I just finished my first playthrough of Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk and I’d like to get my initial thoughts about the game down before I get any deeper into the story, because my God was this game intense. I played Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly awhile ago and I didn’t really like it all that much, so I went into Ashen Hawk expecting it to be much the same as its predecessor… thankfully I was wrong! Ashen Hawk is a marked improvement over Black Butterfly in almost every way and one has to wonder what the hell happened between the production of the first game and this one to cause such a huge difference in quality… Technically Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk isn’t a sequel to Black Butterfly, though it is set in the same world as the first game, but with a completely different story and characters.
Now I say that, but there were QUITE A FEW Easter Eggs and callbacks to PBB in Ashen Hawk, that you’ll only truly get if you’ve played through the first game, but it’s not a requirement to enjoy the game. That said, EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED!! I know I literally just said you don’t have to play Black Butterfly before playing Ashen Hawk, but boy does playing the first game pay off in a big way in this one!! It’s no secret that I didn’t particularly care for Black Butterfly, but damnit if Ashen Hawk didn’t make slugging through the mess of the first game worth it. But, what I love most is that the connection between the two games isn’t overly in your face, the reveals work well within the context of their respective stories while also expanding on the preexisting lore of both games.
Since folks are really hung up on spoiler warnings, this post will contain some minor spoilers for the game, so if you haven’t played either Ashen Hawk or Black Butterfly, maybe hold off on reading this review.
There is a lot going on in Ashen Hawk story-wise, the common route introduces a lot of interconnected storylines that can be a bit confusing at first. The story takes place in a town ruled by two powerful families—the Wolf clan, who want to bring peace and harmony to the townspeople and the Hawk clan, who rule the town with an iron fist. There is a lot of infighting and animosity between the two clans, that has spilled over to the townspeople, with most showing their allegiance to either the Wolves or the Hawks. The town has been plagued for several years by a never-ending snowfall cutting the town and its residents off from the rest of the world. There are many that believe that the snowfall is being caused by a witch—a woman with deep red eyes foretold to bring destruction to the town and it’s residents.
The protagonist, Jed is a young woman whose right eye turns red whenever she experiences strong emotions. To protect herself from the townspeople, she disguises herself as a boy and lives apart from the town in an abandoned tower deep in the snowy forest. She performs odd jobs around town for money and lives a relatively peaceful existence, that is until she is tasked with finding the Kaleido-Via, a lost treasure rumored to bring peace and prosperity. However, her journey to find the Kaleido-Via leads Jed down a path that reveals the dark secrets of the town as well as the truth behind her birth and her mysterious Witch’s eye.
During her search for the Kaleido-Via (which is totally the “kaleidoscope” from Black Butterfly), Jed realizes early on in her association with the Wolf clan is limiting her investigation, so she cross-dresses as a woman (can it be called cross-dressing since she is technically a woman pretending to be a man) to get the information she needs to complete her quest. So the player can shift between Jed’s male and female personas to unlock new details about the town and the Kaleido-Via.
But, even more than that, it changes the way the other characters interact with Jed. For example, in her male form members of the Hawk clan are hostile and distant, since they are affiliated with different clans; but, when she is in her female form, they are much more willing to open up to Jed. It’s a nice touch that really gives a purpose to her cross-dressing and adds more to Jed as a character, since switching between the two personas creates a bit of an identity crisis for Jed. Since she was raised as a man, Jed initially struggles to “act” female and she struggles to reconcile her more masculine tendencies while traipsing around town as a woman. But, the more she gets used to her feminine role, the more she comes to like “being” a woman and soon she starts having more “feminine” desires.
Jed is definitely one of the more enjoyable otome heroines, she isn’t the usual “damsel in distress”, she was raised by the as a boy by the leader of the Wolf clan, Francisca, alongside her own sons. She went through the same training as they did and she acts the way you would expect a man would in certain situations. When she is mugged in an alley, her first instinct is to fight the guy and there are a few scenes where we see her actually wielding a sword. She has strong morals and she never compromises her convictions, in fact more times than not, Jed serves as the mediator for many of the disputes between the Wolves and the Hawks. Jed just wants to live a normal life, but the circumstances of her birth make that difficult to do so, her female persona gives her a chance to experience a temporary peace, but when it comes down to it, Jed will put aside her own happiness for the sake of others.
There are four love interests in Ashen Hawk and when compared to the LIs in Black Butterfly, these guys are so much better (even the more “questionable” ones). Like PBB the romance is not as overt in some of the routes, Lavan and Lugus had the most romance, Levi was somewhere in the middle, and in Hugh’s route you kinda have to squint to see the romance…
Lavan is the eldest son of the current head of the Wolf clan and the heir. He, his younger brother Levi, and Jed were raised as brothers and she looks up to him both as the future heir to the Wolf Clan and as an older brother. He’s a “nice guy” who is generally well liked by the townspeople and he works hard to keep the peace between the two clans. Lavan is loyal to the Wolf Clan, and like his mother wants to create a world where everyone in town can live together in peace. He strives to be a compassionate and levelheaded Lord, working hard to be someone the people can rely on.
He knows about Jed’s true gender and is the only person to immediately recognize her when she dresses as a woman, though he never lets on that he knows. He has been harboring a one-sided love for Jed for years, but he never tells her about his feelings for fear that she’ll reject him. His route is one of the more romantic ones in the game, though his feelings are mostly unrequited for the majority of the game. Lavan came off kind of creepy to me, since he’s been in love with Jed from the start despite them being raised as brothers. And there were a few scenes where his feelings came off as really oppressive…there were a lot of moments when he straight up holds Jed down or pins her against a wall…and it just didn’t vibe with me.
The youngest son of the current Wolf clan leader and the younger brother of Lavan. He’s the leader of the Vigilantes, the “peacekeepers” of the Wolf clan and like his brother, a well respected figure of the community. He is generally good natured, but he can be hot headed and he’s quick to instigate conflicts with members of the Hawk clan. Where Lavan is seen as the perfect leader, Levi can be found enjoying a drink with the guys or neglecting his duties, but when it counts he is extremely loyal to the Wolf clan. He treats Jed like a younger brother, and he is very protective of her, though he isn’t above a little light teasing every now and again.
He is very close with Jed, and often talks openly with her about his fears and insecurities. Like most genki guys, he has a bit of an inferiority complex, since he isn’t as “perfect” as his brother, but he never seems to let it get him too down. Despite being a fun loving guy, Levi is hiding a dark secret that no one else knows about and he works hard to suppress that side of himself. Levi is my second favorite love interest (I’m starting to realize I have a thing for genki guys), he’s just so genuine and endearing… and he managed to get me to laugh the most during my playthrough.
Lugus is the son of the current head of the Hawk clan, Olgar, and Lavan’s counterpart. At first he is an antagonistic figure, cold and unfriendly, he serves as the Hawk clan’s hatchet man. Like many of the members of the Hawk clan, he isn’t very well liked by the townspeople since he is usually the person that enforces Olgar’s unfair tax collections. However, he shows a softer side to his younger sister Tee, who he dotes on. When he meets Jed he is dismissive of of her because of her association with the Wolf clan. However, when she interacts with him dressed as a woman, Lugus is an adorkable sweetheart. Lugus is the “canon guy” of Ashen Hawk, his side stories are the most romantic in nature and his relationship with Jed has the most in story development.
Lugus is definitely the best boi, when he falls for Jed (as Eiar) he goes all out trying to woo her and it’s just so cute! He tries to buy her gifts to make her happy and he has the most overtly romantic moments with her…. especially the Masquerade scene… he comes outta nowhere like a prince charming!
Hugh is a huge troll. He’s a “mysterious traveler” that wanders into town, he knows more than he lets on and he spends most of his screen time trolling the hell out of the other characters. Unlike the other love interests, Hugh is introduced quite late in the game, but since he’s a walking spoiler warning, that’s probably for the best since he reveals everything. He even has special Notes, which are these special side stories that answer all the unanswered questions in the story. Honestly, I don’t really know what to think of Hugh, he’s one of the best looking of the love interests, but he’s so much of a troll. He just kind of flits around teasing the characters and the player with information he never fully explains and it’s more frustrating than endearing.
A greater emphasis is put on the character’s interconnected backgrounds that the writers gradually reveal as the story progresses… and boy do they get dark! Each character has a story to tell and it’s fun seeing how all these little breadcrumbs come together to tell the entire story of the town (and the game). Unlike most games where the side characters don’t play much of a role in the grand scheme of things, the side characters in Ashen Hawk are the ones that are arguably the most important parts of the story. Their backstories serve as the foundation for all of the events of the game and the writers do a great job of slowly weaving everything together. Characters you love in the beginning are revealed to be complete monsters, and characters you think are the villains are actually the victims. Everything isn’t completely black and white in Ashen Hawk, and having characters with genuine flaws gives weight to the events of the story and the character’s actions.
Ashen Hawk was the last game released as part of Aksys’s ‘Summer of Mysteries’ promotion, and like 7’scarlet and Black Butterfly, doesn’t hold back on some of the darker story elements. While most of the game has a more slice-of-life feel—following Jed in her day to day interactions with the various townspeople and her run ins with the members of the Wolf an Hawk clans—there is an undercurrent of fear and distrust that is constantly seething just beneath the story’s surface. The common route is pretty long, but you kind of need a lengthier intro to hammer out all the various plot points and really flesh out the characters. Like Black Butterfly, Ashen Hawk brings back Flowchart and Short Stories, which I think were executed much better in this game. The first half of the game is just Jed ferreting around town talking to the townspeople and looking for information, which works so much better within the context of the Short Stories format, because most of the interactions aren’t really connected to the others, so it would be weird to have them in a more linear format.
I almost dropped this game early on because the game wasn’t really going anywhere storywise, and then WHAM! The plot hits you like a ton of bricks and it’s a nonstop ride of angst and tragedy. Ashen Hawk gets pretty dark, so if you’re expecting sunshine and roses, this isn’t the game for you. The happy endings aren’t especially “happy”, some are downright bittersweet and the bad endings get really dark, like everyone dies bloody. But, it’s not just Jed’s life that’s at stake, your choices influence the fates of everyone in the town. Like PBB, play order is important since each route builds on the last, but once you finish the common route, you’ve pretty much got the bulk of the reveals out of the way.
I absolutely loved Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk, not only does it build on the existing story elements of the first game, but it also creates it’s own lore that more than stands on it’s own. Ashen Hawk delivers an immersive mystery that is both introspective and just a smidge bittersweet, not everything wraps up in a nice neat bow… and even in the true ending there are still some questions left unanswered. The characters are phenomenal, showing a depth and nuance you wouldn’t expect to find in an otome game. Jed in particular, is one of the best otome heroines ever! She doesn’t just sit idly by while her harem does all the heavy lifting, she gets out there and handles business herself, which really makes the player feel like they actually have some agency in the way the story unfolds. Since it isn’t a “direct” sequel, you don’t need to play Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly to enjoy this game, however, it does make for a better experience when you can pick up on all the callbacks and Easter eggs. All in all, Ashen Hawk is totally worth picking up (especially now that it’s also available on Steam)!
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