The Spanish Calathea Game Studio team benefited from the PlayStation Talents incubator for the development of their Inner Ashes title. It has nevertheless been available since June 30, 2023 on PC as well as on all of our home consoles. This first-person narrative adventure is disconcerting to say the least because of the chosen theme. We play as Henry, a former forest ranger who has Alzheimer’s disease. While facing our pathology, we explore the recesses of our mind in search of answers. Will we be able to remember the reasons that led our daughter Enid to move away from us?
Stuck between two worlds
A brief passage in the main menu allows us to choose between the language of Shakespeare or that of Miguel de Cervantes to accompany the French subtitles. We also regret not being able to choose their size, since the default font is far too small for comfortable reading on a television screen. It remains to be confirmed if we wish to benefit from clues during the game and here we are directly immersed in the game.
Without any real introduction, we find ourselves in the entrance of our home as the voice of our friend Joseph echoes in our minds. Fleeting memory of an important letter to read, confusion, we feel all the disorientation of a person with Alzheimer’s. After discovering the famous missive on the kitchen table, we head to our office to consult a collection of illustrations which is none other than the door to our minds.
The gameplay of Inner Ashes is simple, even simplistic. To unlock a memory, you must solve a puzzle in the spirit world. Most of the time, it’s enough to come back to the real world afterwards to pick up a specific object, then use it once back in our minds. The search for this item is never difficult, since we only have access to the three rooms on the ground floor of our cozy nest. No more challenge on the side of the few end-of-chapter puzzles, even without ever having gotten your hands on a version of Tetris, the tangrams offered pose no difficulty.
The real challenge for us was not to fall asleep during the exploration phases. Character movement is so slow at times that even the worst walking simulator does better. It is probably an artistic choice tending to make us feel all the difficulty of fighting against the symptoms of our disease, but for us players, the slider of realism is pushed a little too high so as not to break our immersion and our pleasure.
All must not be forgotten
Despite some collision bugs and rare clippings of assets, the realization of Inner Ashes is rather successful. Each trip in our mind offers a different environment whose artistic direction has charmed us. Sometimes dark, sometimes bright, sometimes colorful, each decor benefits from special care. The modeling of the real world is a little less successful and we feel that the developers have focused on the dream worlds of our minds. The soundtrack completes the pretty construction of this sweet dream. Sometimes discreet, sometimes present, it manages to give rhythm despite everything to the boring phases of exploration.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the conclusion which we did not expect. Without divulging this one, it’s worth noting that the story goes beyond Alzheimer’s by addressing acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness.
Achievement hunters will also be able to find their account there, because with less than two hours of play to conclude the story and easily obtain the 1000G, it is a good candidate to add to the table. Especially since it is almost impossible to miss a collectible, unless you dozed off, controller in hand.
Tested on Xbox Series X