The Sacred Rings

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 15 April 2012. Last updated on 15 April 2012.
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The Sacred Rings
A waterfall lies in the distance beyond Nikifor's house.
The Sacred Rings
A key is needed to access the ferry to the center island.
The Sacred Rings
The power to the portal has been extinguished.
The Sacred Rings
The Shadow Legion takes no prisoners.
The Sacred Rings
Umang seeks help from Mila's spirit.

The game is available at GamersGate.

The Sacred Rings (also known as Aura 2: The Sacred Rings) is an adventure game developed by Streko-Graphics based in Vancouver, Canada. The game is the second title of a planned trilogy for the series that includes Aura: Fate of the Ages and Aura 3: Catharsis.

I am unapologetic in saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed playing such a deeply absorbing game. Having said this, I am emphatic in saying that many gamers may not agree with my opinion, particularly those who lose interest quickly after struggling with the game's early puzzles and finding the game to be literally unplayable. It is because, as with the previous game, this game is clearly aimed for a selected audience of elite adventure gamers. If you possess the attributes of extreme patience, impervious temperament to frustration and despair, and proficient problem solving skills, then and only then will you be qualified to revel in the deep, fascinating, and diabolical puzzles that are on offer in this game. If you are truly among the cavalry of elite adventure gamers, then you will definitely enjoy this game and the challenges it brings.

The game commences with an impressively long cinematic cut scene that recaps the events of the previous game. This recap will be welcomed by most players, as the storyline in the previous game is wafer thin and poorly explained. The ending of the previous game is also very sudden and is likely to leave more than a few players who have played that game mystified. The recap explains how Umang, the main protagonist for the series, is tasked with a quest by the clan of the Keepers to reclaim the lost Tetrahedron and Sacred Rings and return them to the Keepers. Upon embarking on his mission to find these ancient artifacts, Umang travels to the parallel worlds of Ademika Valley, Dragast, and Na-Tiexu and finally arrives at the Island of Unity. Unbeknown to Umang, his entire travel is being spied on by the Shadow Legion—a band of rebels led by the evil Durad, Bargul, and Gugon. The Shadow Legion is determined to steal the artifacts for its own nefarious purposes, predominantly to rule the universe. The recap concludes with Umang entering a portal to be transported away to safety.

As the new story begins, another cinematic cut scene shows Bargul, the usurped leader of the Shadow Legion, ordering his band of rebels to find and kill Umang at all costs and to secure the artifacts. As well, Gugon gives a silver amulet to the rebels to help to track down Umang. Elsewhere, Umang falls from the sky through the portal into the world of Dangan. Nikifor, a member of the clan of the Keepers, finds the unconscious Umang and carries him to a mobile transporting device to safety.

To compare, the narrative is substantially better told in this sequel than in the original. The game's story can be virtually divided into 2 parts. In the first part, Umang must fix Nikifor's transporting device and then navigate it to the Manula Valley where the Keepers' portal is located. In order to power up the portal, Umang must first visit 4 other worlds via a ferry car (a rollercoaster ride on a monorail). There he meets Reina (a fairy), Himus (an alchemist), Fird (a former executioner), and Salan (a gravedigger) who agree to help him to activate the portal. Once the portal is operational, Umang must use it to travel to the world of the Keepers. In the second part, Umang must infiltrate the Keepers' palace which has long been abandoned by the Keepers and has now been taken over by the Shadow Legion as their stronghold. Umang must make his way to the Keepers' Laboratory where the Sacred Rings are made and use the Tetrahedron to defeat the Shadow Legion.

At the core, this game is a first-person point-and-click adventure. You play the role of Umang. Throughout your quest, you will interact with most of the 16 other characters in the game, be they friend or foe. Compared to the previous game, this sequel features many more cut scenes and a greater amount of dialog. The voiceovers in the previous game are terrible. By contrast, the voiceovers in this game are brilliant. Since the previous game, Umang has thankfully undergone a significant makeover. He is now portrayed as a strong and handsome hero—much more attractive than how he is portrayed previously.

The game's production value is excellent. The game supports a native resolution of 1024x768 pixels. Upon starting a new game, you have the options to change the system settings by accessing the Video, Audio, and Subtitles menus. In the Video menu, you can replay each of the 44 cinematic cut scenes which you unlock over the course of the game. These cut scenes, when stringed together, make for a movie with over 40 minutes of playing time. In the Audio menu, you can further change the settings in Music, Sound, and Environment. In the Subtitles menu, you can enable or disable multilanguage subtitling. To my disappointment, the game supports only 8 game save slots into which you can save your current progress. This limitation is troublesome because there are numerous times throughout the game where you can die and after which you must restore from a previous save to continue. For the unwary, a few hours of playing time can be lost in an instant.

Navigation is refreshingly simple. There are only 3 cursors: an enclosed green gem represents the inactive cursor, an enclosed green gem with a fancy arrow on top highlights which directions you can go, and a lit green gem represents an active cursor indicating where you can pick up or use various items found throughout the game. The active cursor also doubles as a hot spot finder, wherein the cursor changes from being inactive to active when it is hovered over an item which you can use. The game allows you to pan around in full 360° (including up and down) in most scenes by simply moving the mouse. The majority of the game is played inside dark corridors or at night. In consequence, many of the hotspots are hidden in poorly lit areas on screen and can be easily missed.

The game's ambient sounds and music are excellent. The 8 musical scores all complement the scenes well. The scores range from dramatic to chilling to mysterious to haunting. The many sound effects are well done, such as pouring oil, machinery turning, rain falling, frogs croaking, amongst others.

The game makes use of an inventory of 46 items. Some items are used in the vicinity of where they are found; other items are only used later on as you visit and revisit the other worlds.

While you must travel back and forth between the different worlds to complete your quest, the game at large is strictly linear. Unless you possess the right item at the right time, the game will not allow you to progress. Further, when you try to use an item, that item will only work if you have completed all the steps before. The game offers 5 endings, but only 1 ending is considered good. Obviously, it is imperative to make a game save before trying out each of the alternative endings.

The game's puzzles are diabolically (but creatively) difficult. There are 25 major puzzles and 13 minor puzzles to confront and solve. It is highly unlikely that you will succeed in solving all of these puzzles on your own without help. I suggest that you have a pad and pencil at hand ready at all times, so that you may record any symbol or number which you see anywhere for references. The inventory includes a journal which notes of your in-game observations. To succeed in solving the puzzles, you will likely need to refer to both sources constantly.

According to the developer, the game boasts over 400 pre-rendered scenes and animations. The game uses a proprietary engine to blend the beautifully pre-rendered scenes with dynamic animations to create immersive environments.

In sum, The Sacred Rings is a game that I can strongly recommend to experienced adventure gamers who enjoy challenges. Streko-Graphics is to be commended for creating such a worthy sequel. I have spent over 40 hours playing this game, thanks mostly to the game's many difficult puzzles. Gamers who have played the previous game but are disappointed by it are encouraged to give this game a try and this series a second chance.

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