The Ring: Terror’s Realm
Asmik Ace Entertainment/Infogrames
Genre: Action Survival Horror
In the early 2000s, American cinema found itself with a glut of remakes from the Japanese horror market. Plenty of countries borrow films from one another and put a bit of their own spin on them to put in their respective movie theaters, but it felt like there were a bunch of films that released here like The Grudge, One Missed Call, Pulse and probably most famously, The Ring.
The Ring kind of felt like it was the start of a popular movement at the time. Based on a series of books by Koji Suzuki- which are well worth reading if you have any interest- the film followed the first of them in which a young girl, Sadako Yamamura, died a terrible death and inflicted a curse to spread, killing those whom it afflicted seven days after contraction. The books explore how this plays out when humans become involved and set up for an interesting a relatively fresh horror angle to be played at.
Like many successful films, The Ring spawned its own media including a little known video game for the Sega Dreamcast called The Ring: Terror’s Realm. With the American remake arriving two years after the video game released, it’s understandable why the game fell to the wayside in the US. Still, there weren’t a ton of offerings on the Dreamcast in the horror genre so to fans of games like Illbleed and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, this probably felt like a dream come true to someone looking for a scare.
Like most films and games, though, those scares come at a cost. Read on to see exactly how expensive the frights of The Ring: Terror’s Realm are and whether it’s worth the price of admission.Plot
After planning a get together with her boyfriend, Robert, Meg Rainman heads to his house expecting him to apologize and make it up to her that he has been so absent thanks to the project he’s been working on at the CDC (Center for Disease Control). When she arrives at his house, however, she comes upon a grisly crime scene. Something’s happened, and Robert was found deceased at his home, his face twisted in a grotesque caricature. Her logical conclusion is that he may have suffered from something he caught from work.
Shortly after, Meg finds herself working as the newest researcher for the CDC, taking Robert’s old job and office. She catches wind of a rumor that he was working on a project with a small team and that he isn’t the only one who died. It appears that all of them were working some kind of computer project called RING. It hasn’t booted up since, though, so no one is sure if that may just be some coincidence.
Out of sheer curiosity, Meg plays around a bit with Robert’s old computer but there’s something wrong. The program has no problem starting up for her and a few keystrokes later, she finds herself immersed- quite literally- in a disparate world that looks somewhat similar to the offices she just recently joined. Shortly after logging off, she receives a notice on the screen that reads that she will be dead in seven days.
As things spiral from bad to worse, Meg realizes that she’ll have to fight to save not only herself but the people around her and possibly the entire human race.
If you’ve played any early Resident Evil or Silent Hill game, you’ll have an easy handle on The Ring’s control scheme. While exploring the CDC offices, Meg can walk around and investigate using the A button. By holding down another button, she can also run, covering ground faster. At the beginning of the game, Meg only to the second floor of the building due to a quarantine, but as she explores, she’ll find keycards and other ways to check out the entire office.
While in the real world, Meg can only walk and search, learning more about the occurrences going down around her, once she enters the RING program, the game becomes a bit more action oriented. She receives a tutorial shortly after entering the virtual world, teaching her the basics of shooting by holding down the R shoulder button and pressing another to fire her weapon. If she aims toward an enemy, the gun will automatically lock on to the target. She can also go into a first-person mode view by holding down the Y button. While she can’t move in this mode, it helps to find items hidden around the area as the camera angle isn’t always convenient to do so.
There are plenty of other trappings to work with, but nothing out of the ordinary. Meg has limited inventory space, but there are “magic” item boxes around to store things in until they are needed. The game can also be saved whenever Meg finds a transistor radio, and she has a map that indicates where those items are. The map is also fairly easy to read and navigate with, which is important given the nature of office buildings in general. Keeping an eye on her health meter is also important- green flashing means she’s healthy, red flashes means otherwise.
The Good, The Bad, And…
The Ring has earned a pretty terrible reputation in the survival horror community- and it isn’t completely undeserved. Where games like this tend to strive on scares and characters that help (or don’t help) move the story along, everything feels very uninformative, repetitive, and temporary. Despite meeting a cast of characters, the only real ally Meg has is a security guard who shows up a number of times. One of the secondary characters also plays a larger role later in the game, but there’s nothing interesting about her fellow office workers except that they find a few things strange and then seem to disappear entirely. The translation also make some of the objectives tough to parse out for the player. It’s so riddled with typos and awkward syntax, though, that’s kind of a slog to read through in general.
Given that I just wrote about a protagonist that is tough for me to stomach, I feel like I have to give some space here to talk about Meg Rainman as a protagonist. On the surface, she seems fine. Once the game gets going, though, she reaches a whole new level of skepticism. Whenever she’s confronted with supernatural or incredibly strange events, her explanation is usually that it’s a joke that her fellow workers at the CDC are playing or that the game is “just a game” despite it having some clear influence in the real world. The only thing that makes her believe things are real is when she realizes that she may be able to save Robert, at which point that becomes her one driving force. She’s not an easy protagonist to live around.
The controls and mechanics are also sloppy, both technically and by design. Meg is a slow walker but dashes much more quickly than feels natural to control, and her auto-aim often wanders just off-target, resulting in missing shots that should be lining up. You can’t search or pick anything up until her character model comes to a standstill, either, so snatch and grabs on items are kind of out of the question, forcing fights more often than necessary. Even when being asked if I wanted to open an item box or save, I would click “yes” only for the menu to cancel out so I’d have to try again. It’s manageable but requires a lot of effort and patience to proceed.
To Ring’s credit, though, the actual story is interesting. As a fan of Koji Suzuki’s novel series, the story points and twists all felt like they could have fit right into the mythos of the universe that was set up by the author. Reading through some of the files is some of the best time spent with this game. If you can sift through the stilted dialogue and realize that some liberties might be taken for the sake of making this an interesting game- I imagine Suzuki probably wouldn’t have written about Sadako being confronted with a grenade launcher- the story is actually very “in-universe” and entertaining.
The game doesn’t do a ton for itself on the graphical side, unfortunately. It’s serviceable but there are a lot of textures that come across as thrown together, mostly in the character models. They do manage a couple of visual “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them” scares in the vein of the films, but even in the FMVs, the backgrounds are decent and the character models range from average to unnatural.
Keeping on point, the music fluctuates just as much, though there are far more tracks that fall into the positive range over the negative. The game does seem to have a problem with knowing which tracks it wants to use as all of them are fairly distinctive but they either restart when entering new rooms or change far too frequently in accordance to locale changes. Also, whether it’s due to the direction, script, or style, the voice acting is beyond laughable and feels out of place almost every time it is implemented.
This game takes a lot of missteps. At the heart of it, the pacing is off and turning a Japanese horror film and turning it into a 6-8 hour survival horror game was a tough task to take on anyway. The nature of many popular horror films that imported here from Japan was in the slow-burn and the suspense; something the big name horror games weren’t doing. The influences from its more successful peers isn’t only on The Ring’s sleeve- it makes up almost the entire outfit.
Between inconsistent characterizations, throwaway plot points and elements, and a protagonist who comes across more ignorant than skeptical, tacking on wonky combat mechanics and questionable design made The Ring a bit of a doomed project from minute one. Is there something to be salvaged from all of this?
I can give a resounding ‘kinda’ to that question. There are some good elements to be had, and the game is short enough that if you really want to forge through it to say you did or as a diehard fan of the films and books, you can do so with ease. Both Infogrames and Asmik made some classic titles that make the execution on this game a bit blasphemous, though, so if you’re looking for a good time with a horror game, The Ring can be passed up unless you really need to complete your collection or you feel like embarking on a cult classic style endeavor.