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A decent adventure game with a simple plot solved through lollygagging, spiced with a placeholder combat system and lots of women. This is how the Rance saga began.

Have you maybe heard of Rance? Known for his perversion and ruthlessness, Rance became iconic within the hentai gaming scene. Whether it’s because he’s an interesting character or just because he stuck around long enough, I cannot say for sure. With the upcoming tenth and supposedly final game in the series, I wanted to finally meet this alleged Genghis Khan of hentai and see whether the games are worth their salt. The game I’ll be looking at is Rance 1: Quest for Hikari — the original release of the first Rance and not the more recent remaster. The game is available for free right now, but only in Japanese. I used a fan-made translation made by Rance Translation Project. Given that Rance is a story-heavy RPG, my impression of the story might not be perfect, as the translation is by no means official.

The story of Rance 1: Quest for Hikari opens with the titular Rance, a young swordsman, meeting Keith, a sleazy guild owner who sells jobs to adventurers. In his thoughts, Rance voices his disgust with the man and admits that he only keeps his company with Keith due to the quality jobs he gets from him. Keith offers Rance a rather basic quest: a noble’s daughter named Hikari was kidnapped, and there’s a giant stack of money waiting for whoever rescues her.

I didn’t read the character bios provided within the game options menu, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rance. Having never played a game of this series nor watched the anime, my only knowledge of the franchise was of a few memes about Rance being evil. Right now, however, it seems like he’s just a typical knight-for-hire. Maybe even a bit noble at heart, given his disgust of Keith. Later on, it will become much more obvious that Rance isn’t a good person, though this game doesn’t try too hard to force that image.

As for Rance, this quest is not his first rodeo. He’s already a level 10 knight, with a mage ready to assist him. Said mage is a pink-haired girl named Sill whom he previously bought. Rance believes that she’s charmed by a spell to obey his every wish, but Sill’s character description suggests that said spell has long since expired. Either way, the plan is simple: Sill will investigate the female-only school that the kidnapped Hikari attended. In the meantime, Rance will look around the town for other clues.

It takes surprisingly long to see Hikari for the second time.

At this point, I finally got to assume control over the game. The interface is quite neat, but it seems to limit the game. We have the main window, which is scaled at 416 x 290 pixels, strongly limiting what fits into CGs. Next to it is a smaller window listing available actions, below that are stats, and on the very bottom is a text box that’s cut short by Rance’s logo. Said logo was probably fine in the Japanese version, but in the fan translation, sometimes a few lines of dialogue ended up being a bit too long for the text box. Thankfully it never made a line particularly hard to understand, so don’t be discouraged.

The game opens up with the sight of Lazarus, a very effective panorama of the town serving as the map. It’s divided into segments, like a street, a lower street, the park, the front of the pub, and so on. You pick in which direction you want to move and end up in that next segment of the map, with a short description of your surroundings in the dialogue box. I’m a rather impatient person, and while some people argue that walking around locations is immersive, I will argue that it’s also incredibly boring and a waste of time. In Rance 1: Quest for Hikari, I did feel like I was exploring the land, but I never found myself bored by walking, as travelling is almost instantaneous.

While we’re at the map screen I would like to pause for a moment and talk about the world of Rance. It’s a type of fantasy setting rather specific to the 80s. The buildings look rather modern, even from that pixelated perspective. Additionally, the game’s intro mentioned places like Paris, and later on we hear about Japan. There are also bio-mechanical computers and cars (though Rance himself has never seen one), but there aren’t any guns. There are sword-wielding knights, some mages, and female ninja (though they’re uncommon). There are even bandits rocking mohawks and a modern-looking casino.

Personally, I have rather mixed feelings about settings like these. We don’t see them too often these days because they don’t make that much sense. On the other hand, they’re inherently weird and quirky without having to introduce concepts alien to the player. In the long run, I think the comedic atmosphere of the game was underlined pretty well by this mess of a setting. It didn’t break my immersion and that’s important because we’re dealing with an RPG.

Rance did hear of Paris though, so the action might take place in future medieval Europe?

After I understood what type of game Rance 1: Quest for Hikari is, I got somewhat confused, if not outright shocked. This was mostly because I’ve forgotten that computer games can pull off the tabletop RPG if they try properly. In Rance 1: Quest for Hikari, you have very simplistic fights, and a limited leveling system with no stats to assign. In fact, the whole combat system boils down to choosing between attacking or healing yourself.

On your first mandatory sidequest, you will be told by your hire that they cannot afford to pay you. Then they will grant you 800 gold as your budget for the mission. It’s enough to buy the Armor of Gods, a replica of the Excalibur, a shield made out of the Medusa’s head, and still have enough money left over for potions. You effectively receive the second-best gear in the game before your first fight. In next five minutes, you will overlevel enough to beat the whole game through grinding, with no risk of dying thanks to the awesome gear. The role-playing part of the game is not about the combat, but playing the role of the character and doing the work needed to solve the quest. By today’s standard that would place Rance 1: Quest for Hikari not on the RPG shelf, but among the adventure games.

The problems in Rance 1: Quest for Hikari come from the way the storyline plays out and who you play with. It’s not a game about you role-playing as your fantasy persona. It is about you role-playing as Rance, a character whom nobody knew of yet — after all, this is the first game. Not getting the impression that Rance is a shameless, medieval rapist saved my wallet in the beginning sections of the game. Later on, however, it made me unable to progress as assaulting a random maid is the only way to go forward, since she gives you a key in exchange for sparing her. There are no hints for that either, you’re just supposed to assault her out of the blue.

Aside from that, the tools available to the player are static. The whole game I was able to explore, look at stuff, and occasionally take said stuff. I could also talk to people, try to trade with them, give them stuff, or assault them. Keep in mind that there are only three male NPCs in the game that aren’t hostile. The rest of the cast is usually open for conquest.

The gameplay and plot had some good moments. The general outline of the story is rather predictable, but the game itself is aware of that and will occasionally trick you by playing into your predictions. There aren’t many of these moments, as the game is rather short and doesn’t get the chance to set you up all that often.

Aside from the good, there are also some occasional flops where player perspective was truly ignored. There’s a man locked in the first dungeon begging for help, but you cannot save him in any way. There’s an item that makes the last dungeon much easier to play through, but you’re only told that it exists, not that you have to talk to a specific enemy twice while at a precise character level.

Having to do some things twice was a really annoying issue. Sometimes it’s okay, like having to choose “look” in a room a few times before you spot something important. There have been less suited moments as well though, like Rance deciding he doesn’t need a hammer when told to pick it up, only to change his mind after you tell him to do so again. You probably won’t get stuck on these puzzles for too long, except for maybe the prison guard nonsense that will have you pressing everything upon everybody. Overall, I managed to complete the game in two evenings, and would probably do so in one, if not for these small stutters.

Sorry, the combat system is not enjoyable enough for me to be interested.

In Rance 1 Quest for Hikari sex is pretty much everywhere. The general concept for the game was simply described by its developers as a “hentai RPG.” The reason why Rance is supposed to be evil or at least selfish is that otherwise “it would be difficult for him to do hentai stuff.” Thusly we have the option to assault nearly any woman in the game, and most villains are at it as well. A medieval standard one might say. There are only a few consensual scenes in the game, and they’re all optional, while some non-consensual scenes are required to progress through the story.

I actually didn’t feel like assaulting every living being with tits while I played the game. Aside from being stuck once, it also meant that I didn’t have access to magic. It wasn’t until much later that I found a walkthrough that explains the only method to learn spells — which is raping Sill, Rance’s mage assistant. Thankfully the game is easy enough to play without needing magic. As for the reason why I wasn’t interested in Sill, she just wasn’t my type.

Because the game is old — and I mean 1989 old — the maximum possible screen size was greatly limited to begin with. Due to the way the UI is spaced, this size goes down even further. It’s hard to fit one character on the screen, never mind two of them. This means that pretty much every girl is rather short and has an unimpressive rack. The girls were easy enough to distinguish thanks to their unique hairstyles and different clothes. However, they all gave off the same vibe that really doesn’t appeal to me. Though, if they’re more up your alley, there are plenty of CGs to see for the short game Rance 1 is.

As for the rest of the game’s presentation, the art quality of location maps works pretty well. The avatars used for monsters are mostly random and ugly doodles. They look like the artist’s confession of the combat system’s placeholder nature. As for the soundtrack, the OST is composed of about five songs. It’s not much, but the game is short enough that they don’t feel too repetitive. At the same time, all of the tunes are damn good, and I found them thoroughly enjoyable.

In theory, you could call Rance 1 a sandbox game, but all the optional stuff is hidden enough to count for a secret.

How much you will enjoy Rance will strongly depend on your preferences. It’s a good adventure game, a pretend RPG, and a slightly violent hentai game given its lewd content. It’s good enough game for an evening if you can handle the way Rance gets his satisfaction out of women. In terms of length, it’s rather short and doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, I would say it’s rather well paced. The game is made up out of about four segments that make it easy to follow the plot, and it ends at about the point where you have had enough of its quirks. Well at least for me it did, with the total playtime clocking it at around four hours.

It is hard for me to judge whether Rance 1: Quest for Hikari was good back when it came out, but I found it decent today. Which is telling, given that the game was made by two guys, who came up with the idea in two days, and then made it a game in three months. There’s also a remastered version of it for people that don’t like the classic pixels. I haven’t played it, so I’m not sure how well it aligns with the original.

You can try Rance 1: Quest for Hikari yourself by downloading the game for free directly from its developer, AliceSoft . There’s a fan-made English patch you can find on HongFire. Note that the patch comes in a portable folder with an already installed copy.

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