The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa
Developed By: yeo
Published By: Circle Ent.
Category: Action, Adventure
Release Date: April 3, 2019
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa was a strange and unique title to play. It features an interesting mix of storytelling components, RPG systems, and classic beat ‘em up mechanics. While appearing simple in presentation, the many gameplay mechanics under the hood make for a surprisingly deep and complex game that might be too much for casual players.
The story initially begins with a fight breaking out on a train and as you use this initial fight before the credits are even shown you learn how to control your character and how to interact with friends. Ringo Ishikawa and his fellow rivals are trying to be the best gang thugs they can be in order to hopefully get recruited by the Yakuza. However, when the game actually begins you are in school where the principle informs Ringo and his friends that the semester is more than half over and the board is split on whether they want to hold them back another year or refuse to let them graduate. It is then up to you to decide how Ringo’s like is going to unfold, whether that be as the most feared gang member, or studying extensively to actually pass school.
One of the things you’ll notice right away about The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa are how the pixel-like graphics bring to mind Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. I could also see how the chilled-out soundtrack would appeal to many players just like those aforementioned titles. The graphics were some of the most detailed pixel-art style graphics I’ve ever seen with smooth animations and many small visual flairs in how your character and other characters react.
Speaking of characters, they are all easily distinguishable from one another and backgrounds were full of little details that made the world feel alive. With smooth animations, the fighting and combat mechanics felt satisfying and had great depth than just your average beat ‘em up titles. The color palette stuck to a somewhat washed out real-world look that really fit aesthetic well. In many games that use pixel graphics it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what is going on at any given time or what a given background element is supposed to be. Thankfully, that was never the case with The Friends of Ringo as I always knew what I was looking at and backgrounds also gave hints to that.
Much like the graphics, the sound design was simple, yet unique and very well done. Punches and kicks sounded heavy and the various ambient sounds came off as they should. The calming soundtrack sounded unique with a jam band-like quality and really tied everything together. It was the type of soundtrack I wouldn’t mind purchasing outside of the game to experience in my every day life.
The gameplay takes the traditional beat ‘em up formula, but adds many different elements to it. There is so much to do in The Friends of Ringo, whether it be picking fights with other gangs, study for tests, play games like chess and pool, eat or go for coffee, read books at the library, go and learn at school, the choices are almost overbearing. The fighting system alone is solidly executed and reminiscent of games like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, but with the added depth of stats and moves that can be learned and upgraded.
Much of the learning and scholastic related tasks were very much a time sink. Reading or doing homework took a lot of time to perform and oddly enough I spent a good amount of time pursuing these learning endeavors. I slowly built up my knowledge in various school courses, read various books in the library, and only picked fights when I would get into the middle of two gangs already going at it. There is no in-game schedule, you choose what you want to do and then do it. You don’t have to sleep or eat food without too much noticeable side-effects, but it’s still wise to follow some type of schedule.
This is where The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa really disappointed me, as there was no purpose for doing some of the things the game gives you the option to perform. Having no type of schedule to follow or goals to accomplish detracted from the experience overall, and some guidance would have been appreciated instead of stumbling upon an important feature later than I should have. I like having choices and open-ended gameplay can be rewarding, but oftentimes I felt lost and didn’t see how certain gameplay concepts materialized appropriately.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is not a game for everyone, as it takes time to figure out many of the gameplay elements. Many of its systems were not well explained and it lead to a lot of down-time where I felt my time would have been better spent elsewhere in-game. While some of the activities also felt somewhat grind-like in nature, its ambitious premise left me intrigued to push on further and I’m sure there will be a dedicated audience for this title that will absolutely love it. I can see this having a Shenmue cult following on a lesser scale and I believe that’s what the developers intended.
Buy The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa
Be sure to follow Circle Ent.