Although there are several fighting games and some puzzle games out there based on the popular Ranma 1/2 universe, this is, as far as I know, the only Ranma RPG in existence. The title translates approximately to "The Treasure of the Red Cat Gang", but it's also an obvious pun on Akane's name.
Unfortunately, just like most anime merchandise, it was never released outside of Japan.
Before getting on with the review, I'd like to point out that I'm not personally very familiar with Ranma. I've never actually read or watched it, only heard from other who have done so. Being curious, and a huge fan of rare RPGs, I grabbed the chance at playing this game, and now I'm reviewing it.
The game follows an original storyline based on the characters and settings of the Ranma 1/2 series. It starts out like many RPGs do: in bed. It's morning, and Ranma is still asleep when Akane comes into his room to wake him up. After a few futile tries, she resorts to pouring a bucket of cold water on him. Of course, this turns him into a girl, but it does wake him (her) up.
After a workout session (to try out the battle system), Ranma and Akane sit down for breakfast, only to be interrupted by a gang of strange cat people rushing in and kidnapping Genma (presently a panda). Demanding why, Ranma gets the answer that the Akanekodan (the Red Cat Gang) is gathering together strong men, and Genma has been deemed strong enough.
After this, Ranma sets out to save his father, and eventually the world, from the wicked schemes of the Red Cat Gang. The quest is standard RPG fare and very linear, progressing from place to place on different subquests, to eventually find and destroy the real enemy. Plots twists are there, but usually quite minor.
Even though the story is nothing special, it's highlighted by funny dialogue and the trademark Ranma 1/2 humor. Fans of Ranma will meet lots of familiar characters, some of which will join your party, while others just appear along the way.
The gameplay is also rather standard, with a couple of twists. There are six playable characters in the game, and you can have four in your party at any given time. For the large majority of the game, the story will determine who will be in your party, a la Final Fantasy IV, which I think is great. That way, a single character can be the difference between easy battles and a life or death fight for every encounter. It makes you rejoice when you gain a new character, unlike in some games where you have a multitude of characters stored away somewhere never being used.
The battle system is simple. In dungeons and on the world map you will encounter random enemies. Battles are not exactly turn-based, and neither do they use active-time gauges. Instead, the order the characters and monsters perform their attacks depends on their speed values. This makes speed a
rather important stat - if you get a high enough value for a character, he or she will be able to attack twice in a single turn.
There is no magic as such, but rather martial arts moves that use up your characters' Ki. Ki can be restored with items, but it is also regained naturally over time, both in and out of battle. New moves are gained naturally as you gain levels.
One drawback is the fact that it is very hard to know by the name of the move what it will do. Many move names sound cool, but there's no way to tell if it will heal, attack, defend, or something else (like Ranma's run away move) until you actually test it. The same goes for many items - who would guess a carrot brings back a dead character to life? Or that Akane's Lunchbox is an instant death spell?
Since this is Ranma, cold and hot water play an important role. All the main characters except Akane have a curse that will make them change shape when doused with it. You'll carry a kettle and a bucket, so you can change forms at any time (even during battle!). There are a few places in the game where men can't go, so curses can be quite useful...
The most original aspect of the gameplay, though, must be the fact that you can save anywhere, except in battle. That's right, save after every battle, save every single step if you like to. Call it cheating if you like, but in this game, it's legal. In fact, it's rather useful, because many dungeons are long, labyrinthine, and filled with enemies bound on killing you.
Graphically, Ranma fails miserably. Environments are small, non-detailed, and only decent at best, ugly at worst. Character sprites would be better off - at least they are kind of cute, being very SD - if they weren't horrendously animated. There are two frames for walk animation in each direction, and they are always used, even if you're not moving. Worse, when you do walk, the animation is completely out of pace with the movement, making it look quite stupid. The same thing goes for battles - backgrounds are simple and character animations are down to an absolute minimum. However, the enemies are quite innovative and well designed, despite a bit of palette-swapping, which raises the overall impression somewhat.
The music is OK, nothing more. It's just there, but it won't stick on your mind once you turn the game off. In fact, I don't think I can recall a single song enough to hum it. Despite this, the themes fit with the mood of the game, sounding very Ranma-ish. Most themes are simple, short, and filled with bad synths, but there's nothing that will really grate your ears. Then again, nothing you'll love either.
Sound effects are worse. Unlike most anime-based games, this one doesn't feature any voice acting. In fact, there aren't many sound effects at all. There are a couple of blips in battle menus, one punch sound, and a whistling when somebody is knocked out of the screen. None of it sounds even close to good if you really listen to it, so don't.
There's also a sound for changing screens when walking around, that I did get annoyed at. It sounds vaguely like a generic stair climbing sound, but it is used not only for that, but also for entering/exiting towns, buildings and dungeons.
Overall, this game is certainly no blockbuster hit. There's no flashy graphics, no symphonic musical score, no epoch-making innovations, and no epic story. Instead, we get a humorous adventure filled with funny situations, familiar characters and wacky enemies. I can recommend Ranma 1/2: Akanekodan Teki Hihou to any and all fans of Ranma, as well as to people like myself who want to try something different and fun. If you get tired of it, you can always save on the spot.