Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the great overlooked PS2 games and one I still own today. Really enjoyable despite its limitations and delivers loads of fun – it made a later appearance on the PlayStation Network if you want to experience it for yourself and cannot find the original release. Mike Bather agreed and scored this an 8 in June 2001.
Red rings usually point to Sunday mornings after a dodgy Alsatian meat Vindaloo from a rat-ridden take away, but Ring of Red by Konami is nothing about the impending Sunday morning doom of fire contaminated faeces. The game has a plotline based around what may have happened if WW2 hadn’t ceased in 1946 when Hiroshima was levelled with American atomic weaponry. The year is 1964 and Japan, war torn and Nuke scarred with a severe lack of neon and J-pop, is split into three areas controlled by three factions: – North Japan, South Japan and on the extreme north of the archipelago, those pesky bleedin’ Russians, slowly but surely importing their own extreme brand of Vodka.
Since the 1950’s, manufacturers of military equipment in Russia, the US and Germany have been working on the latest and best combat equipment available: – Walking battle tanks, made for war, not peace. Straight away, you know this isn’t going to be a large hit with the mass market consumer due to the fact that it’s a pretty hardcore, in-depth strategic war sim with battles lasting so long that most players have a chance of getting trenchfoot whilst playing. Yup, another strategy RPG to fall asleep to! So we have a strategic war fest involving walking battle tanks, in some ways similar to last years SquareSoft release, Front Mission 3 but instead of following the norm for a mech based combat game with upgradeable units, Ring of Red in more ways than one turns the genre on its head as a more historically tuned game with the inclusion of fixed specification units complete with the ever so useful, although sometimes suicidal, foot soldiers.
The main character is in the form of a young man called Masami Von Weizegger who is the child of a Japanese woman and a German father, who is more than proud of his German heritage. Like Kazuki in Front Mission 3, Masami is a test pilot of the AFW’s (Armoured Fighting Walkers) and he’s also a bit of an arsehole. Characters within the game (NPC’s and PC’s) are depicted in hand drawn 2D pictures and conversation is written in text, but without any kind of animation to get a feel of the characters current emotion all the in game characters and their personalities are left rather emotionless and flat even if they do look good in an old skool hand drawn way. To reinforce the fact that it’s a good style, it is very similar to the style that Square used for their classic game Final Fantasy Tactics, even down to the inclusion of the ‘less important’ male and female ground troop and crew characters.
The main character development throughout the game looks to have been well done, but there seems to have been something lost in the translation due to some of the grammar used, and diabolical questions such as this; “Hey, Masame, why did you come all the way to Japan to fight?” To this you have the options of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ as an answer, and it plainly shows a certain lack of conversion finesse, something that Konami are usually pretty good at. Not only does it leave you feeling indifferent and not a part of the game, it also causes some head scratching and confusion, detracting from the overall involvement. The characters are also a stereotypical bunch: You have the butch and macho American, a young kid trying to prove his manhood after his parent’s where killed, the confused lady and the veteran commander who thinks he is the dogs bollocks. A highly amusing team indeed, especially as they are supposed to be some kind of elite unit employed to crush the North Japan army.
Each mission in Ring of Red is played out on an impressively sized map that is split up into squares and each couple of missions set in a chapter. The land underfoot, or the robots legs in this case, is well detailed with ‘real’ looking hills and a neat and positive factor here is that different ground types either aid or inhibit the robots movement capabilities. Each type of robot has different walking capabilities with respect to the terrain underfoot, for example the 4 legged AFW’s are good across hard and rocky terrain whereas the two legged, high mobility scouting AFW’s are better on the open fields. Each of the units also has a different attack range that is reflected in the battles themselves where you will find using a short range AFW at long range is about effective in dealing damage as wrapping a foam baseball bat around a steroid dependant bouncer’s head. To get the correct range you have to rely on attacking from the right squares that are adjacent to the enemy; attacking from the front, rear and to the side of the enemy starts a battle at close range, attacking from any of the diagonally adjacent squares starts a battle at medium range and two squares away starts a long rang battle. To get into close combat with an Anti-AFW means steaming towards the enemy, then choosing a nice hefty body blow.
In addition to this, the AI is pretty good with enemy AFW’s advancing or retreating when they see the need to, launching attacks to disable your legs so they can get to the correct range and you never seem to question what the PS2 is actually up to as it proves to be pretty seamless. The battles look nothing short of amazing with great detail on the AFW’s, backgrounds and characters. Depending on the time of day a battle or mission is carried out you are treated to some excellent lighting effects on the surrounding scenery. When the sun goes down, battles are fought during the day or night and the time changes according to the current move being undertaken. Night time visibility is also a factor that affects the game play, as well as gradient of the ground underneath. Both have to be taken into account quite seriously as fighting in the dark halves your accuracy until your AFW or ground troops fire a flare. The gradient of the ground effects where you want to aim; if the enemy is on a higher level than yourself, you’ll have to aim slightly high or face the consequences and this is an aspect that should not be ignored.
In battle, the ground troops are an essential asset to your AFW, and should be defended at all costs as they provide some pretty essential and nifty services. Weapons such as the wire and adhesive mines halt the approaching AFW effectively, but the mines can be useless against a 4 legged AFW whose priority is to retreat to a long range. Tactical aspects such as these enhance the game play tenfold and even though the skirmishes seem a little short on the timer, the tactical elements are essential nonetheless with good troop management cutting the time it takes for a mission to be completed. Every move that you make is shown in a neat ‘cinematic’ style and watching as your sniper troops fire a much needed bullet straight into the head of the opposing troops is infinitely pleasing with a nice gush of blood flowing forth. Sonically the game is of a standard affair with some nice militaristic tunes to accompany the action sequences and diary entries of Weizeggar.
The sound effects are top notch though with machine gun fire and cannon fire positively booming with the essential added feature of actually vibrating the floor of the Barret built modern day house. The effects of the troops dieing is limited to a brief death rattle, and in conjunction to a lack of any voice overs whatsoever in the whole game this is a slight disappointment, no matter how much you hate bad voice acting. Overall Ring of Red proves to be a step in the right direction for mech-based strategy RPG’s with the addition of ground forces (taking the place of upgradeable AFW’s) and the highly original setting of an alternate mid 1960’s Japan. The battles are well presented, the AI is good and the ability to gain ground forces by occupying villages and cities on the in game map is an act of greatness. Unfortunately, the lack of care in the translation from Japanese to English shows up like a sore thumb and the lack of animated characters with personality is a severe oversight on behalf of the developers, even though the style of it is nice.
This is a game that with a few minor enhancements would have been an amazing strategy RPG, but the lack of shelf space for this type of niche game seems to have taken effect on the finished product. Ring of Red is essential for anyone who has a love for Strategy war games and I found it to be a highly enjoyable game with some great qualities, even with it’s minor underlying faults.
Gamestyle Score: 8/10