The Sacred Rings
The story of The Sacred Rings picks up Umang's journey immediately after Aura: Fate of the Ages. Just in case you didn't play Aura, or have forgotten exactly what's going on, there's an introductory monologue to bring you up to date.
In a nutshell Umang is a member of the Keepers Clan who hold the knowledge of the Sacred Rings that bestow ultimate power when combined with the Tetrahedron. Now the scheming Durad is out to usurp that power and Umang's challenge in Aura was to find and protect the artefacts. Luckily he succeeded and the game ended when he was sent to another world to avoid detection. The Sacred Rings opens with his unceremonious arrival on that strange new world ... with prying eyes following his every move.
The story sits in the background and intermittently emerges in cut scenes when you learn what Umang's pursuers are up to. So as you accompany Umang on his journey this game is largely about puzzle solving as he makes his way through three sizeable sections or acts. Firstly there's the amazing abode of Nikifor to make sense of, then the Manula Valley where rail cars connect several locations or worlds. This area contains interlinking puzzles so there's a bit of whizzing back and forth to get things done. Finally there's The Keepers Palace, a dark, imposing building where there are some fascinating mediaeval devices to tinker with, and many other obstacles to overcome.
The Sacred Rings is a game that straddles the adventure and puzzle genres. There is an inventory and various items to find and use, plus all sorts of contraptions to manipulate, books to read for invaluable hints, and coordinates to figure out. There's a potion to mix as well, and a dozen or so characters to help or hinder. Many of the puzzles, though, are of the abstract variety, which means some are bound to be familiar. A music puzzle for starters, which I managed to solve without help. So it must be very easy because I can rarely solve them.
There's a Tower of Hanoi too, and a couple of maze-like challenges although one is a cinch if you pick up the clue ... literally. Other puzzles require turning knobs, recognizing patterns or colours, and there's a clever variation on a sequencing puzzle where you're required to light candles in a grid. For this one it might take a while to recognise the logic, but then it's all plain-sailing after that and you'll feel good when it's solved.
All in all there's a good variety of puzzles, with a range of difficulty. Another clever one involves setting up a sequence of spell books, it just might test your patience. There is a journal that records crucial clues to help out in some instances, so don't forget about it. At other times experimentation and careful observation pays off. Maybe there are a few instances when Umang could have been more helpful with a comment/clue or two, but most of the challenges are fair ... a couple are fairly hard.
And this brings to mind one clue that was definitely elusive and might hold up progress for a while. An aural clue at a set of buttons that is never repeated. So if you don't pick it up immediately you could be in trouble. Apart from this there are a couple of objects that could have been more integrated into the puzzling but nothing to drastically hold things up, and maybe a warning that a particular action wasn't going to be adequate. You do learn this later but a timely hint from Umang or another character would have been nice. You might be like me and mistrust your endeavours to solve the problem, and uselessly repeat the process two or three times before moving on.
You can die in The Sacred Rings — Game Over — so save often. There are 8 save game slots; more would have been better, especially considering your mortality. I should point out here that you do sometimes get a warning when 'Game Over' is a possibility, and none of the death evading actions require dexterity — heeding the warning or making a correct decision will suffice.
As well as an option to enable subtitles for all dialogue there's also an option to view all the cut scenes after they have appeared in the game. It's a good idea to make use of this option because viewing a conversation again, for instance, might set you back on track if you're unsure of what to do next. You might even dig out a clue you've forgotten about.
It's a first person perspective game but you do get to see plenty of Umang in numerous cut scenes. Compared to the rest of the graphics the cut scenes are a tinge blurry but this didn't bother me one bit. It's more than made up for by lots of intricate and imaginative locations from dingy castle dungeons to blue skies and landscapes sprinkled with flowers, or dreary rainy pathways. Travelling by rail car is fun too, and you can easily skip the journeys once you've admired the scenery a couple of times.
All the characters are well drawn and look good, and the voice acting is pretty well handled in the scheme of things. Remember this game is mostly about puzzle solving so expect utilitarian rather than intricate dialogue and characterisation. You move around in step mode with full 360 degree panning at each stop. The cursor highlights automatically when there is something of interest and one click does everything, including opening, closing and returning objects to inventory. Perfectly simple.
The Sacred Rings is a good challenge and I'd recommend it for adventurers with a penchant for tinkering with contraptions and working out abstract puzzles. The difficulty level is such that you're sure to get caught out on at least one or two of the puzzles, but the pay-off when you solve them heals the pain. It's not a 'classic' but there's a lot to do and there's plenty of fascinating places to explore. A bit of tightening-up here and there would have been good, but despite this it's a satisfying journey helping Umang to save the world.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2007.
All rights reserved.
Win 2000/XP, 1.2 GHz (1.6GHz recommended) PIII or AMD Athlon, 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 16x CD-ROM (or PC DVD-ROM Drive), 64 MB 3D accelerated video card DirectX 8.1 compatible (128 MB 3D accelerated video card DirectX 9c compatible recommended), DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card, 3.5GB Hard Disk Space, Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers.