The year is 1964 and the Soviet Empire once again clashes with the powers of the West. But this is not the Vietnam Conflict. Nor is it the Korean War. In fact, the Korean War has never happened, or rather it has happened?in Japan.
Enter Ring of Red. This game takes places in alternate history, one in which Japan refused to surrender during World War II even after facing the atomic bomb. In this vision of the world’s past, the second Great War ended with both the USSR and America invading Japan and dividing it between them. All of the tensions of the Cold War have been focused on this island nation leading to a vicious conflict during the early part of the 1950’s killing tens of the thousands but resolving nothing. This battle also saw the advent of a new fighting machine to handle Japan’s rough terrain, the Armored Fighting Walker or AFW. Since then, the North and South have existed along side each other in a state of cease fire knowing that one day the hostilities would start again.
The game starts with you as the main character, Masami von Weizegger, pursuing an experimental AFW that has been stolen by a North Japanese infiltrator. Being half-German and half-Japanese, Masami represents much of the clash of cultures between West and East. He and the rest of the cast of the game do well to give a balanced view of world events and how the actions of the team will affect all of Japan. The story has many twists and turns and one is rewarded well by making sure to talk to everyone throughout the game.
At its heart, Ring of Red is a turn based strategy game. Scenarios take place on a grid map that includes docks, towns, bridges, forests and other topographical locales of the area. Each side must maneuver into position to engage in skirmishes with the enemy forces. The skirmishes themselves are where things get interesting. Each skirmish is played out in real time as the player moves both his AFW and infantry to gain maximum effectiveness. There are four types of AFW and the battle positioning on each is different. For example, a four-legged AFW acts almost as mobile artillery. As such, the player must make sure to keep other AFWs at the longest possible distance. Likewise, an anti-AFW is made for close in battle so a player must try his best to keep on top of the enemy. The playing field is linear so there is no moving left or right, but this does not take away from the experience. In fact, during most skirmishes one will be pressed to make sure that everything in the AFW Company is aligned correctly. The player is responsible for moving infantry to the front or rear of the battle and also the aiming and firing of the AFW’s gun. The aiming itself seems relatively simple. One waits for the weapon to be reloaded and then selects the option to fire. However, as one plays the game he learns that there is an art to knowing how and when to release a round. When the option to fire is selected it begins a process of sight correction visualized by a cross hairs closing in on the target. As time passes, the percentage chance to hit increases. Time of day, weather, and range will all affect this chance. The enemy also has the ability to react during this period, and getting hit by enemy fire either in the form of infantry weapons or the other AFW greatly reduces your probability to hit. Essentially, wait to long and you are back to square one on aiming.
Another interesting part of each scenario is the customization of infantry. Infantry comes in many different styles. There are riflemen, recon, shooters, mechanics, supply and medics. Each of these has benefits and drawbacks that need to be balanced to form an effective AFW Company. For example, the four-legged AFW takes much longer to reload than other AFWs so a supply troop can be used to raise its reload speed. Also, each infantry unit can have a variety of special attacks such as shells that can be loaded into an AFW or mines placed on the battlefield. Keeping in mind what each type of infantry is used for is key when deciding on troop placement before a scenario begins.
As a side note, the customization of infantry within an AFW Company is the only real customization in the game. Usually, one would expect to find various parts or power-ups throughout the story. Unfortunately, none of these are present here. Special attacks and power-ups are gained through leveling of the characters in the game making it imperative that none of the companies one controls are lost. Also, the infantry one gains through the missions do not really gain experience. As the game progresses, the player will find better equipped infantry by taking over towns or fulfilling special objectives. Still, these complaints are minor as juggling infantry units is challenging enough keeping in mind that if an infantry unit is defeated during a skirmish, it is gone for good.
Overall, Ring of Red is a solid turn based game with some interesting real time twists that presents a strong challenge for any strategy lover. The game itself will take up many hours as each scenario may have 30 to 40 skirmishes and each skirmish runs around 4 minutes. Being time consuming, this game may not be for the passive gamer, but for anyone who is willing to put in the energy, Ring of Red will provide a rich experience filled with both great tactics and a wonderful story.