I racked my brains to think of a title that would kick-start my new series – it would have to be a great title that wasn’t in the mainstream that I found to be exemplary. The obvious choice would have been Shadow of the Colossus but I felt I could do better. While dusting off my PS2 collection I uncovered this little gem: Ring of Red by Konami.
Ring of Red, Konami – Playstation 2, 2001
Ring of Red is a shining example of the turn-based strategy, a rare breed that tends to get overlooked time and again by slack-jawed gamers who meander from one first person shooter to another, occasionally stopping for a soccer or racing game. That isn’t to say I disapprove of first person shooters, but in my opinion it’s all been downhill since Timesplitters 2. Ring of Red has a truly unique storyline that mashes an alternate history that sees Japan ripped apart after the Second World War with Japan’s much beloved giant robot strain of fiction. Essentially what we’re dealing with is a gritty wartorn country invaded by the Russians in the early 60s in which various factions and rebel groups vie for power with twenty-foot tall walking tanks. The mechs are of course manned by a colorful selection of eccentric pilots. Tell me that’s not badass.
The story goes that Japan didn’t surrender and America didn’t drop the Atomic bombs in 1945. The Allies managed to stop Nazi Germany and went on to occupy central Japan, cutting it into two. In the North, communism ruled supreme with a Russian government. In the South, the Japanese created a Democratic region and an inevitable Japanese Civil War broke out, taking the place of the Cold War in the World’s timeline.
You could say that Ring of Red is a precursor of Valkyria Chronicles in that it blends turn-based strategy with real time combat. The player controls numerous units via an isometric view of the battlefield, zooming in to take control of the Armored Fighting Walker (AFW) and its associated infantry units in real time battles. The player has a set amount of time to do as much damage to the enemy’s AFW before they reach “occupational capacity” and the round is up.
There is a great deal of customization and strategy to the combat in Ring of Red, beginning with how you position your troops on the battlefield. Each type of AFW has an ideal attack range. Some are armed with large-caliber cannons that work best at long range while others have reinforced arms with which to physically attack enemy mechs, so by planning ahead you can strip the enemy of their advantage by getting a long-range AFW into a battle with your melee units. Luckily, if you’re on the receiving end, you have infantry to help you out in a pinch. Each AFW has two accompanying infantry units that can lay mines, disable enemy AFWs or deploy smoke grenades. By using your infantry well you can create a distraction that will allow your AFW to move to its ideal range in battle.
When you’re in a position to let the enemy have it, you choose to enter an aggressive stance and prepare your shot. Aiming is done automatically, but you must choose when to pull the trigger. The longer your AFW aims, the more accurate the shot, but the enemy is lining up his crosshairs on you at the same time so you can’t wait too long. When you fire your AFW is blown backward by the recoil and a humongous shell hurtles across the scene, hitting the enemy AFW with such force that its parts can be destroyed from the impact. To say this is quite satisfying would be an understatement. On top of that, you have access to a selection of special abilities that you can deploy as necessary such as ammunition that blinds the enemy, a powerful shot that can cripple your foe’s weapons or wires that tie up its legs like the AT-ATs in Star Wars.
Graphically the game is quite pleasing (we’re talking about early PS2 era here, so don’t expect anything Crysis level, but it is more than adequate). The game has a very earthy art style and uses a lot of black and white war footage with superimposed robots. The effect is quite impressive and makes me feel that World War Two would have been way more interesting with giant robots. [Isn’t everything? – Ed.] The story is told through a variety of hand-drawn stills with text and has a lot of charm to it. Though the characters are not too removed from your average grab-bag of Manga stereotypes, they do look as though they have seen their share of combat and the main character is quite admirable, if only for his somewhat suicidal bravado.
If you like other turn-based strategy games such as the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Disgaea or even Advance Wars, I’m sure you’d get a kick out of this. There is a great deal of depth and many hours of gameplay available to you. Before each skirmish you must select what equipment to give your forces and which infantry units to assign to your AFWs, so the micro-management side of things is there in abundance and seeing your carefully planned strategy come to fruition is a rare pleasure in today’s fast-paced game world.
Wrapping up, Ring of Red is a brilliant title that flew under people’s radars back when it was released. The strategy side is deep and rewarding and the combat is visceral and varied. If you love the thought of World War Two meets Gundam, then you’re in for a treat.
Ring of Red
Somewhat punishing AI at times and the lack of cinematics and voice acting aside, Ring of Red is a classic PS2 title that desperately needs a sequel. Although I can forgive Konami for being distracted with their other franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill, I think now would be a great time to see this series make a comeback.
Well, that’s it for the début of my Hooked retrospectives series, I hope you enjoyed it. I plan on doing more as time goes by, and I’m always open to suggestions for future articles. Think there’s a game that didn’t get the praise it deserved or an old-school title that needs to be brought to the public’s attention once more? Let’s hear it! In the meantime, stay cool and maybe consider hanging up the 360 for one evening and picking up something with more wires.