This is why Gran Turismo games make me sad.
Racing games are one of the few remaining mainstream genres where (with the exception of the Need For Speed series and a handful of others) the player plays as themselves, rather than as a predefined character in a story. As a result, personalities are rather thin on the ground – if anything, the cars are the stars.
But nobody wants to read 800 words about the Nissan Skyline (nobody who doesn’t urgently need drowning in a bucket, anyway), so instead let's focus our attention on something altogether more beautiful, in every possible way.
Ironically, of all the Ridge Racer games, Type 4 is the only one that IS burdened with something approaching an ingame plot, but it’s got nothing to do with “Reiko Nagase”, a made-up lady whose only job is to add a bit of class and glamour to the intro. She pulls it off memorably in one of the very few videogame opening scenes worth watching, 100 seconds of sheer soft-focus genius which deftly and wordlessly encapsulates the entire ethos behind Ridge Racer.
(Indeed, so perfect is RRT4’s atmosphere-defining introduction that when imaginary Reiko – who actually first appeared in Rage Racer, but without any kind of story – was dumped in favour of the equally-unreal “Ai Fukami” for Ridge V, fans made such a fuss that she was brought back for 6 and 7.)
We first meet Reiko sitting up in bed in her immaculate, tastefully-minimalist apartment. She appears to be a young secretary (according to Namco’s subsequent “biography” she was 23), and we next see her apparently heading off to work through a rundown-looking industrial dockland area. All this is designed to make Reiko look tiny and delicate and serene, and accordingly is shot with very static cameras, but is spliced with furious, fast-cutting action-movie images of high-octane racing, with huge metal cars thundering down the track, smashing into each other and the roadside barriers and flying off the tarmac into the air.
The deliberate contrast between the fragility of little human Reiko and the brutal machinery of the racing cars is further emphasised when, as she passes some towering skyscrapers and walks on through one of the trademark Ridge tunnels, the heel snaps off one of her shoes. (It’s such a nice day that she seems to have spontaneously decided to eschew the daily grind of work and head off towards the coast, which in Ridge Racer games is always conveniently close to the city.)
She rolls her eyes and continues walking, now on the road itself, as the coastal highway has no pavements. Hobbling along with one shoe in her hand, she cuts an even more vulnerable figure than before, and suddenly we switch back to the race and realise, in some alarm, that the cars are hurtling down the very same road Reiko is walking along. But our brave heroine, hearing the roar of approaching engines, doesn’t fret. Instead, she turns and calmly sticks out a thumb to hitch a lift.
By now, an especially daring and reckless overtaking manoeuvre has seen the silver-grey Solvalu 02 barge its way to the front of the pack and establish a lead. As it speeds out of the tunnel into the dazzling sunlight, the driver spots Reiko and slams on the anchors. What’s the point in winning the race, after all, if you can’t stop to help out a pretty girl in a short skirt along the way?
When the car stops, so does the music. We look from the driver’s seat, a faint glimpse reflected in the passenger window. The driver, too, is a faceless machine-like being hidden behind a helmet and driving suit, but the reflection disappears as the electric window winds down, first revealing the sparkling ocean, then Reiko as she approaches in the wing mirror, and finally her face as she leans in hopefully.
She flashes a sweet, heart-melting smile and then we see her feet – one shoeless, slight and exposed between the hard steel of the car and the hot, unforgiving tarmac – as she climbs elegantly in. There’s still no sign of the other racers as the Solvalu gets back under way, cresting a hill with just the ocean and the horizon in sight.
Shortly afterwards, we see it rocketing over the familiar finish line – raw power and unspoiled beauty fused together in the spirit of optimistic, soulful humanity that sets the RR series apart from its ugly, macho and joyless competitors – as the screen fades to black and the opening greeting flickers into life: