In Ring of Red you take control of a group of heavy robot fighting machines - and at this point I have to admit to the possibility of having mixed up some elements of this game with those of Front Mission 3, which I played to death at about the same time.
I think I am right in saying that it is set after a World War Two in which robot fighting machines were developed, resulting in Japan ultimately being divided between the US and the USSR. The game includes very atmospheric faked-up footage of the robot machines marching alongside WWII troops.
Unlike Front Mission 3, Ring of Red does not allow for much customization of your robots - you are restricted to choosing the type of ammunition (standard, incendiary, etc) and assigning support units. However, the small focus of your decisions accentuates the tactical effect of each of them.
Once battle is joined, movement is turn-based, over a traditional map of cells. When enemy fighting machines meet, the action switches to a real time view. Neither side can take action until its attack meter has built to a certain level, which creates a lot of tension. Successfully attack the personnel manning the enemy robot, and their meter will build up more slowly (they take longer to reload).
A key element is ensuring that you meet the enemy on your own terms, to give yourself the initiative, at the range that best suits your weapons.
Your options in combat are quite limited - move the robot forward, back, fire, perform a special move, or do the same with your two support units of foot soldiers. Yet in these small decisions lies the game's core - leave your foot soldiers forward too long, and they'll be exposed to the fire of the enemy machine, keep them back in relative safety, and the enemy support units will be free to attack your machine.
The game's great interest lies in achieving the ideal balance of anti-personnel and anti-machine weaponry and ammunition among your force. One highly satisfying tactic is to develop some units into pure personnel killers, arming your machine with incendiaries and your foot soldiers with rifles, retreating as soon as the robot's support units are destroyed, leaving them wide open for the pounding attack of an anti-machine machine accompanied by bazooka-wielding soldiers.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable game, and in a distinct difference from most strategy games, it is especially suitable for playing in short bursts. A typical face-to-face battle between robots takes just a few minutes, making it easy to dip in for a quick fight. Though some will find the lack of options to be far too limiting, the gameplay to be repetitive, and the game overall to be far too easy, I found it despite those things to be very addictive and satisfying.
Graphics and sound are generally stunning. When hit the robots stagger, and the soldiers squirt blood high into the air. (Given the convincing screams when incendiary weapons are used on personnel, avoid playing this game in the company of the squeamish!)
My main criticism would be a slight disappointment that as the game progressed, no new types of ammunition, soldiers or special moves became available, and that at no point do more than two robots enter battle together.
(Originally published on the Old Age Playstationers website in 2003. I'm very disappointed that there was never a sequel to this excellent game, leaving aside obvious jokes about the Xbox 360…)
Ring of Red, Konami, Japan, PS2.