Robots are neat. Whether a hundred feet tall and defending the world from space lizards or simply building cars at record levels of efficiency, robots have always seemed interesting to me. Of course, I like them best when they are pitted in mortal combat, tearing each other to shrapnel and sparkly stuff, and that is what best describes Ring of Red. If, like me, you find bliss in mangled metal, you're bound to find something you like here. Just keep in mind that it's not without quite a few problems. Here's my review.
In case you've forgotten, World War II marked the creation of the Armored Fighting Walker, or AFW. These tank-like mechs performed wonderfully under any terrain conditions, and in mountainous Japan, they were considered the weapon of the future. Many countries diligently began producing these behemoths, but the leaders in the industry were the U.S. of A., Germany, and Japan. Following the war, Japan suffered great turmoil and fell into another war, this one of the civil variety. In the end, the country was divided into Democratic South Japan, Communist North Japan, and the Russian territories in the northern islands. The Japan War was over, but the scars remained.
Twenty years later, a young South Japan AFW pilot named Masami Von Weizegger was testing out some AFW prototypes with fellow pilot Ryoko Minakawa when disaster struck. The third and latest prototype suddenly ran off, and it was later discovered that the real pilot was now dead and that a North Japan spy was the culprit. Although the two youths fought valiantly to recapture it, the felon escaped. Now, with the help of his mysterious partner Ryoko, a veteran AFW pilot from South Japan, and a hulking, brutish, and lovable American, Masami must hunt down the criminal before another war breaks out, shattering the already fragile peace.
Ring of Red is your usual strategy RPG, served up with some seemingly flashy graphics and some interesting gameplay aspects, but little else. As is usually the case, the game is separated into two basic fields: combat and intermission. Even for a strategy RPG however, combat is unusually slow. At first, it seems normal enough. Each unit on the chessboard-like field waits for its turn to come up and then gets to move and/or perform an action. They all clomp about until they get into range of each other and actually attack. Then the game gets interesting.
Once actual combat starts, the two AFWs enter a sort of 90-second duel. Each side waits until its gun is finished loading, then begins aiming at the enemy. Aiming is automatic, and the longer you wait, the more accurate your fire is. Should you decide that you don't have time to wait, you can use a special shell or maximum attack instead. Maximum attacks are moves unique to each character. Some inflict status effects such as damaged legs or broken guns, some cause massive damage to the enemy mech, and some simply butcher troops. Special shells are basically the same, but vary according to what troops you have equipped. Combat ends when the 90 seconds are up or one side lays decimated. Although this seems simple, there are other variables to consider.
There are four different AFW types: 4-Leg, Standard, Light, and Anti. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. Light AFWs can cause immense damage in Close and Short Range, but are nearly worthless at Long. Conversely, 4-Leg AFWs can blast foes to bits at Long Range and get massacred at Short. Whenever attacking, you should always make sure that it's from the proper range. Of course, range can be changed in battle. By charging toward or fleeing from the enemy, you can turn the tables on a losing battle. This comes in handy very often when you are being attacked by the enemy. Just keep in mind that a moving AFW loads slower than an immobile one.
Rather than having equipment, the game offers you soldier troops you can use in battle. These little guys can make or break your battles, playing the part of decoy or demolition squad depending on the situation. There are six forms of these: Infantry, Shooter, Recon, Mechanic, Medic, or Supply, and like the AFWs, each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are gifted at repelling enemy soldiers but couldn't dent an AFW if their lives depended on it, and others can shatter mechs in minutes, only to be splattered by enemy infantry.
The best part about the game is that this Strategy RPG actually requires a bit of strategy. Moving your troops about the field improperly can lead to having your AFWs beaten to a pulp by a gang of enemies made specifically to pound on you. Terrain is sometimes something you should consider, as sending troops across roads or sending them through a mountainous pass can often drastically affect your accuracy and the time between turns. Decide on your course accordingly.
When in combat, you have to wonder about how your troops should be employed. Sending them out a second too early might convince the computer to spray them with shrapnel, flammable liquids, or even the dreaded shrapnel drenched in flammable liquids! Sending them out too late can lead to the enemy troops getting to fire first, using any of the special moves that troops know before you get to.
These abilities range from simply filling the enemy with lead more efficiently to spraying them with not-so-pleasant fumes to crippling the enemy AFW with a Star Wars-like leg wire, and getting in the first attack with these abilities makes all the difference in the world. Not only are they useful, but they don't cost you a thing and can be recharged in the midst of battle simply by sending them from the front line to the rear, effectively removing them from combat for the moment. Make sure you learn when to move your troops in or out of combat, as even a one-or-two-second delay can result in a troop being wiped out permanently.
One of the more irritating points in the game would be recovery, simply because you hardly ever get to do it. You can't simply send out your guys into the battlefield without a plan and hope that you won't die, because the odds are pretty high that you will. If you do wind up kicking the bucket, don't think that that just means you're out of the battle either, because there are quite a few penalties that go with it.
First off, all experience you would normally get doesn't get gotten, and since there are no opportunities to train, missing out on a few battles can seriously screw up your team. Second, when your AFW dies, that means that all your troops die too. While the AFW can be patched up between missions and will be slugging it out with the others the next time around, a dead troop is a dead troop. There're no Phoenix Downs in this game for those guys.
Also, keep in mind that the troops are like your equipment and often require ridiculous objectives to obtain. Imagine a game where dying in combat means that all your equipped gear is destroyed. Forever. Scary, no? Make sure that you keep self-preservation high on your priority list and recover during your turns when you get the opportunity to, or face the consequences.
Between battles, you have the usual intermission scene. This consists of you seeing a brief section that furthers the story a bit, sorting through soldiers and assigning them to each AFW, reading about the different special moves you've learned, or brushing up on character descriptions. Sadly, there is almost no AFW customization and only one point in the game where anyone gets a new one. It requires surprisingly little management for a Strategy RPG, but has just enough to make you think about who gets what troop.
Now for the game's problems. First of all, each battle is extremely long, ranging from one to three hours. Fortunately, there is a very speedy and convenient mid-battle save option that will quickly become your new best friend.
Second, the battles become extremely tedious after the first eight or so, with similar enemies, objectives, and strategies to use. Once you've learned to slaughter one Anti-AFW, you've learned to slay 'em all.
Third, you will find some characters that are infinitely more useful than others. Weizegger and John simply butcher anything in their path. Jun, Ryoko, Emilio, Ayana, and Ippei can survive most situations. Kinasato gets his head handed to him on a platter unless he's in Short Range. Learn whom you can depend on and whom you can't.
Finally, the game advertises "Close Combat". This is an ability owned by Anti and Standard AFWs. Basically, it means that when in Close Range, you can end the battle by charging toward the enemy and punching him silly, followed by him counterattacking in suit. I was expecting some sort of skill required on your part beyond pressing a few buttons. I was disappointed. The game is fun for a while, but it slowly loses its entertainment value about 60% of the way through.
As for graphics, these follow the same pattern. At first, you will salivate in joy at the battles. Huge, clanky metal things charge towards each other across devastated landscapes, blowing each other to bits the whole time. Personally, I have never seen better robot death scenes. Special moves are quite fascinating, and occasionally a bit gory as well. Even the added effect of having bullets fly across the screen at all times and the smoke of war are nice little things.
However, there are only so many environments to fight in. There are only so many different AFW types to face. There are only so many special moves to perform (and they're all pretty similar now that I think about it). It will take a while, but things will slowly get repetitive. Chalk it up to the classic Summoning sickness effect if you will, in which special moves take up a bit too much time to be performed, but those battles get old.
Movies are nearly unused. The game opens with a grainy black and white newsreel of some robot warfare, which goes well with the game's theme, but after that, there's not much. Those grainy movies appear again during the intermission in the form of two second long, extremely blurry snippets that hinder more than they help, especially because they tend to cover up the decent artwork that scrolls by at the same time.
Music was disappointing. Unless you happen to be a dedicated fan of militant drum rolls, you won't be impressed one bit. Not only are almost all of the songs nearly identical to one another, but there is a severe shortage as well. Whoever was in charge of this botched it when it comes to being interesting, but I suppose that it is a bit fitting with the mood of the game. Definitely not worth buying the soundtrack, but bearable.
Sounds suffer a similar plight. While explosions and bullet fire are nice at first, they seem to be almost all there is. There are a few grunts from the soldiers as well as a pleasant Phosphorous gas noise, but there is a VERY limited number of noises. If they had included some voice acting, I would understand and not be upset, but there really seems to be no reason for this. All I can say is that you should enjoy the explosions for as long as you can.
Despite the game's other bugs and blunders, Ring of Red's biggest blunder would have to be the plot. In all honesty, it's not original at all. A while back, I reviewed Front Mission 3. The plot can be summed up as follows: in the future, the hero and his partner Ryoko must fight an enemy government with the help of some international agents in order to capture a weapon of mass destruction. Ring of Red's plot summary is here: in the past, the hero and his partner Ryoko must fight an enemy government with the help of some international agents in order to capture a weapon of mass destruction. Come on, Konami! Can't you even change the partner's name?
To be fair, there are a few differences. For one thing, you cared about the Front Mission 3 characters. They developed. They had emotion. They spoke in intelligible sentences. Ring of Red's characters are so boring and predictable that you feel nothing for them. Correction, I did feel for Emilio… felt HATE! This character is the epitome of Italian stereotypes, adding syllables to phrases that don't need those syllables, misquoting quotes that are easily quoted, and having hair that would make even me laugh hysterically. Throw in the fact that he claims to be Italy's bravest man and you bring shame to my heritage. Why can't he be more like Mario?
The storyline itself develops very slowly and without much more detail than is absolutely necessary. Major plot points appear out of the blue and are accompanied by pitifully unmoving emotional scenes. In order to help bail it out a little, the game asks you questions from time to time that you can answer with Yes or No. The good side of this is that it adds a bit of illusion that you actually effect how the story turns out, as each answer you pick will lead to one of the two possible replies. The bad side is that not all the questions can be answered with Yes or No.
Ruining things further is the awful translation. Words are misspelled left and right, grammar is disregarded with reckless abandon, and whole sentences are so disjointed that you have no idea what these people are saying. According to the credits, the translator was Scott Dolph. Mr. Dolph, if you are reading this, please be more careful in the future. You have harmed the world enough as it is. Please don't hurt us again.
I enjoyed this game at times due to its buggy yet potential-filled gameplay, but I can't deny that it is average at best in the big picture. Perhaps, if you have a PS2 and need a Strategy RPG more than anything else, you should consider buying this game. However, by the same token, you could buy Final Fantasy Tactics and enjoy it for a much longer period of time. Unless you are seriously into mecha, I'd have to suggest rental at most.