I had to walk away from playing The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa after buying it on a whim and trying it for just one day.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: I am beyond fascinated by the story of how this game came to be and it’s protagonist, Vadim, a Russian man who somehow transplanted his memories of 1980s Moscow onto a game about a high-schooler thug growing up in a fictional Japanese town.
I bit and downloaded the full game from the eShop one evening, after finishing a demo that left me pleasantly shocked by the way the characters in its intro sequence talked with each other. I didn’t know who this gang of delinquent kids were, but I loved all five of ’em.
Almost one hour later, I had to put The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa down because it overwhelmed me.
Getting Things Done
When I was 23-years old, I got it in my head that I wanted to become a blogger. My life choices at the time had thrust a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and all I wanted to do was whatever I felt like; plain and simple.
So, I started a blog, this blog, and proceeded to spend the next four years of my life writing on it while at the same time discovering that there were other kinds of content I loved creating on the internet, like designing websites or making banner illustrations, for example.
I also found that I was relatively good at these things, so as time went on I had an increasingly hard time focusing on doing Just One Thing at a time. I wanted to do it all because I could. But then, when I sat down to make a thing, I wanted it to be the best thing I could make. It had to be perfect or not at all.
After listening to this, a friend recommended I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done to get a better sense of organization in my life. At the time, the book was exactly what I needed, but it didn’t solve my problem.
Allen’s GTD mantra revolves around the idea that routine can be synthesized to what he calls “cranking widgets.” First, you think about a given problem and why it demands so much of your daily time and effort to solve it.
Why are my WhatsApp notifications always piling up on my phone? Is it a group I’m a member of that’s constantly texting stuff I don’t care about? Maybe it’s just one person I don’t want to talk to anymore, but they’re still sending me messages I never reply to?
After identifying the root cause of the issue, you come up with a system to stop it easily, so easily in fact, that you don’t need to think about how to stop it every time it presents itself.
You would just crank a widget without thinking —be it pushing the mute button every week or filtering the most common keywords in the group’s messages. You would trust in the aforementioned thought process to solve the problem and let that become a routine in and of itself.
GTD proved to be a practical solution to most of my daily routine hurdles, the ones that were prone to occupy the precious time I could instead use to make a cool banner for the site or write segments for a podcast.
It also turned me into the kind of person who needed to get these hurdles out of the way as soon as they presented themselves, lest they start crowding my thoughts with inner echoes of “you have to do this, remember to do this, don’t forget to do this,” looping until I took care of them.
This is why The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa was such a stressful task to begin playing in spite of how much I loved its character dialogue, nostalgic aesthetic and initial setting.
A Wandering Life
You play as Ringo, a regular kid who attends high school in the early 80s. He’s not too popular in class or with the ladies, likes to smoke cigarettes on occasion and, after school, he hangs out with his crew, four punks who are always down to settle any beef with rival school gangs in painful ways.
In between these activities, you can make Ringo go to the gym and exercise or practice martial arts, you can meet with one of your buddies for a meal or a pool game, or work a part-time job. You can even sit in your room and study.
Notice that I use the verb ‘can’ when referring to these activities, because they’re suggestions the game presents the player but doesn’t force them to partake in. Some of those activities won’t even show up throughout the story unless you actively pursue them.
There is no set objective to the game other than to exist and do whatever you feel like. My Ringo could be a total slacker who skips class and is hated by every teen thug in town while your Ringo could be a straight-A student who works at the local video store three times a week.
One time, while I was headed home from hanging out with my homie Masaru, some randos in white uniforms showed up in front of my house and threatened to fight me. I was alone and managed to calm them, but never hung out without someone from my crew after school since then.
Another time, I got the shit kicked out of me in a forest and some mechanic found me and offered to help me train so I could defend myself better next time. That was neat. Winning fights early in the game felt hard because of my character’s low stats, so uncovering this secret felt satisfying and rewarding.
Ringo might act like a tough guy around his friends, but in the right company, he’ll dish out pointed opinions that are typical of a kid his age. He overthinks things and struggles to make sense of it all, a fairly common coping mechanism for teens who can’t quite find their place in the world during their adolescence.
In Panama, Ringo would’ve been branded a “rejero” (pronounced reh-heh-roh) in the 90s, essentially a young man in high school or college who hangs out with other young men in a group, has little to no luck with women, and mostly dedicates himself to leisure activities like smoking, drinking and sports.
The Nostalgia Part
True to the classics it borrows inspiration from, The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is an RPG brawler through and through, with the RPG part of the equation made clearer.
Ringo has a ‘Know’ stat that increases whenever he pays attention in class or does homework in his room desk. If you buy a book, you can read it almost anywhere (you need to be sitting to read) and after finishing a few books you’ll unlock the speed reading ability, which gives you a bigger bonus when studying at home. This is useful if you plan to get perfect grades so you can receive a scholarship.
You need to eat and exercise periodically to increase your HP and stand on your own in a fight, unless you like catching fists for fun. The same goes for resting; a full night’s sleep will replenish your health, but studying until late in the morning will leave you slow and unresponsive if an altercation arises.
The game’s soundtrack is so chill. Although the game is heavily inspired by River City Ransom, the vibe of this game couldn’t be more different. There’s no intense battle theme playing in the background while you pummel dudes unconscious. Instead, you’re treated to lo-fi hip-hop beats, some funky guitar and sunset jazz licks to meditate on the way home from school.
I haven’t finished the game and I don’t know that I ever will. The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa continues to overwhelm me with its wealth of possibilities. I’ll keep playing it to see how far the story takes me, but it’ll have to be in stints, weeks apart.
In the end, the hardest choice to make for me is which things I have to leave behind so I can excel and certain activities. Do I choose writing over drawing a webcomic? How about making a book over starting a successful YouTube channel or podcast? Should I stop learning how to make music in Garage Band so I can become better at animating in After Effects?
Perhaps this game is too deep for the kind of life I lead right now, but who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line all the decisions I need to make will be forks in the road in my rearview mirror, at which point I might sit down and pick this one up just to remember what it felt like to have the world ready for the taking at the tips of my fingers.