The Friends Of Ringo Ishikawa
Genre: Adventure, Action
Platform: Xbox Series X (Also available on PC and Nintendo Switch)
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 14/04/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Welcome to the Family
If you’re a fan of titles such as Yakuza and Shenmue then there is a great chance you may just enjoy The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa. Developed and published by yeo, The Friends Of Ringo Ishikawa is an existential open-world beat ’em up with some school sim elements.
Ringo Ishikawa is a high school gang leader who is living through his last autumn before graduation with his best friends. On first impressions, you may mistake this as just a 2D clone of Streets Of Rage, but don’t let the first minutes fool you as it develops much deeper than this.
Delving a little into the development of this title I did some research and was surprised to see that it was a solo developer from Moscow, Russia. I just find solo project games incredible in the fact that one person can create a game to such an excellent standard. What I mean in this case is the aesthetically pleasing 16-bit pixel art which illustrates the suburbs of Japan and its urban architecture brilliantly even in this retro style. The attention to detail is marvellous.
Time To Get Beefed Up!
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa will put you straight into a fistfight with a rival gang. What I liked about the approach to the fight is that with a button press you can appear intimidating to the enemy by sliding your hands into your pockets and portraying the hard man. You’ll notice lots of these unique subtle touches of genius throughout your autumn whether it’s on the streets with your mates kicking rival gang members heads in or catching a read in the library. There are some fantastic moments in this gem of a game.
The story of The Friends Of Ringo Ishikawa progresses with an in-game calendar similar to games such as Persona and Shenmue and you can play out your time whichever path you decide. You could for instance choose to pump some iron in the gym and not attend class. You may wake up one morning and decide to spend the day hunting your rivals in an attempt to beat them black and blue and steal their cash. Or if you fancy being a good boy then you can attend your classes and go and read some Russian books in the library.
I did find myself at first scratching my head and wondering what my objective was here and what I am aiming to achieve. I guess the real purpose was to play out your last autumn before graduation exactly how you want, and that is the beauty of an open-world title. To explore, to find your feet and to figure out how to live your life and most of all, have fun. This may not appeal to gamers that always want to reach a certain goal or have some linear structure, and the fact there is no world map or quests may disengage a few.
However, there is a story here and you do feel connections and I gained a sense of the atmosphere and feeling the game was directing itself. We’ve all been there, the final few months of a school or college, the sense of excitement but ultimately the sadness of the time passing by and the end of that arising. The brilliance of making this open world is deciding how you want to play out those final moments, and the mixture of the places you can visit and ways you can interact and spend your cash (stolen or not) paves the way for different outcomes with multiple playthroughs.
Choose to play your way!
There is plenty of dialogue within the game and I urge you to absorb it all and read it as it adds to the experience. We’ve all played titles where we are tempted just to skip the lines of text to get to the good bits, but The Friends Of Ringo Ishikawa makes up for the lack of direction with its interaction between characters. Yes, there are some grammatical errors that you may notice but remember this was written in Russian, converted into English and set in Japan so you have to forgive yeo for these minor flaws.
The combat during the fighting portions of the game is very basic but did feel oddly satisfying as both gangs were involved in the brawls for the most part. At first, you’ll feel like you’re being damaged more than you are causing to your foe, but you can improve your strength and attacks later in the game and recruit more gang members to assist you. I especially enjoyed wading into a fight between two rival gangs, landing a few punches and making off with their pocket money. Whilst this is frowned upon in real life, it was satisfying in a video game. If you come off worse in a fight, thankfully you just wake up in your bed the next day but you do lose around eight in-game hours. The combat mechanics aren’t anything to shout about from the rooftops, but they are solid enough to enjoy and appreciate.
If you enjoy games where you can manage your life aspects then you have something to work with here. Partaking in studies can achieve academic success and will in turn generate wealth for yourself. You can then spend your spare cash kitting out your apartment. There is also an opportunity to become employed and work for your earnings but you will need to manage your timekeeping and turn up on time or face the sack. There is a fair amount of freedom here amongst some moments of narrative and conversation, and eventually, you stop looking for those interactive moments and wander off on your personal tangent. There were some subtle salutes to the title Bully from Rockstar Games in the time management aspect and also giving you the rope of freedom to play with.
Overall I enjoyed and appreciated The Friends Of Ringo Ishikawa for what it is. It won’t suit all gamers and I did experience a small amount of wondering what the objective was at first. This is simply because there are no hand-holding moments or tutorials here. Bear with the slow gentle start to the game and hopefully you will find it grows on you as it did with me. I tip my hat to yeo for a sterling job with the casual but engaging atmosphere and some beautifully orchestrated visuals. This is one you won’t want to miss if you love the retro titles that you like to put your feet up and kick back to.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can buy The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa for Xbox Series X from the Microsoft Store.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.