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River City Ransom Reborn
For those of us who enjoyed the first River City Ransom (RCR) for the original NES, we got some pretty good, and surprising, news when we heard about River City Ransom EX, the GBA updated port of the original classic. It should also come as no surprise as to the gaming company that has given RCR back to us: Atlus. So the question now looms: Can Atlus recapture the magic that the original RCR had, that has over time garnered it a small, but fanatical, fan base? Well the answer isnt that simple. As I will discuss RCR EX has some real great moments, and it does give you a great game play experience. However, there are some things that just can not be looked past. Its shocking really, because this is Atlus. And Atlus is known as a fan friendly company, and yet they seem to have gone the extra mile in this game to actively try and annoy the gamer playing RCR EX with some of the most confusing programming in recent memory.
Starting with the battle system of RCR EX, like the original, it stays simplistic. Its a fighter, and as such you kick and punch your way through the rival gangs in River City. You play as Ryan and Alex but you only control Alex, as you are on a mission to save Ryans girlfriend being held at River City High by Slick (side note: this is the story, and the intro you get is the only plot in the entire game, but more on that later). So, obviously, that means Ryan is computer controlled. At first glance this seems pretty good, since Ryans stats are nearly maxed out. Unfortunately for you, Ryan is profoundly stupid. The computer AI in this game seriously rivals Sword of Mana for worst in recent memory as Ryan will often times end up waffling you with a thrown item, or just generally be a useless lump. And in the early stages of this game that sucks, because you are weak, and he isnt, and it leads to a lot of friendly fire deaths if youre not careful. Anyways, like I said though, it is basic punch-kick. However, there are your special moves, which you gain through purchasing and reading magazines. In the original RCR there were not that many special moves, but now in this updated version, we have many, many moreand some very cheap ones that drain all the challenge from this game should you choose to use them. Of course getting them isnt as easy as it used to be. Prices have soared, but your pay remains the same. In other words, if you played the original dont expect to see the magazines at reasonable prices. Some have skyrocketed from 30 bucks to 400 dollars, yet you still gain the usual 30-40 cents dropped per normal thug that you beat. So if you want those special attacks, youre going to be spending some time getting the dough.
Now then when it comes to building your statistics (stamina, strength, etc.) you do so in a similar manner. But instead of magazines, you buy food from the shops in River City. And of course the food also costs money, but luckily all the food is usually at a very reasonable price, unlike their magazine counterparts. Still it takes a while to get yourself to the level youll need to beat this game. Technically if you are maxed out, you could beat this game in an hour, two tops. But the RPG factor of this game lies within the work you put into getting the special moves, and getting your stats up to where they have to be to beat classic bosses like the Dragon Twins and Slick. Now, besides your partner Ryan, you can get your own posse. By doing certain things, certain ways, etc. you can get other boss characters to throw in with you and fight along your side. Its definitely cool to get some of these guys on your side as you make your way to Slick on the roof of River City High. That little feature also lends itself to the replay value for those RCR fanatics out there. Simply put, youll want to see what posse combinations work best, and as a result youll find yourself coming back to this game time and again.
In terms of visuals, RCR EX is very unique. The graphics arent mind-blowing, or even great, but they are original, and I did end up liking them. However, I can firmly say for the shallow-graphics loving gamers out there this game is not for you. Its a good looking GBA game, but its not as good as it could be. Still, as a remake of a classic NES game, I really cant find room to complain too much. Some things arent meant to be tampered with and upgraded to the point where it doesnt resemble what it originally was. This game is like that, and as a result it keeps a special charm to it. Sound wise, I really did like the tracks and themes for RCR EX. Their fun and they keep you in the game when youre running around mindlessly beating some thugs to make some dough. The sound effects are what you would except from a GBA RPG/fighter. But on a side note, the dialogue on the bottom when you beat a thug is just comedic gold. Really, take the time to read that stuff, because sometimes it is laugh out loud funny.
Ok, I mentioned in the beginning about things Atlus did to really annoy the gamer with RCR EX. The ones I mentioned already are the computers AI (non-existent), the inflation for special attacks, and then the cheapness of these new added special attacks. But all of those are tolerable, when you compare them to the system Atlus has in place for saving. There is no traditional save option for RCR EX, where you can save somewhere in River City and then come back later. You can only save your characters data. Every time you play RCR EX you have to start from the very beginning, but you can load youre saved character data. Its tiresome and unnecessary. I mean, really, what is so damn hard about putting in a save system that lets you save at a point in the game and then restarting at that point? The character data load system would be cool if you also had the option to save and restart at a point as well. But since you can not do that, it just comes off as lame, and as laziness on the part of Atlus. Make no mistake about it, this really did hurt RCR EX in my mind, and I really did expect more than that from Atlus, one of the gaming companies I respect the most.
Earlier I talked about the story, or lack thereof. This is the main reason most people take RCR to task about being classified as an RPG. Personally, to me, RCR EX was never meant to have a riveting story. The game is meant to be fun, and it is. Its not meant to showcase deep, emotional characters that will live on in your mind forever. What RCR EX does it leave you with a unique gaming experience, and adds the RPG-like element of stat building into the mix. It works though, and at the end of the day, the game can still be enjoyed if youre willing to work around the very crappy save system, and the other lows of RCR EX.
With a time to complete at roughly 10-20 hours, RCR EX gives you decent game play time for your buck. And if you plan on getting as many special attacks as you can, and trying to experiment with different posses the time can go up as the replay value does. While not the most challenging game in the world, it still provides a fun experience. It gets marred along the way, and its a shame. If Atlus has put a bit more common sense into this game, it could have been great. Instead it is simply good, and it only ranks as a decent addition to anyones GBA library.
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