Title: The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa
Release Date: April 4, 2019
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Circle Ent.
Genre: SIM RPG
When I first caught a look at the yeo developed and Circle Entertainment published open-world beat ’em up The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, I instantly thought of one of my favorite animes of all time, Yu Yu Hakusho. I can appreciate a good coming-of-age story especially one with a well-rounded cast of characters. With that said, yeo’s latest game not only perfectly captures the essence of Yu Yu Hakusho, but it’s also an ambitious beat em up that follows the footsteps of classic arcade brawlers like Streets of Rage, and even action-adventure games like Shenmue.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa has players take on the role of a high school gang leader, Ringo Ishikawa, who’s in his final year of high school. Rather than having dreams of going to college and all that jazz, Ringo is focused on becoming a high ranking Yakuza member. His desire for doing this? Well, it’s to show that he’s the best of the best. It’s with this goal in mind that players must manage Ringo’s time by doing stuff that high school kids do, of course, so you can expect to do things like talk to long-time friends, binge study, play games, get into trouble by fighting other gangs, you know, the usual.
While the open world nature of the game may make it seem like The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa doesn’t have an in-depth story, that’s definitely not the case as the game surprisingly has such a thoughtfully told and heartfelt coming-of-age story with fantastically written dialogue. However, there are a few text errors here and there, but they don’t necessarily take away from the game’s great storytelling. Throughout the story, players get to see Ringo and his relationship with his classmates and teachers progress which actually reminded me of some of the moments in Yu Yu Hakusho. Without spoiling anything, character development is deep and superb, and the player gets to truly have a connection with many of the game’s characters.
Aside from a great story, players will never have a dull moment when exploring the game’s open world. Similar to that of Shenmue, The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa’s world is bustling with life, with so much to see and do. Rather than forcing the player to do a certain quest, in true delinquent fashion, players have the option to do whatever they want to do. While there is a time limit to keep track of, I never felt that I had to rush from one thing to another. For some players, the lack of direction overall may be overwhelming, especially since there isn’t a map of any sort that describes where places are or anything like that. Overall though, anyone that plays the game will come to find that all of the activities, which could be considered mini-games, from playing pool to even working out, are really enjoyable. The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is all about exploration, literally stepping right into the life of Ringo, so it’s easy to sink a ton of time into the game, especially via handheld mode with the Switch version — and that’s what will keep players coming back.
The beat ’em up part of the game, however, isn’t a knockout, but it works well enough. The combat system is, for the most part, solid, reminiscent of that of arcade beat ’em ups, but there are some deep systems where players can learn and upgrade their stats and moves. Fights are pretty challenging, especially when there’s a whole gang of enemies around that can easily swoop in and knock you out without a problem. However, it’s strange how the enemies health bar isn’t shown, so it’s kind of guessing game as to whether or not an enemy is about to be knocked out. Perhaps I just didn’t unlock the skill that would show me enemies health, which is most likely what happened. With that said, the game’s combat difficulty is a plus for me, as it never felt cheap or unfair, but other players may find the combat portion of the game to be too difficult for their liking.
What all players will like, though, is the game’s finely-detailed pixel art style. All of the character designs are well done, and the whole world itself is full of little nice details, like graffiti found around the city or the sunset lit sky, that bring it to life. I don’t even need to mention anything about the animations since you’ve probably noticed how awesome they are from watching the video review or the game’s trailer. The superly-executed sound design and chill, lo-fi hip hop soundtrack (that reminds me of jams from Nujabes) further heighten the game’s overall vibe. Honestly, I would download/buy the soundtrack in a heartbeat since I’m a huge lo-fi hip hop fan.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is without a doubt a knockout beat-em-up game with a unique RPG and life-sim twist. At first, it kinda feels like a sucker punch because everything is thrown at you at once when you’re not ready for it. But, just like high school, if you take a moment to figure everything out in The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, you’ll then be rewarded with a slew of fun and heartfelt moments. Whether you’re a fan of beat-em-ups, life sims, or even just Yu Yu Hakusho, I highly recommend getting this game.
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