The Ring: Terror's Realm

Year: 2000
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Asmik Ace Entertainment
Genre: Survival/horror
Rating: ***

Meg Rainman is having a bad day. Her boyfriend, Robert, died a mysterious and horrible death the night before, and today is her first day on the job at a virus research facility where Robert used to work. As if that weren't bad enough, the entire lab has been quarantined on the suspicion that a virus was leaked, so Meg and a handful of others are trapped in the lab until the situation is under control. As Meg starts rummaging through Robert's personal effects, she boots up his laptop computer and contracts a deadly virus, or curse, called RING and only has seven days to live. She then gets zapped into an alternate reality, which she believes to be a video game called RING. This world is dark, scary, and full of mutated monsters. Between her trips to the real world and the imaginary world, Meg must determine the cause of the virus and ultimately save humanity from its deadly effects.

The game is based on a Japanese horror series called "The Ring", in which a woman (Sadako Yamamura) with incredible supernatural powers managed to place a curse on 8mm film that would kill anyone who watched it within seven days. Taking place after this epidemic incident, the CDC (where Meg now works) obtained the original film and is studying the nature of the virus/curse. The game doesn't require or benefit from any knowledge about "The Ring", but it does a fairly decent job of tying the already established Ring mythology into its own continuity.

First of all, the game is a blatant "Resident Evil" rip-off, plain and simple - right down to inventory management, save points, and storage boxes. While the overall quality is poor compared to the RE games, the game does improve on several very important aspects of gameplay. First of all, the game is truly 3D so you can explore and look at anything you want. You can also choose from various camera angles to suit your playing style, but the game doesn't offer any way to dynamically change this during gameplay, which is rather odd. Secondly, the game offers an unlimited number of saves, which is greatly appreciated. Third, the game is well paced, has clear objectives, and is easy to learn, giving you plenty of time to become comfortable with the characters and controls before being put in stressful situations. The RE games have no such niceties and derive sadistic glee from throwing your character into a herd of flesh eating zombies before you even know how to run away. Lastly, you play as one character (Meg) all the way through the game, instead of the irritating schizophrenic character swapping of the RE games. Maybe it's just me, but I don't have the bandwidth to focus on multiple characters - particularly when the secondary characters are annoying and uninteresting (meaning they're not girls with guns).

On its own terms, the game is quite enjoyable, even if it's not as ambitious, intense, and polished as its "Resident Evil" rivals. The graphics are consistently good and the animation is very smooth. Apart from two of the most annoying music loops you're ever likely to hear, the music is extremely good and very atmospheric. The sound effects are also quite good, and hearing the monsters growl from their dark recesses is appropriately chilling. The story is quite engaging, and even though a lot of it doesn't make sense (it doesn't make sense to Meg either), the mystery continues to draw you in deeper.

However, it does have some problems. For starters, the opening cinematic cut scene is just embarrassingly bad. Capcom and SquareSoft definitely own the market for good cinematics. Next, scarier than any monster in the game is Meg's twisted Joker-like grin. What is up with that?!? Is she a victim of plastic surgery gone bad? She is just downright creepy to look at. Meg also casts a shadow that's in the shape of a Dixie cup, which is rather amusing. A simple disc on the floor would be more acceptable than that. Also, the English voice talent is pretty bad, but there are only three or four places where it's actually used. But apart from these niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed this bizarre tale of Japanese horror.