30 Days of Dreamcast – Day 30: The Ring: Terror’s Realm

The Ring: Terror’s Realm
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Asmik
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 08/22/00


It seems fitting that, when ending a feature discussing the various games of the Sega Dreamcast, we should discuss one of its worst. Many people like to wax poetic about the console itself, and for good reason: there were a whole ton of awesome games for the console, and despite its technical limitations when compared to something like the PS2 and its weird controller, it was full of great games and great ideas that, while ultimately not successful, certainly COULD have been if only those in charge of it all had any idea what they were doing. But the thing people forget is that for all of its support, all of its quality games and all of the love fans showed the system, at the end, the console went out with a whimper as Sega pulled the plug and left the fans of the console to their own devices, shortly before they became a third party developer across all consoles, which, as the subsequent buyout/hostile takeover by Sammy has proven, might not have been the best decision after all.

So, yes. It seems fitting that a feature devoted to a system that went out with a whimper should end on a brown note, and so, we’re here to discuss The Ring: Terror’s Realm. The Ring, AKA Ringu, is a Japanese horror series that somehow made its way to America about a girl who kills you in seven days if you watch a tape. There’s more to it than that, but that’s all you really need to know. The Japanese series of films and novels took this concept off on in a bizarre direction, telling stories about the villainous girl, Sadako in this case, killing people or trying to come back to life before completely going off track, while the American films essentially just kept to the “evil long-haired dead girl in the well wants to kill you and maybe possess your son” motif with their antagonist, Samara. The Ring: Terror’s Realm is kind-of sort-of an odd spin-off from the Japanese series, and as it came out about two years before the first US film, it has no ties to that whatsoever. The amusing thing, however, is that by all indications, aside from the killer computer program and the “seven days and you’re dead” plot, the game doesn’t seem to have much in common with the JAPANESE stories, either.

Actually, I take that back. The REALLY amusing thing is that this is the least of the game’s problems.

So, The Ring: Terror’s Realm casts you as Meg, a young woman whose boyfriend, Robert, has just recently died of unexplained circumstances. Apparently, Robert was working for the Centers for Disease Control researching… something, and died under mysterious circumstances, and Meg, who has now taken over his position in the CDC, is trying to find out why. She is informed by her friend Jack that apparently Robert was apparently working on something having to do with a computer program called [Ring], which the police couldn’t properly boot up after discovering it. Meg ends up finding Robert’s laptop, since she’s using his office and they just left the laptop in there, because that’s what police officers and government agencies do, and she ends up booting up [Ring] successfully… which then makes her black out and wake up in some sort of future world where everything wants to kill her except for a few humans. Upon waking up, Meg is informed she has seven days to live, which she takes rather well all in all, and she spends the next few hours alternating between uncovering mysteries in the real world and killing monsters in the game trying to figure out what in the blue hell is going on.

It’s hard to know where The Ring: Terror’s Realm’s story even begins to fail, as it fails in so many ways that one can’t help but be overwhelmed. The game fails to make the program scary off the bat, something the films did with ease. In both of the first Ring films, we were introduced to a character who had seen the film and knew they were about to die as they explained this to someone else just before death took them in a way that drove the person who witnessed it nuts, so when the film showed up later, we were appropriately freaked out. The Ring: Terror’s Realm does not do this. Instead, we get Robert acting smug and self-important before he dies surprisingly, and there’s maybe two seconds of buildup to [Ring] being a murderous program, something the game really needed to do to make the experience make sense. Seriously, one minute Robert is being a jerk, and the next he dies, how am I supposed to know the killer computer program did it for certain? Maybe it was some other illness (he DOES work for the CDC), or someone involved in the whole conspiracy going on in the game, or Dexter Morgan. The game just kills him with no explanation or buildup, leaving you to assume that [Ring] did it, which is fine four hours into the game, but NOT fine ten minutes in.

Also, while I understand that not everyone knows what the CDC does, I can safely tell you that they don’t install former girlfriends into the positions their dead boyfriends occupied days after their deaths, nor do they leave laptops full of personal notes around for employees to find without formatting the drives first, and they CERTAINLY aren’t big enough, as governmental organizations go, that any of the higher-ups in the organization would have the pull or political power to orchestrate any sort of serious conspiratorial plots or cover-ups. I mean, if you’re going to use “evil conspiracy” as part of your plot, either come up with a fake organization or an organization that has some ACTUAL power, not the guys who spend their time studying diseases and preventing ebola-infected monkeys from entering the US. I mean, yeah, I get that the developers are Japanese and therefore probably don’t have any idea what the CDC does either, but THAT IS WHY YOU DO RESEARCH. When you, as the player, walk into the lobby and see a sign that says “CDC CO LTD” and think, “Isn’t the CDC a government agency?”, that’s about when the game is essentially jumping up and down screaming “LOOK AT ME, I CAN’T GET ANYTHING RIGHT!” like it’s happy about it. Now, there are a lot (and I mean A LOT) of other things wrong with the story of the game, make no mistake… the game essentially pays lip service to Sadako as a character and only really uses her for about five percent of the game in total, the writing and translation are both absolutely nonsensical and abhorrent, the cross-breeding of “supernatural evil”, “killer virus” AND “evil conspiracy” in one plot would be confusing in a GOOD plot, let alone in this game, and I could really go on and on. Suffice it to say, the story of The Ring: Terror’s Realm is confusing, idiotic, utterly devoid of personality and completely without merit, and the whole thing is really an incoherent mess.

Visually, The Ring: Terror’s Realm is absolutely appalling. The character models are atrocious, as most of the characters look like their facial features are drawn on, and the main character, Meg, literally looks like the Joker. Woof. Hair textures are either molded to the head or look like PS1 grade textures, to the point where one character LITERALLY looks like she has a Gary Spivey-like silver brillo pad as her hair, and the monsters you face look like virtually unintelligible humanoid or bestial THINGS, which would probably be interesting if that was the intention, but it seems to be due more to ineptitude than design. The animations are also terrible, though it’s hard to really pinpoint any one issue with them. Monsters move with an exaggerated gait that essentially makes them look drunk, Meg herself walks like she dropped a deuce in her drawers, and many of the animations are choppy and horrid. The backgrounds, though they suffer from the same lack of detail as everything else and the textures are generally also of PS1 quality, are generally less offensive to the eyes than everything else, but that’s not saying a lot. The few FMV cutscenes in the game are also hideous, featuring stiff animations, characters who look deformed, and a general lack of anything interesting whatsoever. Aurally, The Ring: Terror’s Realm isn’t any better. The sound effects are either muted, poorly used, or outright strange; for example, selecting a menu option in the beginning of the game makes this odd “SPLAT” noise that has made every single person I’ve shown it to go “What in the hell?” without exception. The music is boring and sounds like something you’d hear on the Genesis or Super Nintendo in terms of quality, and absolutely none of it is memorable in a positive way. There’s very little voice acting to the game, but you’ll be pleased to know that when there IS voice acting, it’s also horrendous, featuring characters who sound like they’re either incredibly bored or have no idea what acting actually is. In short: the game sounds as bad as it looks.

The Ring: Terror’s Realm plays like your standard survival horror game from this time period, for the most part. Meg moves around by the normal tank controls; up moves forward, down moves backward, and left and right make her turn. You can make Meg run with the X button, the A button interacts with things in the environment, and the Y button can be held to enter first-person view if you want to look around at the environment for some reason. You’ll spend a significant amount of the game simply running around, inspecting the environment and talking to people and such, but eventually you’ll enter [Ring], where the game introduces the combat mechanics. You hold the right trigger to aim your weapon at an enemy and press A to attack with it. Ballistic weapons will automatically aim at enemies, while melee weapons can be directed to attack up or down by pressing the appropriate direction on the D-pad. The left trigger turns your equipped flashlight on and off, which can be used to illuminate areas at the cost of alerting enemies to your presence. You’re given an inventory, of course, which tells you your health level, allows you to use and equip items as well as reload weapons, allows you to review files and special items, and view your map when you’re lost. The game also allows you to save whenever you want by running up to radios and accessing them, and you’ll also find various item boxes throughout the game that you can interact with which, surprise surprise, store your excess items for you to retrieve later.

In other words, The Ring: Terror’s Realm is basically Resident Evil with a main character who hops between the real world and virtual reality, and set in a government science lab instead of a corporate science lab. It’s at this point that I would highlight the good or interesting things that The Ring: Terror’s Realm does, but since it does absolutely nothing good or unique, I can completely skip that section of the review. Yay for efficiency, I suppose. So let’s start into the bad.

The biggest problem with The Ring: Terror’s Realm, if one had to pick one of the myriad problems as “the biggest”, is that the game is simply a chore to play. The pacing is incredibly off, as you spend long periods of time wandering from place to place talking to people to progress the story before you go back to shooting monsters in [Ring], making the whole experience incredibly boring from the get-go. If the exploration sections were in any way interesting or the combat sections were fun this might be tolerable, but such is not the case. The investigation sections amount to “go here, do this, go here, do that” ad infinitum, and the entire experience feels like the worst fetch quest ever stretched out for about four hours. Further, the combat sections are awful for so many reasons; the camera sucks no matter what setting for it you choose and you end up spending more time trying to make it look in the direction you want to face than anything else, the enemies are deficient and only manage to hit you because Meg is unresponsive and they have cheap attacks that can make you spend five seconds recovering before they HIT YOU AGAIN and repeat the process, and even with the flashlight on everything is black as pitch. The game also makes you routinely use batteries to keep the flashlight charged, which is awesome considering that you use the damn thing like two hours total, the game is virtually unplayable without it, and the game isn’t even SCARY when the environment is completely dark so much as it is impossible to play.

Beyond that, the game is also simply uninspiring. The enemy designs don’t look like, well, anything but humanoid messes, leaving the already broken gameplay uninspiring as well. The game features nothing remotely puzzling, relying more on wandering from place to place to move things along, making an already boring game moreso. The game also has a big problem with the whole transition from the real world to the virtual world, as you find all of your cool weapons in the virtual world, but the game ENDS in the real world, leaving you to fight enemies with crap in the final chapter of the game. The game itself can be completed in about four hours total, and there’s absolutely no reason to return to it once it’s complete. There’s no real challenge to the game beyond stockpiling ammunition and killing everything you see or staying awake as you wander around, no real fun to be had at any point in the game, and nothing to see that’s of any worth at any point in the experience. It also doesn’t help that the game has horrid collision detection issues that can make picking up items or moving through smaller doors a hassle, nor does it help that the camera is probably the worst ever and makes the collision issues worse when trying to move around. The game also does all sorts of bizarre things, like making you move with the D-pad but look around with the analog stick, or offering you first-person view but not letting you SHOOT from first-person view, that are not only bad, but confusing on top of it, like the game isn’t even meant to be a game at all, but some sort of twisted psychological experiment regarding how much inanity a player will tolerate in a game before they give up in disgust.

The Ring: Terror’s Realm pretty much isn’t the worst game ever or anything that lofty, but it’s easily one of the worst games on the Dreamcast, if not THE worst, and it’s one of the worst horror games ever. There is absolutely nothing good to say about the game, unless one counts things like “at least it isn’t terribly offensive on top of being bad” or “it made me sleepy right before bedtime” as good things. The story is convoluted, messy, uninteresting, full of all sorts of inaccuracies and issues, and translated poorly on top of it all. The graphics are painful to watch, the textures are PS1 quality, the animations are stiff and unnerving, and the cinematics are unnervingly awful. The audio is atrocious, from the weird or poor sound effects to the infrequent but horrid voice acting to the boring and primitive music and beyond. The gameplay is incredibly basic, totally unoriginal, and completely broken, the game is boring and devoid of personality, and the whole experience is simply devoid of ANY personality whatsoever, making playing the game ONCE a chore and any more than that unimaginable. As a game, The Ring: Terror’s Realm is utter unmemorable trash, but as a representation of the finale of the system it was made for, it’s strangely fitting.

The Scores:
Story: WORTHLESS
Graphics: DREADFUL
Sound: DREADFUL
Control/Gameplay: DREADFUL
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Balance: BAD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Appeal: DREADFUL
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

FINAL SCORE: AWFUL GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Look, I’m not saying The Ring: Terror’s Realm is the worst Dreamcast game ever, but I defy you to find one that’s worse. Absolutely nothing about the game is good in the conventional sense of the term, and there’s so much bad in the game that it’s impossible to believe that making a horrid game wasn’t the actual INTENTION of the developer. The story is confusing and bizarre, the game looks atrocious and sounds nearly as bad, and the game is utterly boring and broken when you get down to playing it. What play mechanics aren’t outright defective are confusing and poorly designed, and nearly everything the game does is ripped straight from Resident Evil, hit with a hammer, and then slapped into this game. There’s little reason to see it once and no reason to see it more than that unless you hate yourself, and even if the game had a reason to play it over again, it’s so bad that there’s no point in even doing so. While The Ring: Terror’s Realm is something of a fitting end to reminiscing the history of the Dreamcast, it’s not even remotely a good game, and pretty much everyone should never play it ever.

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