Ah, Myst! If only you had known that your conception would've brought about a flurry of clones in your wake, each one trying to reach the heights of success that you did. The Sacred Rings for the PC is just one of many of these clones, a sequel to Aura: Fate of the Ages. The plot picks up where Aura left off, after a bit of rehashing at the beginning of the game and after that, well, things don't go so agreeably.
There is a story somewhere in the game, and it's delivered through low-resolution cutscenes filled with average voice acting and even more average characters. The problem is that the plot is nothing more than a reason to string together puzzles and to get the character to head to point B after visiting point A, so it doesn't actually feel like it has a purpose. It wouldn't be so bad if it felt like you were actually doing something to further the storyline, but it just doesn't feel that way, and most of the blame lies on the puzzles.
Ah, the puzzles! Nearly every adventure game pretty much relies on these to keep the player's interest (with a little bit of plotting and characterization of course). Since Sacred Rings so far pretty much lacks two out of the three, the onus falls to the puzzles to keep the player going forward. It works too, but only if you enjoy tearing out your hair in frustration.
The puzzles are going to heavily divide the players of Sacred Rings. On one hand, they can be looked at as challenging and full of difficulty, stumping even the most jaded gamer. On the other hand, well, this is a game and no one should be annoyed at every turn when a puzzle is involved. Most don't even give you enough context as to a possible solution. And soon you'll just rely on flipping random switches and trying to see if anything happens. Oh joy.
The first puzzle in the game involves a man telling you to find out how to open a door. Great! Easy enough right? Well, he doesn't even bother to explain what door he's talking about or how to even go about doing this. You're given free run of the area with random puzzles that need to be solved without actually giving you any reason as to why you're putting keys into slots and turning them left and right. The game keeps a journal for you, taking note of important diagrams and phrases that you observe, and this helps a lot, but it's just not enough. Too many puzzles feel like part luck, part trial-and-error, and solving puzzles of this type just isn't satisfying in the least.
Movement in the world is accomplished via the old Myst-like method: you click on parts of the screen, and your character moves forward and steps to another part of the area with a few animation. You can move your mouse around the panoramic view to get a look at your surroundings as well, but all in all, the game feels pretty dated, like it should've come out many years ago... like Myst did. The locations are pretty to look at, but if you take a close look at anything (like say, a desk), things become grainy and unattractive.
The problem with these attractive environments is actually one of the irritating problems with Sacred Rings; the game lacks interactivity. There just aren't enough things to look at or manipulate, despite the detail of the environments. There might be a bookshelf that takes up an entire screen with parchments, books, cupboards, and miscellaneous arcane-looking objects, but only a single cupboard can be used or even examined. And of course, sometimes these "useful" things force you to rely on adventure gaming's most hated activity; pixel hunting. In general, the lack of interactivity feels like you're being cheated out of a full experience. Even if I'd simply receive a message stating "That's a parchment filled with illegible symbols," I'd appreciate the fact that the world consists of more than just the objects I can pick up or use.
There's just not enough to attract a lot of people to this game. The story feels non-existent, the characters are dull, and the puzzles mind-numbing. Perhaps those who like extremely challenging puzzles in their games will enjoy The Sacred Rings. Those who enjoy anything else will not.