Review by yatesy

Reviewed: 04/11/01 | Updated: 01/31/03

Obscure an uninviting, but totally rewarding

If asked who Naughty Dog software are, most answers would probably include Crash Bandicoot or possibly Jak and Daxter. You would be lucky to hear the words Rings of Power, and indeed, it was well after Crash Bandicoot was released that I realised that it was the same developer who was behind the games. Rings of Power was their only venture into the world of the Genesis, and furthermore, only their fourth game to be released – the previous three being on the PC, Amiga and Apple.

The introduction tells of Usha Bau, a world of darkness, which was brought to life by a powerful being called Nexus. Using the rod of creation Nexus made the land a beautiful place, and bestowed upon each man, woman and child one of the six arts - the people of the loved Nexus for this. Then, an evil being called Void appeared filled with envy and hatred towards the world, and stole the rod of creation. With it he spread terror across Usha Bau, causing a cataclysm lasting for sixty-six years. Nexus ordered armies to attack Void - a huge battle was fought. During the fight Nexus and Void clashed, resulting in the Rod being split in two, each fleeing with half. The two halves were then split into eleven rings, which have been lost and become legends over time. Many have quested for the rings but all have failed.

Upon starting the game, you stand outside the City of Mind, home of the sorcerers. With only a note from your master, Thalamus, you set off to find him at the guild. Thalamus reveals he has made some great discoveries concerning the rings, and has called a meeting amongst his students to discuss this. As you all arrive, Thalamus is attacked and killed by one of his students, seemingly overcome by darkness, and the remainder are cast out around the world in search of the rings – the dying words of their master echoing in their mind.

Awakening, you find yourself just outside the city of Division, alone and lost, with only the advice of your late master to guide you. The rings are your main objective, but your quest would be folly alone, first you must form a group, consisting of one member of each of the six arts. And so your quest truly begins…

Gathering your group essentially means visiting villages or towns respective to their class, then carrying out a task set by the head of the order. The six classes are Sorcerer (yourself), Knight, Archer, Conjuror, Necromancer and Enchanter. Completing these tasks will result in you being given the services of one of their apprentices, a valuable ally, even if they are weak to begin with.
Once you have your group, you may then begin to quest for the rings themselves to restore the rod of creation and defeat Void - not an easy task.

Rings of Power varies from the usual formula favoured by many an rpg, to the point where it is almost unique. Abandoning some of the more typical aspects, such as a constant storyline, vast dungeons, weapons and armour classes et al, Rings of Power has a huge world, free to discover from the very start. Weapons and armour are done away with to rely completely on magic use, with many spells available to each class. Before you dismiss the game though, let me take you through a little deeper into what we have here.

Most importantly, the storyline is almost redundant, possibly enough to turn a few people off straight away. But the way the game goes about this lack of direction is almost forgivable, seeing that it lets you just wander off in search of these rings, without any real tale to back it up. Its individuality is commendable at least. So how are you supposed to find the rings? I hear you ask. Well, each ring is assigned to one of the six classes, and asking around the respective towns usually throws light to the whereabouts of someone or something that can give you further clues to the rings. The heavyweight instruction manual also gives you some cryptic clues as to where to look, in the guise as notes from you master Thalamus. The only real setback with this is that sometimes the next step in the chain is so illogical; you may only ever find it by chance. This is where the lack of linearity aids the problem a little, being that you can quest for any ring at any time - sometimes you will accidentally stumble upon something important without even meaning to do so, and so the trail is picked up again. The overall beauty of this system is that when you get stuck, and believe me you will, you can just leave that particular ring and try to find another, and hopefully pick up something to help along the way.

Another aspect in which Rings of Power is dissimilar to other games of its type is the battle system. Doing away with weapons and armour, the battles are based solely around magic. The spells themselves are acquired through guilds found in each town or city and are unique for each class. There are around twenty to thirty for each character, with each spell having a price and a level value, only being useful once the character to use it has reached that level themselves. Once in battle, the turn based combat gives you the opportunity to choose which spell you wish to use before that persons turn, and once used takes a set amount from their mana (mp) bar. The more powerful the spell, the more mana it usually takes to cast it. Battles are completely random, although they can be forced by selecting to fight with someone you encounter, even though this is quite useless throughout the game.

A few other minor issues all add to the game in someway or another. The most unique of these is the trading system, only really seen since in Suikoden as far as I’m aware of. Shopping in each town usually uncovers a trade item exclusive to that area, worth much more to a town somewhere else in the world – only journeying around will find the best deals. The money you earn is essential for buying your spells, as well as funding the many other requisites such as ships, food and water, and even a good beer at he inns, so keeping a healthy trade structure is a wise idea indeed.

From the off, the graphics are going to strike you as unusual compared to any other RPG you have played. Think of the way the landscape works in Populous and Rollercoaster Tycoon, and then give it an isometric view such as seen in Landstalker or Light Crusader and you will be fairly close. As first it takes some getting used to, it nearly caused me to give it up before I had even really got into it. Once you do however, it all seems to become part of the game. Usha Bau works on a globe design; therefore if you travel west continually, you will eventually arrive back to where you started. The world itself boasts huge deserts, vast oceans, snow-covered glaciers and many more beautiful yet perilous regions you must explore. When travelling, scrolling is jerky as the screen moves one square at a time, instead of in a smooth, continuous motion – the only major gripe in what is a love or hate graphic engine anyway.

Musically, Rings of Power is pretty much an acquired taste, and as like the rest of the game, takes some getting used to. The title theme is good and crashes in to great effect, preparing us for the task ahead. Unfortunately, the in-game music is far more random, ranging from the pleasantly nice, to the terribly noisy. More often than not, the tunes seem out of place, but they are not too bad overall. The effect follow the same pattern too, and while not awful, often seem out of place.

Set apart from the obvious trivialities, such as the graphics and sound, there is only a few other minor nuisances to be found. Primarily, there are only a handful of enemy types in the entire game, each falling into one of the six aforementioned classes. A little variation would have been nice, with certain foes more susceptible or resilient to certain spells, and even ‘non class enemies’ with their own strengths and weaknesses. One other real problem is that you can kill someone key to the game, making it impossible to attain a ring, and on a larger picture, the game. This is obviously a huge problem, but can be avoided by not initiating a mass murder spree – you have been warned.

While technically far from perfect, the game has a hidden charm far beneath its unappealing looks. The first time I played the game, I was a little disappointed and didn’t return to it for a while. When I actually gave the game a chance, and put a little time in to it, I became hooked. For the next few months, the game captivated me, keeping me coming back to find that next ring, while at the same time frustrating me with some of the most annoying puzzles I have ever seen. Not everyone is going to like this game, that is for certain, but for those who do give it a chance, there is a very good game waiting to suck you in – I’d just give it a try, and see if you are one of them.

Overall - 9

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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