Reviews: River City Ransom

A very original concept, though an execution that shows its age

The RPG is a genre that has had many crossovers with other, more action-oriented genres. Borderlands shows what happens when you cross an RPG with an FPS. Kingdom Hearts is an RPG crossed with a platformer (at least in the games that have more platforming-oriented levels, which not all of them have). Here, predating those and many others, is a game that crosses an RPG with a Beat Em Up.

River City Ransom has an idea that's very unique, and really hasn't been seen since to my knowledge, not including remakes and the Japan-only spinoffs. Basically, you have a city to roam around complete with strip malls, tunnels, warehouses, and more. Enemies of varying degrees of strength show up, and you can either try to fight them, or run away. Fighting enemies gives you money, and money is used to buy food items, books, and various miscellany that can be used either on the spot or stored in inventory for later. Eating or drinking something tends to increase stats or your health, or both. Reading certain books teaches you special moves. It's an idea unheard of for the time.

The execution, sadly, is a product of its time and quickly dates the game. Once you learn which items at the stores increase which stats, it's not hard to grind for cash and then eat those same foods to increase your stats very high - a direct result of stat increases tied to money usage instead of the more common use of experience points (which typically require more per level). Not only is the system exploitable, there's a lack of depth to the fighting. You can pick up and use, or even throw, weapons. You can also pick up downed enemies and do the same to them. And you can punch or kick, which also blocks. That's pretty much it. Special moves are a super-fast triple punch or kick, a move that does heavy damage to downed enemies, jumping to cause damage, and throwing objects harder for more damage.

The world is also mostly linear. There's required backtracking, and some alcoves to go into, but it's very much "move left to right" in the overall world design.

River City Ransom is considered a classic for the sheer creativity in its concept, but the flaws really date it and make it harder for me to enjoy today. It's a unique novelty, but if it were brought back today, heavy tweaks would have to be made.