The game is set in, you guessed it, River City where the player is in control of two high school students by the names of Alex and Ryan. Ryan's girlfriend Cyndi has been kidnapped by a gang over lord by the name of Slick, and the boys are tasked with defeating nine street gangs under his control in order to get them back. The gangs are all denoted by their different shirt colors, and also have different fighting styles dependent on which ones they fight. While these fighting styles are not always evident from their names like 'The Generic Dudes' or 'The Frat Guys' they are pretty immediately evident once the fight begins.
That I think makes this game particularly unique is the above mentioned aspect of it being set in the open world where the player can explore. Most fighting games, or games similar in plot to this follow a linear storyline in which the player moves from level to level without any real autonomy. River City Ransom changed it up by allowing the player to choose what moves they wanted to learn and level up, as well as providing stores and services that you are able to interact with in order to change game play. For example, any of the moves that you want to level up, or special skills you want to have must be learned by books that you can purchase in stores using money from the gang members that you have felled. And, while you can pick up items like pipes and brass knuckles that will help you fight off bad guys, your true success in the game is determined by what kind of skills you have learned, and how much you have leveled up your statistics. You can level up statistics by going into spas or purchasing foods in the city—some of which will give you a temporary stat hike, and other which will give you a permanent boost.
Players are also able to save their status in the game using a password system, making this even more similar to a traditional RPG rather than a fighting game or beat 'em up. Obviously, if you've worked hard at boosting up your stats and exploring, you wouldn't want to have to go all the way back to the beginning and start again.
Maybe I like this game because it is like a more traditional RPG, but I also think that the structure and gameplay stands up to the test of time, and is still interesting to me now. The plot is a bit different from other fighting games and has an actual progression and end goal besides just killing bosses and bad guys, which I tihnk also drives gameplay a bit more and provides a little more room for investment. Overall, this was so solid. If you are interested in playing it, you can do so here.