Starting out as a VR game back in 2016, Chronos from Gunfire Games is back in a brand new flat iteration with Before the Ashes.
Earlier this year, I had an excellent time playing Remnant: From the Ashes and when Chronos: Before the Ashes was announced, I was definitely excited to give it a go. After looking it up, I found out that it was originally released as a VR game and that Chronos: Before the Ashes is merely a non-VR adaptation. This has been done before with many games and it has resulted in some utterly fantastic as well as some truly questionable releases. Right off the bat, let me just say that Chronos: Before the Ashes lies somewhere in the middle. It's certainly not an exceptional game but it's not bad either. I would describe it as a Souls-like adventure as you traverse its complex world while fighting enemies and solving inventory-based puzzles. This may sound like a promising blend of genres but it can be disjointed.
For starters, the combat is simple stuff as all you do is unleash normal and strong attacks while blocking and dodging. There are some extra elements such as implementing elemental abilities, charging attacks, and parrying but to be frank; I found that spamming attacks would often take care of most enemies without me getting a scratch. For example, many foes can be taken out by continuously stunning them with a strong attack while faster enemies can be dispatched with normal attacks well before they get a chance to land a hit.
There are some tricky enemies such as spell-casters that will turn themselves temporarily invulnerable but as soon as you dodge out of harm's way, they can be defeated without issue. In fact, the combat is so easy and predictable that I defeated the first boss on my first try without sustaining any damage whatsoever. As long as you're mindful of the type of enemy you're facing, you'll be in the clear. With all of that in mind, this isn't to say that the gameplay isn't tight and responsive because it definitely is. You just won't get the same sense of tension and accomplishment as you would in a game like Demon's Souls which thoroughly puts your skills to the test.
But enough about combat; let's discuss the adventure portion of the gameplay. First of all, Chronos: Before the Ashes offers very little sense of direction which is made even more confusing by the fact that many of its rooms and corridors look extremely similar. Whereas the Souls series will engrave its environments into your memory, Chronos opts to provide a perplexing setting that'll frequently have you running around while not knowing how to progress. Don't get me wrong; I think the game world in general is varied and memorable and it maintains a pitch-perfect tone throughout. However, it just doesn't lend itself well to the gameplay. Having to pick up items that you can barely notice in the first place then combine them and try them out in various keyholes and points of interest is just tedious and will have you regularly refer to a guide as you stumble your way through the campaign. I wish there was more sense of guidance.
Finally, allow me to discuss some odds and ends. Character growth in Chronos: Before the Ashes is actually handled quite brilliantly as you age whenever you bite the dust. Aside from equipping better gear, enhancing weapons, levelling up, and assigning points to your base attributes, this aging system impacts your character's skills in interesting ways. For example, at every multiple of 10, you can choose a new boost and as you get older, you become less agile but wiser. Very cool stuff indeed! On the other hand, the camera can be just awful, especially when you're fighting in a small room or corridor. Sometimes, I couldn't see a darn thing and was unable to adjust the camera manually so I just hacked and slashed away while hoping for the best. Once, the camera even automatically spun in the opposite direction to what I was pushing. Plus, there are some instant death traps that make the bad camera even more frustrating.
With so many amazing action RPGs and adventure games out there, playing Chronos: Before the Ashes often feels redundant, especially because it manages both genres with a great deal of mediocrity. In other words, it doesn't quite add up to a satisfying journey.
- + Tight and simple gameplay
- + Memorable world and locales
- + Nifty aging system and character growth
- - Combat is downright boring, unchallenging, and repetitive
- - Awful in-game camera
- - Doesn't offer a sense of direction