Ring of Pain is a succinct name for this odd mix of 2000s youtube horror animations, card games and roguelikes. It’s painful, hard yet so cyclical. Right after getting utterly defeated and not wanting to return, I couldn’t help but go back in for another go. If you don’t want to also get stuck in the Ring of Pain, step no further.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic but this is, fundamentally, the fantasy Ring of Pain sells you and it does it so well. You are treated to very little story upon booting it up and only commanded to kill a simple rat. This works as a rather jarring tone switch and a nice little tutorial. Hovering over the rat shows the damage you will do and a quick glance at your health at the bottom will show the damage he will do to you. This is a very smart system as it allows you to fully understand most outcomes before making decisions. Ring of Pain is not about quick decisions and QTE’s, it’s about methodically and systematically making your way through each floor of a large dungeon taking as little damage as possible.
Where this system gets more interesting is in Ring of Pain’s design. Each dungeon floor is made up of a combination of cards you can’t see yet. You can move left or right but moving past a creature gives you the chance of getting hit as you move by. Conversely, you can attempt to kill the creature at the risk of potentially taking more damage. Killing creatures gives you souls(Ring of Pain’s currency) but sometimes, that soul gain is not worth the potential damage. Every moment of Ring of Pain is made up of these small ideas. Do you attempt to move by unnoticed or should you attack in case you need to come back? Do you heal now when you want it or save it for when you need it?
The design of cards varies throughout each floor offering temporary or permanent changes to your character and build. As well as typical monsters, there are chests to loot, one time spells to cast, books to use regularly and items to affect your character. These ramp up in power and difficulty the further you go and occasionally offer some very wild abilities. Having these options is crucial to what makes Ring of Pain so addicting. As you unlock more of the 180 cards available to you, certain builds and runs make sense. This peeling back of information and lore is something both the gameplay and story does to great effect.
The first main character you will interact with is Owl, a desperately sad bird who fills you in on slight bits of information. Ring of Pain draws heavily on the idea of aphantasia, a mental condition that makes visualising and understanding certain stimuli hard or impossible. To fit this style, the story, theming and art style feels somehow ethereal, unexplainable, unknowable. This has a fascinating way of dealing with your perception of time, enemies and the story itself. You often explore the strange dichotomy of actions and motives of characters in a way that feels clear yet oddly hazy.
Ring of Pain’s story, ironically enough, is made clearer through the art style and music. As mentioned above, the art is raw and erratic feeling somewhere between a 2000’s youtube horror and a movie madman’s walls. If you attempted to draw a Rorschach test from memory, this is likely the result you will get. Faces are clear and defined yey inhuman, narrowly approaching the uncanny valley. There is something cartoon-like and yet oh so adult. The music only furthers this by pairing swelling violins with light music box piano and deep melancholic drones. The atmosphere in Ring of Pain is just top-notch.
This atmosphere serves the point to feel oppressive and dark but never overly so. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, proverbially speaking. The clear stats, attacks and motives of creatures help you to get a grasp on the combat of Ring of Pain. Some enemies come towards you simply to blow up for a ton of damage. This might seem frightening but they are well choreographed from across the dungeon. Suddenly, you can use enemies to your advantage by placing them in front of harsher opponents. Some enemies aim only to escape with good loot giving you the chance to get in their way and kill them. There are basic attack, defence, speed and clarity stats at the bottom left near your health that can be upgraded with any of 12 slots of upgrades. These upgrades work like standard equipment buffing certain stats, nerfing others and giving extra abilities.
This sense of progression is something prevalent throughout my time with Ring of Pain. This is unexpected as there aren’t stats and abilities that carry through runs like a rogue-lite, each run starts you in the same basic spot. What keeps the progression is finding the story, increasing your knowledge and finding new cards. The 180 cards you discover throughout your playtime are varied and split into rarity. This rarity defines how powerful it is and might take a good few runs just to see the best items.
Ring of Pain only emphasises its long playtime and progression through its, sometimes very hard, difficulty. Runs can end in a handful of turns if mismanaged and you will likely die a lot in your time with it. This being said, no part feels truly slow making restarts instantaneous and easy to get back into. You will die a lot but you will restart just as often.
Not everything is great in Ring of Pain but even its criticisms are things I imagine will change over time. The amount of enemies is a little limiting seeing only a handful of central types appearing throughout most dungeons. It is very fond of repeating enemies with more health rather than designing new ones. Whilst the general atmosphere is good, it could perhaps do with a slight bit more in regards to both its music and art. The dungeons you fight in don’t vary too much and end up becoming a little boring to see after your tenth run.
The combination of “Card game” and “Roguelike” have become oddly prevalent as of late. Over the last few years, we’ve been lucky enough to receive Slay the Spire, Monster Train, Dicey Dungeons and more. This leaves less new areas to adapt on overtime but Ring of Pain manages to grab these influences and turn it into something fresh, unique and more than a little challenging. Whilst it may not outclass those examples, it certainly holds its place in my Steam Library and will continue to do for some time.
TechRaptor played Ring of Pain on Steam using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch
- Thoughtful Gameplay
- Great Atmosphere
- Good Theming
- Interesting World
- Lack of Diverse Enemies