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Video Game / The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa

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Ringo and his friends.
an existential open world game about japanese delinquents

The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is a 2018 Open World Beat 'em Up Action-Adventure Game with RPG Elements created by Indie developer yeo. The game focuses on the lives of a gang of delinquents in their last year of high school circa 1980s Japan. You play as the gang's leader and titular character, Ringo Ishikawa who's at a crossroads in his life as he tries to figure out what he wants for his future. Though, as the name would suggest, the story is far more focused on the lives of Ringo's friends.

The game is very reminiscent of classic 2D Beat 'em Ups like River City Ransom and Double Dragon, but it offers more simulation and RPG Elements akin to Persona and Yakuza. Despite having a prominent narrative, the game being open world allows the player to explore and do as they please in the small town. You can go to school, play video games, train at the local gym, or enjoy a cigarette and just do...nothing.

You can pick up the game on Steam here, or on Nintendo's eShop here.

The game's official site is here. The game trailer is seen here.

See Arrest Of A Stone Buddha and Fading Afternoon, other games made by yeo.

The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa provides examples of:

  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: Ringo's journey, and the circumstances of its ending, lend themselves towards this interpretation.
  • Badass Arm-Fold: One of the poses Ringo and his crew can perform when loitering.
  • Book Ends: The game opens with Ken joining Ringo on a train to meet up with the rest of the crew and fight off Nakazawa's gang. If the player lasts long enough, the title appears and the screen fades to black as a Time Skip occurs. The game ends with Ringo doing the same thing, but alone.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: The final twist of the game is Ringo's friends all deciding to stop showing up for him, because they have other things going on in their lives.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: As observed by Masaru, there isn't much separating Ringo's crew from ordinary hoodlums (although Ringo would disagree). Ringo and his crew are explicitly dysfunctional and flawed. The game would ordinarily rank as a world of Grey-and-Grey Morality, but Nakazawa's gang crosses the Moral Event Horizon by putting Goro into a coma in reprisal for a conflict he has nothing to do with.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The final battle is Ringo, alone, versus the entirety of Nakazawa's gang. Cue Title Card, and Fade to Black.
  • Book Dumb: The majority of the main cast, except for Noboru.
  • Boring, but Practical: Working part-time at the video store may not be as exciting as looting the ruffians you beat up on the streets, but it's far more effective at earning cash.
  • Broken Pedestal: In the end, Ringo to his friends. Ken in particular chastises Ringo for being unable to grow up.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The different gangs wear differently-colored school uniforms. The gang members in green are not hostile to Ringo (unless he attacks them). The ones in red are always hostile to Ringo.
  • Counter-Attack: You can learn to counter by training with the boxing coach.
  • Coming of Age Story: The plot is very much about Japanese youth struggling with growing up and figuring out who they are.
  • Creator Provincialism: Played with it in a bizarre way: Despite the game being set in Japan, and all the named characters are Japanese, it was developed in Russia by a local programmer. On the other hand, some topics of the games had a very Russian feeling, including the Russian Guy Suffers Most stereotype, except the character(s) who endures this are Japanese, and also there's references to classic Russian literature.
  • Cutscene: Over the course of the game, various cutscenes will trigger as you enter certain areas at specific times of the day.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Getting knocked out only causes you to wake up in the bed inside your apartment a few hours later.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: The game, by design of its mechanics and story, deconstructs the elements of Wide-Open Sandbox games, the Japanese Delinquents genre, and the Coming of Age Story.
    • Wide-Open Sandbox: The game—and the developer—explicitly refuses to explain anything beyond its core mechanics to the player. According to the developer, some players even had trouble figuring out how to block. The result is that the player is indeed given explicit freedom to do whatever they want with the time allotted for any playthrough. However, the effect is to reinforce the melancholic theme of the game, as the player—and Ringo himself—find that having so many choices makes choosing any of them seem less meaningful.
    • Japanese Delinquents: The game deconstructs the premises of the genre, exploring what kinds of lives and personalities the leads of the genre would have to possess, and what impact this would have on their futures.
    • Coming of Age Story: At first, it seems that the game is going to play this trope straight, but then the limitations of the nature of Japanese Delinquents become apparent. The game is instead about how progressing from adolescence to adulthood is not related to moving beyond high school.
  • Delinquent Hair: Ringo and his crew all have variations. Ringo has a pseudo-pompadour, Ken has a ponytail fade, Goro has a buzzcut, and Masaru has long, Messy Hair. Only Shiro has a fairly average haircut.
  • Downer Ending: The game concludes with the dissolution of Ringo's gang as he and his friends succumb to their personal problems. When Ringo finds out that Shiro's girlfriend, Madoka, is cheating on Shiro by dating a member of Nakazawa's gang, Ringo encourages Shiro to attack the gang at the local cafe. In reprisal for the unsanctioned attack, Nakazawa's gang throws the rulebook out the window, arguing that Ringo and Shiro had made it personal, and organizes a nighttime ambush at Ringo's school. Goro, who was not present for the initial attack, is ambushed alone by Nakazawa's gang on his way home. The attack leaves him in a coma. Ringo asks his crew to meet him at the train station the next evening to avenge their fallen comrade. When Ringo goes to the playground to discuss strategy with Ken, Ken informs him that none of their friends, including himself, are going. Everyone has either moved on or is too consumed by their vices. Unwilling or unable to believe that his friends have truly left their delinquent lifestyle behind, Ringo goes to the train station and boards the train, alone. The final sequence of the game is a Boilivian Army Ending with Ringo thrashing hordes of Nakazawa's gang until the title, "The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa" appears, and the screen fades to black.
    • Goro: After finally finding his calling as a thespian, Goro finds himself alienated by Ken's relentless teasing about his new hobby. His resulting isolation from the crew leaves him vulnerable to the attack that puts him in a coma. Whether or not he will recover, and what his prospects are as the least academically accomplished and arguably most psychologically damaged member of Ringo's team, are not further touched upon.
    • Masaru: The last we hear of Masaru is that he remains under the Yakuza's thumb and is continuing to feed his gambling addiction. In their final conversation, Ken informs Ringo that Masaru is still asking his friends for money, and it's an open secret that Masaru is only going to gamble it all away. Further dooming Masaru to a likely dark end is that Masaru's continued gambling will definitely close the door on the deal Ringo had tried to work out to settle his debt with the Yakuza.
    • Ken: Ken declares outright to Ringo that he doesn't care about the gang anymore, and is moving on. However, the fact that his hand injury has never fully healed and his grades remain subpar leaves his future in academia or sports bleak at best.
    • Shiro: Shiro continues to pursue Madoka even after it is evident that she is unfaithful to him. That the consequences of his attack against Nakazawa's gang remain unresolved in the endgame, and that his relationship with Madoka is his initial motivation for the intergang tensions in the first place, leaves him in a precarious position, likely to repeat his mistakes.
    • Ringo: Ringo's final fate is left uncertain, but if what Nakazawa's gang did to Goro is any indication, his final assault against the entirety of Nakazawa's gang will most likely end fatally. Even if he survives, Ringo at the end of the story has been unable to find a goal for which he wishes to strive, and his final decision indicates that he is unable to leave the gang life behind.
  • Early Game Hell: Before you get access to the various trainers to improve your skills and the ability to increase your health, the game can be brutal.
  • Face of a Thug: From most thuggish to least thuggish: Goro, Ringo, Masaru, Ken, Shiro.
  • Foreshadowing: Masaru's gambling addiction, and his involvement with the Yakuza, are foreshadowed very early on when he asks Ringo for some money and gives only vague reasons in return.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble:
    • The Cynic: Masaru. He comes from a poor background, sees himself as a lost cause already on the path to joining up with the Yakuza, and is fairly critical of Ringo's claims that they should maintain the Scoundrel Code. As a gambling addict, hustler, and aspiring Yakuza, he is also the most unapologetically immoral of the group.
    • The Optimist: Ringo. He still believes that being part of a crew means something, and that loyalty and honor are still ideals to which he and his friends should aspire. He's decisive and ready-to-act the minute any one of his friends is in trouble.
    • The Realist: Ken. He is the most distant from the group, and is fairly critical of their activities. He is also the only one, besides Goro, you will find performing regular school activities, such as participating in sports at first or studying in the library. Ken accepts the world for what it is.
    • The Apathetic: Goro. Whereas the other cast members will at least show up to class and take tests, Goro virtually never comes to class on time, and misses every exam. His motivations are the most perplexing to the rest of the cast, as he is perpetually violent, surprisingly artistic, has little outspoken vision for himself and his future, and at times is the Token Evil Teammate just looking for a fight.
    • The Conflicted: Shiro. He isn't decisive and is arguably the most vanilla in personality of the cast. Shiro turns out to be easily influenced by others, and ultimately ends up somewhat dependent on Madoka, to the point of abandoning his friends.
  • Growing Up Sucks: A theme of the game is how the characters are able (or unable) to cope with this reality.
  • Homage: The game was made as a homage to the Kunio-kun series.
  • Inspired by…: The game was inspired by yeo growing up in Moscow in the 80s and 90s, taking up martial arts and seeing his father wounded by an armed thief while selling bootleg games on the side. Among the games he sold on the side was the Nekketsu series.
  • It's Personal: Ringo's justification for attacking Nakazawa's gang at the cafe is that they made it personal when one of their gang members started seeing Madoka, Shiro's girlfriend, on the side.
    • Ironic Echo: Nakazawa's gang representative repeats the same line to Ringo when explaining why Nakazawa has decided to ambush Ringo's crew on their own turf.
  • Jerkass: All of Ringo's friends at some point, either to others or to each other. Ringo can be one too depending on some of the players choices.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: A classmate will frequently talk to you about classic 80's games and movies like Zalda and Akeera.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: A trope characterizing the primary arc of the narrative regarding the melancholy and degradation of Ringo's gang. There are multiple factors at play, from everyone simply getting older, to finding other interests, to having other personal problems to work on, to Goro being put into a coma.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The 540 kick that Ringo can learn is based on its usage in Nekketsu Kakutou Densetsu, where it's also an attack skill.
    • The sprites of Ringo at best resembles Kunio from the SNES Kunio games.
  • Period Piece: A love song to the Japanese Delinquents genre of the late 80s and early 90s. Notably, there are no cellphones, Bruce Lee films are in vogue, and you can play videogames on a Famicom Expy.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The soundtrack in the game is royalty free music from various composers.
  • Retraux: The visuals look like something you might've found on the Super Nintendo.
  • Scoundrel Code: Ringo and the other school gangs have one, with rules about how official challenges, alliances, and territorial claims should function. Ringo takes it more seriously than most. His eventual failure to adhere to it drives the conflict of the endgame.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: All of Ringo's friends before the final battle.
  • Shown Their Work: Most of the fighting moves shown in the game were researched by yeo during development.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: There's one for the game's narrative and one for the characters themselves. The game lands on the cynical side, especially considering its ending. On the character level, characters like Ken and Masaru lean towards the cynical side, with characters like Shiro and even Goro displaying more idealistic tendencies towards love or art. Ringo staunchly lives on the Idealism end of the scale.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Everyone in Ringo's gang will light up a cigarette from time to time, and you can even get non-aggro rival gang members to provide you a light if you press the cigarette button next to them. Smoking helps Ringo recover health.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Masaru's mom is one. She doubles as his Freudian Excuse for some of his unsavory activities.
  • Time Skip: The game takes place one year after the prologue. This is also used to establish the mood of the game; in the prologue, the lead cast is idealistic and unified. After the timeskip, everyone is more subdued and fragmented.
  • True Art Is Angsty: In-universe, this seems to be the belief of the video store owner.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: The game is set in a small town and it's very much up to the player to decide what to do.
  • With Friends Like These...: The relationship between the members of Ringo's gang, especially between Ken and...everyone else, veers into this.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: You can absolutely play through the game ignoring your friends' problems, beating up your allies as much as your enemies, and failing to adhere to any of your commitments.