The friends of Ringo Ishikawa immediately drenches anyone who plays it with tones of melancholy. Players follow Ringo Ishikawa in a snapshot of his high-school, senior year. At first, The friends of Ringo Ishikawa looks like a modern day indie tribute to River City Ransom. Players do side scroll and beat up waves of punk kids, but there’s many more verbs to the game than just punch, kick, and block. At many points in the game, various buttons allow the players to do actions that one can roughly describe as posing. There’s no “gameplay benefits” to this. Ringo doesn’t gain experience points or blip a cool achievement. In fact, pretty much nothing in this game has any benefits even the actions that do reward the player. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa open ended gameplay and pose mechanic give it the unexpected verbs of role play, ruminate, and reminisce.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa is the best single-player, role-playing I’ve ever played, and it’s not even an RPG. I’ve talked about how much I hate video game genre names before, so I won’t reiterate on that. Video games have wrestled with making role playing a compelling mechanic for a long time. The struggle is why role playing is not actually a key mechanic in the video game, role-playing-game, genre, at least anymore. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa does concern itself with Dungeons & Dragons mathematical systems, but it does offer a great jumping off point into role play. The game starts and gives the players absolutely no objective. It doesn’t scream at the player for missing school or beating up random kids. The game even fails to mention where Ringo lives (this one is actually bad but evident to how the game conveys information). Basically all a new player knows is that Ringo Ishikawa is a punk kid with some friends. The game does lace some prompts over the course of the game to aid players, but they’re few and far between. Whatever the player wants to do is what Ringo will do; time marches on regardless.
The game responds to the actions a player takes rewarding dedicated role playing. The game at the start shows your grades, and they’re all F’s bar a C in literature. I took this to heart and decided every time Ringo studied, it’d make sense to ease it in with lit. I also spent a lot of time in the library and buying books. Nothing in the game forced me to follow through with this crumb, but I felt rewarded when I started talking to a girl in class about the books I was reading and received a paid research opportunity from a teacher that believed in me. There’s even more explicit examples through who you decide to fight. One night, I decided to start a fight with the gang hanging outside Ringo’s apartment. A few days later, I got a cutscene of Ringo’s friend, Masaru, telling Ringo to lay off that gang because they’re cool people. From then on, I could help the gang in fights without hitting their members.
Even the moments not directly rewarded in the game felt rewarding because they felt correct. A teacher in the gym offered to put a ping pong table on the roof for ¥3000, and I decided that Ringo would prioritize this. Ringo cares about his friends a lot, and giving them something to do in their hang out spot seemed like something he’d really want. The problem is Ringo is very poor. He lives on his own and has no job, so basically the only way to earn money is through winning fist fights. This isn’t a lot though, but that research opportunity from earlier paid ¥10000. At first, I wasn’t going to do the research since it didn’t fit in with what Ringo seemed likely to do, but he seemed like he would go out of his way to write a 70 page paper to get his friends a ping pong table. Playing ping pong with my friends after school felt so rewarding because this scenario I crafted for myself worked so well. The game gave me all the pieces to tell this compelling story of friendship, and I chose how to assemble them. There’s tons of other moments in The friends of Ringo Ishikawa that I had just for the sake of having them. Whether it was helping out a friendly gang in a fight or just sitting a table with Ringo’s underclassmen, these small moments all felt vitally important to the game despite none of them being scripted story bits. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa sets up a living diorama for the players to act their punk-kid story in.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa gives players tons of opportunities to just sit an enjoy the moment. If there’s one main mechanic in the game, it’s time management. Every action players perform takes time. One could map out a perfect schedule to study completely, finish every book and movie, see all the dialogue, but I would say that this person wouldn’t actually be playing the game. Grappling with how to spend the last few weeks of Ringo’s senior year is important, but efficiency really isn’t the answer. The game lets players just sit on a dock and stare out into the ocean. There’s no ocean-staring percent that goes up, but those moments add so much more. Stopping and taking everything thing in let the players reflect on the events that occurred in the game so far and might even help them reflect on the actions they have made in their own life. The cigarette and posing mechanic exemplify this. Regardless of their health effects, cigarettes symbolize rumination across media. The game lets Ringo just squat and smoke anywhere. There’s so many moments that just feel right. These add to the role play and engage players unlike any other game. Players having to spend time and money for no tangible benefit show just how valuable these moments are. It only makes sense Ringo would want to hang off his awning and sit after hearing bad news about a friend; why would he study? Watching time pass in the corner as clouds drift in the sky sunk the consequences of my actions into my heart. There’s so many locations in the town that don’t serve a purpose other than existing, and these locations facilitate slowing down and thinking. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa wants players to chew on the feelings it creates.
The friends of Ringo Ishikawa is nostalgic for a time a place the developer didn’t experience. Developer Yeo is actually a Russian game developer who would’ve been in high school about 10 years after the game takes place. As someone who didn’t grow up in the late 80s in a small town in Japan, this surprised me. The game really feels authentic in how it captures its sense of place. I think the setting works so well because it doesn’t really matter. The game is reminiscing about what it’s like in your final days of high school. The game made me nostalgic for them, and my final days of high school couldn’t have been any different than Ringo’s. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa lets me go back to my high school days and relive the best parts. Working hard studying during the week, hanging out with friends on weekends, conversing with friends between class, it’s hard to realize how valuable these moments can be until they’re gone. Ringo hanging out with his friends in his room playing video games makes me long for the time in high school when I did that. Ringo and his friends play ping pong and pool just like me and mine did. The game has tons of moments that let me reminisce about high school days even if my time and place is completely divorced from Ringo’s. Role playing to get into Ringo’s mindset really brings these feelings full up. Ringo doesn’t just play games in a cutscene, I had to gather all my friends and bring them to my house to play. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa doesn’t just turn on a mini game whenever a player wants to play ping pong, pool, or video games. The video game shows up on a tiny television screen, with most of the player’s screen space dedicated to showing Ringo and friends actually playing or lounging about. The pool table is shown from a side view rather than a top down one. The games aren’t the appeal; the actual act of playing them is. The friends of Ringo Ishikawa makes me nostalgic for a time and place I didn’t experience.
Role play, ruminate, reminisce, and so many more non traditional verbs define The friends of Ringo Ishikawa. The game lets players do so much more than just “beat ’em up.” No other game bakes such emotional verbs into its gameplay. I think the steam description actually best describes the game, “You just live there and feel. And that’s all.”