night Inafune announced the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter. With all the support that was being poured into that, I was honestly afraid I'd never make my own goals (fortunately I did, just in the nick of time).

With regards to Comcept, I was honestly surprised to get the press release for Red Ash in the first place. I hadn't heard a single thing from them since passing along last year's April Fool's joke to them, and I had honestly believed up to this point that when 8-4 phased out their work with the company, that was that. I couldn't even get a code for the beta from them to help with my coverage for Nintendo Force magazine.

As for Mighty No. 9 itself, I'm very hopeful that it will turn out to be good. Thanks to a generous donor, I did receive a code for the beta, but I wasn't exactly over the moon while playing it. But, it was a beta, so I'm hoping that some of the issues I had with it (certain parts felt a bit rough to me) are smoothed out by the time it's released, particularly with this delay.

So, with all of that out of the way, let's just say I'm somewhere around "neutral and hopeful" or "cautiously optimistic" about Mighty No. 9. I like most of what I've seen, but I'm hoping the game will be better than what I played.

Now then, about Red Ash: I'm going to look at as much info as I can from the announcements here and give my thoughts/analysis on it.

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The Name

Red Ash: The Indelible Legend. "Red Ash," or "ReDash," like "Redoing DASH." Plus the constant use of the term "legend," and it's pretty clear what they're going for.

Others have pointed this out already, but... wow. If Mighty No. 9 was Inafune's "in your face" to Capcom, this feels more like he's poking out their eyes with both of his middle fingers.

The Characters

Yeah, if the name wasn't enough, the characters pretty much sell the rest of it. We have expies of MegaMan Volnutt, Roll Caskett, Teisel Bonne, and Servbots. What's more, the MegaMan and Roll stand-ins are even named Beck and Call, i.e. the names of the two main characters from Mighty No. 9, and an apparent connection to that game in much the same way as Mega Man Legends connected to Mega Man (or Mega Man X, at least).

I always thought that Yatterman-2 looked a bit like Roll Caskett, and somehow this version of Call seems reminiscent of Roll by way of Yatterman-2 to me. Tyger is so clearly Teisel as well, though he seems like he'd be a little more hands-on.

While the Gofer is clearly meant to be the Servbots' counterpart, I'm not sure they have the same appeal. On the other hand, it looks more and more every day as though Minions have stolen whatever thunder Servbots could have ever had, so maybe a clean break was needed anyway. I might even dare say that the little business suit, briefcase, and "seeming like it receives a salary" gives it a unique appeal of its own.

Most fascinating to me, though, is that I would never have really guessed that Beck here is supposed to have any sort of connection to the Beck of Mighty No. 9... or MegaMan Volnutt, except that he seems like the best fit for that role, almost by default.

While there are clearly some parallels to Mega Man Legends, watching the Kickstarter pitch video above gave me a better feeling for the characters, and while there are definitely some cues taken, the dynamic does feel different.

For one thing, it feels as though the ever-popular Bonnes have been condensed with the Casketts to form what we see here. Tyger seems as though he fulfills both Barrell and Teisel's roles as an older veteran of their profession, but also a "big brother" figure to our protagonist in a way not unlike Teisel was to Tron. (The "older brother" dynamic also reminds me of something similar I had going on in a Mega Man Legends role playing game I used to play with some friends, so I may be partial to that dynamic.)

Call seems a step removed from any of them by running her "Bones Company," which seemingly mixes the sort of leadership role Tron had with the tendency to need the money you earn that Roll possessed. Meanwhile, the "Tron"-styled character (at least, going by the emblem) remains a mystery.

The music used during the animatic portion also seemed quite reminiscent of the "hard luck" theme that frequently accompanied the Bonnes whenever they were beaten down.

The World

From the Kickstarter page:

As a result of the Robot World War, humanity is driven to the brink of extinction.  Humanity has managed to persevere and survive, battling now feral robotic weapons at every turn in a world of nothing but wasteland and ruins...

With the advent of Lost Technology, precious legacies of a forgotten era, they have managed to rebuild their society. A wealthy class has emerged, helping to expand these newly formed cities and settlements and living in opulence as a result.
However, their livelihoods are supported by the brave fools who hunt the dangerous ruins and wastelands for Lost Technology. These people are known simply as Delvers.

Hmm, let me see here...

"As a result of the Maverick/Elf Wars, humanity is driven to the brink of extinction.  Humanity has managed to persevere and survive, battling now feral robotic weapons at every turn in a world of nothing but endless water and ruins...

"With the advent of Quantum Refractors/Holon Technology, precious legacies of a forgotten era, they have managed to rebuild their society. A wealthy class has emerged, helping to expand these newly formed cities and settlements and living in opulence as a result.

"However, their livelihoods are supported by the brave fools who hunt the dangerous ruins and wastelands for Quantum Refractors. These people are known simply as Diggers."

It's not a 1:1 match, but still gets the gist across. One might assume that the Robot World War spoken of has something to do with Mighty No. 9, and if so, I'm inclined to applaud them on their world building if they truly have this much foresight into what they're doing. Heck, just between Red Ash and Mighty No. 9 (and much like condensing the Bonnes and Casketts), the rebooted concept feels like it might be a lot tighter than what we saw previously spread throughout Mega Man, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man Legends.

An interesting divergence from Mega Man Legends is swapping out "a world covered by endless water" for a wasteland seems to change things a bit as well, though whether they find greater freedom in this switch remains to be seen. As an aside, I've not seen Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann in its entirety (it's on my to-do list, if I can ever get my hands on some DVDs), but what I have seen reminded me a bit of Mega Man Legends had such a similar change been made.

Some other changes add some further intrigue as well. Whereas the Master System's Eden fortress would wreck the city of Kattelox on a semi-regular basis, it seems that the opposite is taking place here. Instead, the city of Great Slope is preparing a superweapon of their own called the "Peacemaker" to wreck the mobile citadel KalKanon, which is on a crash course with their home.

And of course, whereas everyone was searching for the treasure known as the Mother Lode/Great Legacy/Great Inheritance, here we have the Legendary Legacy rumored to be housed within KalKanon.

I'm not going to lie: While I love Mega Man Legends and still have an investment in those characters, stories, and world that can never be replaced, I find my interest in this take ever-growing. Sure, it's derivative, but in a fascinating sort of way -- almost as though it's a mirror or alternate universe from what we know, where much of what is black is white, up is down, and left is right, yet not quite as straightforward as that.

And yet, at the same time, it almost feels to me as though -- barring the aforementioned water-for-wasteland trade, this is the sort of adventure that could take place in the world of Mega Man Legends itself. In the aforementioned RPG I played with my friends, we generally took care to give a wide berth to the games and essentially play "over there." And "over there" is very much the sort of feeling I get from this so far.

In a way, it seems akin to getting a similar make of car, but with a different set of details, features, and stuff under the hood.

That said, it's hard not to feel like Comcept might be getting a bit ahead of themselves with the whole "chapters" thing planned out so early on. Expecting to make another game is why we're in the situation we are now with various Mega Man series, each left on a cliffhanger that may never be resolved. I don't think any of us want to go through that again.

The Timing and the Team

Aside from how similar things appear on the surface, the biggest criticism I've seen about this announcement has been the timing of everything.

For starters, announcing it in the United States not only on the Fourth of July weekend (and Canada Day weekend), but on Independence Day itself -- when pretty much all the press and the ever-important potential early funders are off and potentially away for the holiday -- seems pretty ill-conceived, especially as it seemed Monday was rolling around and some gaming sites were only reporting on the announcement in earnest then. As noted before, I basically just copied and pasted the press release on my phone.

That faux pas aside, there have been issues taken with Inafune starting his Kickstarter while Yu Suzuki's Shenmue III Kickstarter is still going on (for the record, Bloodstained began its Kickstarter while Yooka-Laylee's was still in progress), as well as the absence of Mighty No. 9 from being released yet.

While I can appreciate the sentiment that the results of the first Kickstarter should be experienced before asking for more, it is important to note that however Mighty No. 9 turns out will likely have little bearing on Red Ash. Remember, Inti Creates is the developer on Mighty No. 9, while this game is a different group comprised of several "key members" of the original Mega Man Legends creative team.

Some have brought up not having time to be invested in the characters of Mighty No. 9's Call and Beck before having this thrown our way, but honestly? It sounds like it's just a name reuse. MegaMan Volnutt and Roll Caskett weren't all that similar to their namesakes, and much of how they were owed more to their appearances -- the Red Ash Beck and Call don't even have that going on.

Beyond that, I'm not sure that Inafune and Comcept had much of a choice in the matter of announcing it now. In my own experience of running panels with Otakon, you have to book this stuff early -- I've no doubt they decided on doing this at this venue well before anyone knew Shenmue III was a thing, or even before Deep Silver's involvement pushed the release back a few months.

Throw in their joint-production with Studio 4C, and delaying it would probably simply not have worked out. That was the case I found myself in with the aforementioned Sonic Lost World marathon: In order to have everything ready and set up in time for the game's release, I simply couldn't hold off.

These things happen, and I do hope the project doesn't suffer too much from it.

An Anime, Too

Speaking of the anime release, that was unexpected. As of this writing, it's closer to its goal than the game is to its respective milestone, though they are asking for less to create a five-minute short.

And for that? I'm... largely indifferent. I'm sure it will be cool regardless, but just the same, I don't really know. At the very least, if the short were funded but not the game, that would just seem odd.

Then again, it seems rather odd regardless; that the people at Comcept and at Studio 4C are basically going in their own directions reminds me of how back in the early 90's, SEGA allowed each branch of the company (United States, Europe, and Japan) to have their own take on Sonic the Hedgehog that was localized to their region's tastes, all built around the core games. This resulted in, among other things, the DiC "SatAM" cartoon show in the U.S. and Sonic the Comic in Europe.

Here, however, it seems that things are far more vaguely defined. Instead of drawing from a full concept, Comcept and Studio 4C are each basing their own takes on the original sketch of the main characters and the story concept of treasure hunting.

Despite this, the two look considerably different. Call has a lighter skin tone while Tyger wears a different outfit and doesn't seem to be mechanical below the waist. But the biggest change of all -- to me, at least -- is Beck.

Though his design isn't as drastically changed as Tyger's, I actually prefer this version far more. The Comcept version is a bit too smooth for my liking; all the panels, seams, and details are just too smooth, and he looks like he's wearing a spandex suit with detailing on it, rather than armor -- for the most part, at least. Or, as some have put it, "he looks like Shinji in Asuka's plug suit."

The anime version is just more appealing in its design to me, and while he doesn't have the distinct robotic arm of the game version, other features help balance it out, such as the belt and holsters. A little Liefeldian, perhaps, but he looks better prepared for treasure hunting to me. The hair seems more lively, too.

So while I'm kind of indifferent to the idea of an anime which may resemble the game very little at this stage, I at least have to give props to the character designer. Maybe with any luck, Comcept will take a few cues for their version.

In Conclusion

So that's more or less my thoughts and observations on the whole thing thus far. Maybe I skipped over something I meant to address (example: Wii U version, please), but this thing is probably long enough as it is (this was supposed to be Wednesday's post). If anyone cares, I can ponder future thoughts later.

In the end, while I have the same apprehensions as some of you about the game and can understand the skepticism around the Kickstarter, I will be honest: I kind of hope that this one gets made somehow. Scratch that: I really hope that this one gets made somehow.

At first glance, it really does give the impression of "Mega Man with the serial numbers filed off" even more than Mighty No. 9 (really, I think Tyger's design is the chief culprit as first impressions go). But the more I look at it and the more closely I try to liken things and end up seeing what's different, the more I find I'm liking it on its own merits.

It's not Mega Man Legends -- nothing but Mega Man Legends ever will be. Naturally, those who want a conclusion to that story might be put off by this one -- or at the very least, the enthusiasm for those characters, that world, and that story aren't necessarily going to translate over to this one as well, even if people have been asking for this since Mighty No. 9 was announced.

Even so, I think there might be something here that could become "Legendary" in its own right.

Oh, and you're probably wondering if I intend to back this one? That is a big, fat, definite "maybe." Otakon is just around the corner, and I don't know if I'm going to have anything left after that.

Hey, I said I liked Inafune's new idea -- I never said his timing had gotten any better, re: my budget.