One of the most remarkable things about Alicesoft’s Rance series is quite how detailed its lore is.
This might not be something you expect to hear about a series of 18+ games with rather a lot of sexually explicit content, but just a few minutes with a Rance title will make it abundantly clear Alicesoft takes this franchise very seriously indeed. At least, so far as ensuring its lore is internally consistent; as a series with absurdist (and often black) humour at its heart, Rance is anything but “serious”.
This combination of a significant humorous component with deep, well-crafted lore established over a long cycle of individual works particularly brings to mind Terry Pratchett’s influential Discworld series. And if we look a little more deeply into that lore we can see a number of similarities along the way, particularly in terms of how things the audience will recognise from modern life are blended with the conventions of fantastic fiction.
NOTE: A hanny from /vg/ helpfully pointed out that the original version of this article used terminology from the original Japanese versions and fan translations. It’s now been updated with terminology from MangaGamer’s “official” translation to prevent confusion for series newcomers!
In the Beginning…
Every good setting needs a suitably memorable creation myth. Discworld has Great A’Tuin, the giant space turtle with four elephants riding on its back, atop which the Disc itself is precariously balanced, and Rance’s home, simply known as “The Continent”, certainly delivers in that regard too: the formation of the world in this case was ultimately the result of a giant space whale named Rudrathaum (Ludo-Rathowm in the Japanese original and fan translations) getting bored and lonely, and similarly to Pratchett’s world, is balanced on the back of four Holy Beasts.
Rudrathaum created The Continent to alleviate his boredom before realising that it wouldn’t be much fun if all he was going to do was replacing boredom with busywork. As a result, he created three gods named Planner, Harmonitt and Roven-Pan to oversee his creation, then sat back to watch the chaos unfold. In the “present day” of Rance, no-one believes in Rudrathaum; he once acted as the supreme god of an ancient human religion, but also tired of this eventually, causing the religion to die out in the process.
Rudrathaum chronicled his creation of the world and its early days in the Genesis Documents, the ancient religion’s holy text. In Rance’s present-day, these documents are regarded to be an elaborate joke despite being an authentic historical artifact from the dawn of human history. After all, who would believe that the supreme creator of the world was a two-kilometre long white whale with seventy-two wings, and that he acted as the Soul Terminal, the source of all life and that to which all life returns when it is over? Ridiculous, I say!
The Three Supreme Gods
Between them, Planner, Harmonitt and Roven-Pan were responsible for the creation of many of the things that brought life to The Continent after Rudrathaum had created it in the first place. Specifically, they created humanity (also known as “the Protagonist Race”, though two other races held that title prior to humanity’s rise) along with their natural antagonists the Fiends and the all-female Kalar race, who become angels or devils at some point during their extremely long lives.
Harmonitt is a Supreme God who does not interfere directly in the affairs of The Continent, instead concerning himself with the cycle of reincarnation and the creation of lesser gods. The latter assist him with the administrative requirements of the reincarnation cycle, and, eventually determining that he needed far more gods than he was able to realistically produce, Harmonitt created the Kalar race as a form of demi-god that could reproduce themselves and subsequently assist with his needs.
Roven-Pan is the Supreme God responsible for creating the “Protagonist Races” of the Rance world. Originally, he created the Round Ones — prototype dragons — but these did not impress Rudrathaum. Subsequently, he refined his design into the dragons, but these angered Rudrathaum; their great wisdom and strength created a perfect, united world free of the chaos the great white whale desired for entertainment, so they were ultimately purged by Roven-Pan’s alter-ego (and gender-swap) Ragnarok. Finally, Roven-Pan created humanity, taking great care to ensure they were able to suffer in a wild variety of ways and hopefully keep his father entertained for a good long while.
Finally, Planner is regarded as the Supreme God who has had the most influence on The Continent as it stands in the present day of Rance. Specifically, he created a phenomenon known as The Planner Scenario, which is an elaborate set of rules that act on reality in order to amuse Rudrathaum, primarily through conflict between the current Protagonist Race and the Archfiend, leader of the Fiends. In actuality, The Planner Scenario is a means to justify the denizens of The Continent being aware of what we know as role-playing game conventions: things like “monsters” being born purely to be killed and give up experience points, and everyone being subject to a level cap and set of skills.
The distinctly mischievous nature of Rance’s gods is somewhat reminiscent of the metaphysical aspects of Discworld, particularly the sense that they cause reality to be rather more malleable than in the world we typically know, though not quite crossing that line into the territory of there being a “god for everything”. Rather, their nature (if not appearance) is somewhat akin to Discworld’s anthropomorphic personifications of various concepts such as Death, Time and The Creator.
The Planner Scenario and the Hero System
Everyone acting under Planner’s grand Scenario is subject to its rules. They are born with a level cap — a maximum level of potential that one can grow to through the accumulation of experience points and their submission to a Level God — and hard-capped skills.
Skills define a person’s capabilities in pretty much everything. Most people are level 1 or lower in most skills, since possessing a level 1 skill allows you to proficiently perform a task to a good standard. At level 2, you are a genius in your field and are able to do something unique. At level 3, you are absolutely unmatched in your field with legendary proficiency; there are very few people on The Continent with level 3 skills in anything that might disrupt the delicate balance of the Planner Scenario — for example, there has only ever been one person with a level 3 swordsmanship skill in all of The Continent’s history.
Rance himself is an interesting anomaly in all this in that he was born without a level cap. He also later discovers he is able to raise the level cap of people who have already reached their “maximum” potential by having sex with them, though the effect is only temporary. Planner initially wanted to get rid of Rance at birth, fearing that his unusual abilities would ultimately cause him to take over the world and upset the balance — not an unreasonable assumption, given the conquest-based gameplay of Kichikuou Rance and Sengoku Rance — but for the sake of Rudrathaum’s desire for entertainment through chaos allowed him to live. Because if nothing else, Rance proves himself repeatedly to be a formidable source of chaos.
Despite having many of the characteristics of a “hero” — in capabilities if not personality — Rance is not a capital-H Hero under the definitions of the Planner Scenario. The Hero System, intended as a failsafe for the Protagonist Race in the case of the tide turning too much in favour of the Archfiend and the Fiends, randomly chooses a boy between the age of 13 and 19 to wield the legendary blade Escude — which becomes stronger the greater the proportion of humanity that has been slain — and save the world. A Hero of this type is, of course, your typical JRPG protagonist, and Rance is about as far from this convention as you can get, not least because he is much too old to fulfill this role in his later adventures. This is also why many of Rance’s adventures are on a much smaller scale than your typical world-spanning JRPG; at no point is he trying to save the world, because it’s not his divine destiny to do so.
Here we have another parallel with how Discworld treated the numerous narratives its individual novels explored over Pratchett’s lifetime: there’s no real “endgame” for the setting, and its protagonists are just a small part of something much more complicated. They have their own worthwhile and interesting arcs, of course, but it’s rare to see their actions fundamentally alter the world. Such is the case with Rance to a certain extent, too; while Rance himself undoubtedly achieves a number of impressive feats over the course of his career, some of which have a noticeable impact on a region, he is by no means the most important person in the world as your typical JRPG protagonist often ends up being. At least not to begin with; his influence and impact on the world as a whole does, however, grow considerably over the course of the series’ entirety.
The Seven Eras
The long history of The Continent is split into seven main eras, each corresponding to the rule and subsequent defeat of a Archfiend. The “current” age depicted in the Rance series is known as the Little Princess era, after the “little princess” in question, who is actually the present Archfiend… who is actually Miki Kurusu, a young girl kidnapped from present-day real-world Japan, as depicted in the Rance series’ prequel adventure Little Princess.
The Little Princess (or “LP”) era has unfolded over the course of approximately six years total, depicted in all the Japanese releases in the series to date. Rance 5D and VI, which we’re primarily concerned with as the first official Western releases, unfold in the years LP0003 and LP0004 respectively. A whole lot happened prior to the current Little Princess era, however. To cover it all is far beyond the scope of a single article, but here’s a potted history.
The first era was known as the Khukul Khukul (Kkulf Kkulf in the Japanese original and fan translations) era — KuKu for short — and lasted for 2,014 years. This began with Planner’s creation of the Archfiend system and the appointment of Khukul Khukul, a Round One, as the first Archfiend. Khukul Khukul has, to date, been the strongest Archfiend, possessing power close to that of a 1st Class God, and much of the Khukul Khukul Era was defined by a huge war between it and the dragons, created partway through the era after Round Ones were deemed as a failure that couldn’t entertain Rudrathaum. Other notable events during this era include the creation of the Kalar race — originally a sub-race of dragons and subsequently always an offshoot of the current Protagonist Race in the Planner Scenario — and the creation of numerous monster races, including Hannies, probably the most iconic foes in the whole Rance series.
The Abel era began following Khukul Khukul’s death at the hands of the dragon Abel, who accidentally ingested some of the former Archfiend’s blood and became a new Archfiend as a result. Abel’s era lasted for 721 years, though Abel himself was defeated after just 56 years and sealed in a dark prison rather than killed following his violation of the most sacred dragon rules. The remainder of the dragon race subsequently unified the whole of The Continent into a single nation called Tron, ushering in an age of utopian peace so boring to Rudrathaum that after a couple of years of yawning he decided to send an army of gods to obliterate the dragon race entirely save for a few hidden exceptions. After this, Roven-Pan created the humans along with more monsters, including the Four Holy Gal Monsters, the Gal Monsters and the Guy Monsters, and a human woman named Ssulal was appointed as the new Archfiend, ushering in the 500-year Ssulal era.
The rather precise amount of time the Ssulal era lasted for came about primarily as a result of Ssulal acting as a prototype for a change to Planner’s Archfiend System. Aware of her physical weakness despite her mental fortitude, Ssulal requested that Planner provide her with an Invincibility Field — a request which the Supreme God agreed to, altering the definition of “Archfiend” to have a fixed lifespan of a thousand years in exchange. Ssulal’s nature as a prototype meant that she only lasted for half this time, dissolving into a pool of blood and ending her era conclusively after half a millenium.
The following era was named Nighcisa after the next Archfiend, once again a human appointed by Planner, this time a male. This era ultimately lasted for 960 years and saw both the arguably accidental creation of a number of Fiends and an important event for Rance’s world as a whole: the rampage of the Holy Beast Orochi in the year NC0321 caused an earthquake so huge that a chunk of land separated from The Continent’s main landmass. Orochi subsequently burrowed into this chunk of land and ended up supporting it. Humanity, never one to shirk a challenge, decided to found a new nation on this separated land, dubbing it Nippon (or “JAPAN” in capitalised Roman lettering in the original Japanese script).
Some six hundred years later, humanity took the war to Archfiend Nighcisa, beginning a conflict that would come to be known as the Death Toll War owing to the fact that it wiped out nearly half of The Continent’s human population. This, naturally, attracted the attention of Planner, who became concerned that the delicate balance of his Scenario had been upset, so he designed the Hero System to hopefully tip the scales back towards the centre. The first Hero ever born under this system failed to defeat Nighcisa, but wounded him deeply enough to take 40 years off his thousand-year lifespan.
The next Archfiend would be a human girl named Jill (Gele in the Japanese original and fan translations), whom a Nighcisa in his twilight years would find on the verge of death by the side of the road and take pity on, nourishing her with his blood and telling her of the Hero System as his final action. Thus began the 1,004-year Jill Era, a period in which Planner’s new Hero System was made entirely worthless through Jill’s awareness of it, since she farmed humans in order to ensure the population was always high and thus limit the potential of any Hero who might appear.
Five hundred years into the era, a group of adventurers who come to be known as the Legendary Five was formed by a man named British — a character whose youthful appearance parodies the Ys series’ redheaded hero Adol Christin, and whose name references the Ultima series of Western role-playing games. Hoping to find a way to defeat the Archfiends’ Invincibility Field, the party entered a legendary dungeon and, after a fierce battle against a failed god, found themselves face to face with Planner, who promised to grant them a wish each — but things didn’t quite go as expected for them, with each of their wishes twisted by Planner’s dark sense of humour. British, severely wounded in the battle and thus escaping Planner’s prank, ultimately ended up cursed to spend the rest of eternity encased in concrete after falling into a trap set by one of his party’s longstanding rivals.
One of British’s companions was known as Chaos, and he wished for the ability to slay the Archfiend and Fiends. Planner twisted this wish by literally turning Chaos into a sentient demon-slaying sword with the ability to pierce Invincibility Fields — indeed making him capable of defeating the Archfiend, but also making him utterly useless without a wielder. Some years later, a spell-blader named Gai found Chaos the sword and chose to wield him against Jill, but Jill took advantage of Gai’s split personality and mental instability to turn him into a Fiend and her lover. This situation would ultimately backfire towards the end of Jill’s natural life where, weakened to just 5% of her normal abilities after a careless wish to Planner, she found herself killed by Gai, once again wielding Chaos against her. Gai, bathed in his former lover’s blood, became the next Archfiend.
The Gai era lasted for 1,015 years and saw a large amount of upheaval across the Continent, including a number of wars between the nations of Helman and Leazas, the foundation of the magic-dominated kingdom of Zeth — focal point of Rance VI — and constant attempts by the Monster Realm to invade the lands of humanity. Perhaps most notably from our perspective, Rance was born in GI0998 and joined the Keith Guild, the source of his first adventure, in GI1014. A year later, Archfiend Gai kidnapped Miki Kurusu from universe 3E2 — our world — and turned her into the next Archfiend, dying shortly afterwards. The Little Princess era had begun.
Rance… Just Rance
Rance apparently had a somewhat troubled childhood, though many of his early years are shrouded in mystery. We do know that a one-armed knight brought a four year old Rance to a quiet tribal village named Gomorrah Town in GI1002, and that Rance subsequently lived in that village for ten years under the village chief, likely as his servant rather than an adoptive son. To that end, he has no last name; he asserts this is because there’s only one of him and thus he has no need for one, but when pushed to provide one — for registration purposes, say — he claims his full name is either “Rance Super King” or “Rance Clear”.
The defining event in Rance’s life is considered to be his encounter with a woman known only as “Female Warrior” in GI1012. Having been kicked out of Gomorrah Town for… well, for being Rance, he immediately tried to assault the Female Warrior but promptly found himself on the receiving end of a good kicking. Rather than abandoning him, however, the Female Warrior took him under her wing, training him in everything from adventuring and swordplay to how to form meaningful relationships with other people. She never succumbed to Rance’s desire to have sex with her, and passed away in GI1014, leaving the 16 year old Rance alone. It was at this point he joined the Keith Guild and his adventuring career proper truly began, with the events of Rance I: The Quest for Hikari occurring two years later in LP0001, and his subsequent adventures unfolding well into LP0006 and beyond.
At the time of writing, Rance’s story is yet to come to an end, but a conclusion is in sight; final installment Rance X: The Decisive Battle is set to bring the series to a close in early 2018 for Japanese players. In the meantime, we have Rance 5D and VI to enjoy, with localised versions of seventh and eighth games Sengoku Rance and Rance Quest Magnum just around the corner, too.
One thing’s hopefully clear from all this; the Rance series as a whole is far from being just a load of porn games. It’s an incredibly well-realised, intricately crafted setting that is explored in a huge amount of detail over its various installments. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to enjoy the entire saga from the beginning in English; for now, however, Rance 5D and VI are both extremely compelling ways to begin exploring this weird and wonderful world, as we’ll see over the next couple of articles.
Many images on this page come courtesy of the astonishingly detailed Alicesoft Wiki, a comprehensive resource for all things Rance and Alicesoft-related. Pay them a visit if you want to know more about the lore!
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