When Ring of Red was first announced, it was met
with the sort of mild interest reserved for games that seemed destined
to stay in Japan. The controversial plot, involving an alternate history
where Japan kept fighting after WWII, only to be conquered and colonized
by the Allies, seemed to preclude a U.S. release. Though Konami has
seen fit to unleash the game on a Western audience, the condition
in which it has arrived begs the question of why they bothered at
all. The US version of Ring of Red features a bowdlerized story and
botched translation, and the core gameplay isn't enough to make up
for its glaring faults.
Alternate history lesson
Ring of Red's timeline branches off from our own
in the year 1945. Though the atomic bombs still fell on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, Japan refused to surrender to the Allied forces, calling
for its people to fight to the bitter end. The consequential bloody
invasion of Japan left the country divided between the conquering
powers, similar to Germany after WWII, with the West controlling the
south and Russian occupying the north.
Though North and South Japan were set up as new
independent states, they remained puppets of their controlling nations.
A proxy war between the Cold War powers soon broke out and Japan suffered
four more years of conflict. The civil war is used as a testing ground
for new military technology - large armored mechs dubbed AFWs. The
game begins ten years later during a period of fragile peace in the
Not a Nazi. Really
Player's take on the role of Masami von Weizegger,
a half-German, half-Japanese test pilot for the South Japanese Army.
Masami witnesses the theft of a new experimental AFW by North Japanese
forces during a routine test run. Though inexperienced in combat,
Masami is put in charge of a new covert unit charged with the retrieval
or destruction of the missing Type 3 AFW.
All this set up may not sound too "controversial"
to Western ears, but the Japanese version of the game contained a
few more elements which have been toned down or removed outright in
the localization. Most importantly, South Japan - the player's own
side - was explicitly cast as a puppet of ex-Nazi powers. Though the
commander of the South Japanese Army is still a German (though no
explanation for his nationality is given), all references to the Nazis,
from the troop instructor's shadowy past to the stock footage of Hitler,
have been removed from the game. Likewise, you'll be hard pressed
to find any references to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Presumably,
these still took place in the past of the US version, but they're
Who ever hear such a stupid thing?
With the twin horrors of the atomic bomb and fascism
excised, the resulting plot lurches between banality and nonsense.
Despite the promising set up, Ring of Red's story becomes just another
tale of an inexperienced youth learning that war is a complicated
thing. The plot never progresses far beyond the simple task outlined
in the first few missions and the few surprises offered are telegraphed
hours in advance, as characters constantly muse about "mysteries"
that were long ago apparent to the player. To make matters worse,
the translation stands as one of the worst in recent memory, complete
with stilted, occasionally incoherent,
dialogue, frequent misspellings and
factual errors. (Kaiho, in actuality,
is the star pilot of the North Japanese forces.)
All of this might have been forgivable if the gameplay were strong enough to make up for the game's flaws. While Ring of Red does add a few new ideas to the strategy genre, the result is almost as slow paced and shallow as the plot. The tactical map used in the game's missions should be immediately familiar; players move their squad of up to eight AFWs around the grid map in turn-based fashion to engage the enemy. Once battle ensues, however, things get a bit more interesting.
Actual battle engagements play out in 90-second chunks,
with the player in full control over the AFW and its accompanying
soldiers. The mech can advance or retreat to improve its chances of
hitting the enemy and your troops can be moved between the rear and
vanguard. In front, the soldiers exchange fire with the enemy and
activate their attack skills, while the rear position offers safety
and the chance to employ defense and repair skills. Choosing troops
with skills that compliment a particular AFW is a large part of the
game's challenge. Since the AFWs themselves cannot be customized the
bulk of the player's decision making will be made here.
John attempts to stay awake 'til the end of
Unfortunately, most actual engagements revolve
around waiting - waiting for your guns to load, waiting for your AFW
to move to the proper range, waiting to get a fix on the enemy as
you slowly aim your weapon. The slow pace of combat wouldn't hamper
the game if it was accompanied by some deep strategy, but the best
choice for the situation is usually obvious - fire when you have a
high chance to hit, put your soldiers out front when their attacks
are ready, and pull them back when they're wounded. The addition of
unique pilot skills and special shells provided by your crew add a
hint of resource management to the engagements, but never enough to
keep the player engaged for the course of a five-hour mission. The
system is not without its charms - the live battles are certainly
more visually interesting that the norm in the genre - but most players
will know every facet of the system well before the half-way mark,
leaving them wishing for something with a little more depth and a
lot less padding.
The trend towards waiting continues on the tactical map, as the game seems purposefully designed to reward players for doing nothing. Throughout Ring of Red's lengthy missions, the soundest strategy is always to hold your ground. The terrain advantage goes to the defender and, because the only way to regain a unit's HP is to skip a turn and recover, you're almost always better off waiting for the enemy to attack you first. Furthermore, there is no real way for units to cooperate - no items, no support skills, no cooperative attacks. The only way to coordinate your units is to keep them in a pack so one will be nearby to get the next attack on a weakened unit - not exactly a recipe for thrilling strategy.
The technical aspects of Ring of Red are as are
as uneven as the other areas. The graphics in the battle engagements
are well done, if a bit low-poly, but the more realistic mech designs
and drab colors give the game little visual impact. The tactical map,
a simple rolling plain with painted-on geography, looks closer to
a high-res version of Super Robot Wars than something you'd expect
to see on the PS2. The lackluster presentation continues outside of
battle with only stock footage and a few still sketches to flesh out
what should have been a rich and interesting game world. Thankfully,
the excellent character designs and good use of music and sound do
a little to alleviate the uninspired visuals.
In an alternate timeline from our own, perhaps Konami managed
to bring all of Ring of Red's elements together into an excellent
game. The premise, gameplay, and story certainly seem compelling in
concept, but each of them lacks in execution. Gamers may wonder what
went wrong: was it the slipshod localization, a lack of effort on
Konami's part, or perhaps the inexperience of strategy newcomers KCE
Studios? Whatever the answer, the only controversy left in Ring of
Red is how such a promising game fell so short.
Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
|Ring of Red
|| 09.21.00|| 03.13.01
|Konami shows Red at ECTS
|Character designs, CG Mech designs