My review of The friends of Ringo Ishikawa game

The friends of Ringo Ishikawa is a game, an experience I didn’t know I needed. When you start the game you don’t know what are you getting into yet. The game takes its sweet time to tell you about itself. Or should I say you can take your sweet time to find out what is this game about.

The game starts with you controlling the protagonist Ringo who is immediately caught up in a fight with a rival gang alongside his friend Ken. From the start the game evokes the feeling of old fighting games with its minimalistic controls - only three buttons plus the movement keys. You fight in the train than in a train station and later in the streets of Ringo’s (unnamed) hometown. At this point you are certain that this is a fighting game until the game progresses to a time year later than the introduction scenario.

Set in Ringo’s school, filled with adrenaline from the previous fights you wait for more, only to be ‘welcomed’ by a school principal, a casual smoke with a friend (Masaru) and a whole town to explore. You are not required to participate in any fighting while exploring the town. After a while it felt like a complete opposite to a fighting game. I’ve spent a couple of (game) days roaming around waiting for the game to guide me. I was waiting for a quest-like mechanic. When enough time passed it suddenly hit me! This game is a real-life simulation and I can do whatever I want! At this point all the wonders of this game have shown up.

I’m Ringo, my group’s captain in my town doing what I want with my life. I read, I smoke, I eat (a lot), I get in an occasional fight if I want, etc. The freedom to do stuff while gently being guided by the game into the story direction is one of the biggest pluses of this game. Alongside, a beautiful pixel art design of the city that will appeal to anyone with the slightest interest in Japanese aesthetics. The whole adventure is accompanied by a great music soundtrack that I’m already looking to buy. The game itself ran fine for me. There were some graphic bugs like a pedestrian spawning in the sky rather on the street, but overall everything worked well. Controls are, as mentioned, minimalistic but present no problem in controlling the character (jumping/workout can be a bit unpredictable). My personal favorite is a button dedicated to lighting a cigarette. One could say a perfect waste of a control bind, but I say we don’t have enough such features in modern games. Plus, lighting a cigarette - an essential thing for a gang captain.

On the other hand, no game is perfect and neither is this one. The main flaw, for me, was completely related to the storytelling. The ending felt rushed and there are a lot of loose story threads we never get to finish. The gentle guidance now pushes you off the cliff directly to the game end. And by the time I got to the end I was emotionally invested in the characters and the story that I was heartbroken when the game ended. I wanted to know all: what happened after the double date, what happened with Goro and Ken, with Masaru and Murakawa, etc. The really liked the story and it has great potential, but it was poorly realized at the end.

That being said, I still encourage people to buy and play this game. If you like being guided by the game all throughout or feel like you are going to be aggravated by the ending this game is not for you. For me the experience, in whatever way realized, is worth the money. TFORI is a mold-breaking game, a welcome novelty in the game world and certainly a manifest of the genre I will closely follow in the future.

You can check out (and buy) the game here.