Whew. Sorry for the somewhat delayed appearance of this article, but as you will know if you’re a regular reader, I like to beat at the very least the main story of games before I write about them in detail.
Rance VI’s main story is a substantial, ambitious affair — and there’s a whole bunch of post-game stuff to do once you’ve cleared it, too, if you really want to ensure you’ve got the most out of the game. Beating it to my satisfaction before penning this article took a little longer than anticipated!
In fact, Rance VI as a complete package is a substantial, ambitious affair, not just from a narrative perspective. There’s a whole lot to talk about, so the best way to go about this is going to be to tackle it a bit at a time. Make sure you visit the toilet before we set off… this is going to be a long journey!
A series reborn
As you’ll recall from our exploration of Rance 5D: The Lonely Girl, the Rance series and its developer Alicesoft were in trouble for a while. Early games in the series had gradually grown in size, scope and ambition as it had progressed, but the team was forced to scale back somewhat for Rance 5D.
Fortunately, Rance 5D and its stablemate Daiakuji — the latter of which is widely credited with reversing Alicesoft’s ailing fortunes at the time — proved to be successful, opening the door for the next installment of the developer’s beloved flagship series to make a grand return to the sweeping heroic dark fantasy upon which its reputation had been built.
Whereas Rance 5D was a fairly personal tale about Rance and his companions rescuing the titular lonely girl Rizna from her imprisonment in a magical tower, Rance VI ultimately deals with the fate of an entire nation. While Rance 5D was self-described as “stupid” by its creators, Rance VI manages to maintain the series’ politically incorrect humour and blend it with convincing, well-realised epic, dark fantasy.
And while Rance 5D was a weird game that drew as much from the conventions of tabletop role-playing as it did from computer and console role-playing games, Rance VI plays things a bit more straight in terms of mechanics — though that’s not to say it doesn’t have a few creative twists on the usual formula.
Dungeon crawling with a difference
Rance VI is immediately recognisable as a first-person grid-based dungeon crawler, unlike its roulette and dice-based predecessor. This is a popular subgenre of the role-playing game, particularly in Japan, so titles need to do something unique in order to distinguish themselves from the masses.
Dungeon Travelers 2 does so through its deep mechanics and excellent characterisation. MeiQ does so through its highly customisable mechanical characters. And Rance VI most certainly does so in a wide variety of ways.
The interesting thing about Rance VI’s mechanics is that none of the individual components are especially complex or difficult to understand. What makes the game particularly well-crafted and enjoyable to play is how these components interlock and intertwine with one another to create a coherent experience that rarely feels grindy, and always provides the sense that there’s something useful to aim for, even if you’re not following the main story at the time.
Like most dungeon crawlers, in Rance VI you’re given a decent amount of freedom to set up your own party to tackle a given challenge. As the game progresses, the playable cast expands considerably, and 16 members can be brought with you on any expedition, with up to six able to participate in battle at any one time.
Simple enough, you might think: just put your best six characters in the battle slots and you’re good to go, right? Not quite. There are some other factors you might want to bear in mind before simply steamrollering your enemies with the most powerful party possible.
Firstly is the game’s stamina system, whereby each character has no limits to what actions they can use during combat, but each battle in which they participate — regardless of whether they did anything — drains a single point of their SP (Stamina Points). This stat ranges from a feeble 4 to a relatively mighty 12 across the cast as a whole, and doesn’t increase with level. You have a few opportunities to upgrade individual characters’ maximum SP over the course of the game, but in doing so you only increase it by one at a time and you’re also giving up a potentially more useful boost to an ability’s effectiveness.
What the stamina system means from a mechanical and practical perspective is that you’ll have to rotate party members as you progress through a dungeon. You may want to start with a relatively weak but survivable “exploration team” to map out the area and get the lay of the land, then switch to more powerful combatants when you come across bosses or other challenging pre-scripted encounters, which appear on the map so can be easily planned for. Alternatively, you may wish to start with your “best” party, then gradually swap in slightly less effective characters as individual members run out of stamina.
Another twist to this is added by the fact that the amount of experience points you gain for an individual battle is fixed per dungeon, but the proportion of that fixed amount you obtain depends on your party makeup. If you take along people who are clearly too powerful for the monsters you’re fighting, everyone will get less experience — all 16 members of your squad gain experience after combat, regardless of whether they participated in that battle. You can get around this by taking people who have hit their level cap — who gain no experience and thus don’t affect the experience gain rate — or by using fewer than the full six possible members in the battle party.
Layered atop these mechanics is another system known as Adventure Achievements. This is a score you obtain for a single expedition into a single dungeon, and you’re awarded with prizes at five-point intervals. You gain one point for completing a battle, and between two and eight points at a time for finding an Adventure Achievements item lying around in the dungeon, some of which are in fixed locations every time you show up, others of which spawn randomly after battles. In other words, the longer you stay in a dungeon without retreating to restore everyone’s HP and SP, the more rewards you will obtain — and given that a significant amount of the rewards you obtain through this system allow you to trigger story, sidequest and relationship progression events as well as unlocking new abilities for your party members, it’s in your interests to manage your resources effectively in order to be as efficient as possible.
Oh yes, there are relationship mechanics, too, with characters getting a significant boost of some description every 5 points of Friendship you obtain with them, up to a maximum of 30. Capping Friendship often unlocks special events such as allowing characters to obtain their “S-rank” ultimate weapons or send you on unique sidequests, too. Friendship can be raised with some characters through repeatable events, which cost the Orbs you earn through Adventure Achievements to trigger, or by giving the characters Present items, which can be obtained by exchanging Red Coupons, themselves acquired by defeating the pre-scripted encounters scattered throughout each dungeon.
Also, Rance can raise the level cap of his female party members by having sex with them, which also costs Orbs to do. If you’ve been paying attention to the lore, you’ll know this is because Rance is one of the only humans born without a level cap, so his semen carries a faint trace of his power. This allows his questionable “love” for “his women” to actually benefit them as well as allow him to selfishly derive pleasure.
As you can see, by themselves, none of these mechanics are particularly complicated, but the way in which they all interact is one of the big reasons the game is so interesting to play.
Another is the story.
The hero Zeth deserves
Rance VI tells a story of inequality and oppression in society. This is not an unusual topic for role-playing games and fantasy fiction in general to broach, since it provides a suitable opportunity for a heroic type to sweep in, blast the evildoers out of the way and get everyone living happily in perfect harmony with one another.
Unfortunately, Rance is not your typical role-playing game hero. As we’ve previously discussed, he’s selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic, perpetually horny, treats women as property (literally in the case of Sill and Athena) and generally only does things if he feels like it, not out of the goodness of his heart and certainly not because it’s “the right thing to do”.
Rance gets pulled into the conflict between the powerful ruling class of mages in the country of Zeth and the downtrodden, poverty-stricken “second-class citizens” when he is captured and sold into slavery after a Zethian mage misunderstood his relationship with Sill, who is a mage. After a little persuasion, he agrees to help a resistance unit named Ice Flame, primarily so he can get his own back on the mage who wronged him — but of course, also because he sees plenty of opportunity to sleep with the beautiful women who work in the resistance.
As the story progresses, Rance finds himself growing somewhat attached to the people in the resistance, particularly their leader Urza, a wheelchair-bound young woman who was apparently once a rather formidable figure but now appears to be little more than a broken shell. As he witnesses first-hand the atrocities that the ruling classes are inflicting on the “second-class” citizens of Zeth, he starts to take things personally as an extension of his apparently earnest belief that “all the beautiful women in the world are mine”.
An interesting and powerful aspect of Rance VI’s narrative presentation comes from its nature as an adults-only game. Whereas a lot of games that deal with themes like this tend to merely imply that atrocities are taking place, Rance VI practically forces the player’s eyes open and makes them watch as all sorts of horrible things are happening. A significant proportion of the game’s “erotic” scenes consist of violent sexual abuse or torture, and it’s always striking and jarring to see these; shock value may be a cheap way to deliver an emotional gut-punch, but it certainly works. You don’t just hear about bad things having happened in the past; you witness them happening right now.
What makes this all the more interesting, though, is the fact that Rance is no angel himself. Indeed, he rapes a fellow adventurer within the first five minutes of the game and tends to assert his dominance over defeated female foes in the same way. Even the sexual relationships he develops with his friends and comrades in the resistance tread a fine line between consensual and non-consensual — usually veering somewhat towards the latter, at least the first time it happens — and what makes things even more interesting to ponder in this regard is that people just seem to sort of put up with Rance’s behaviour, often reacting to him abusing a young woman in front of them in the same way one would treat a toddler that deliberately pulled its pants down and shat on the floor.
Why might this be? And why does Rance manage to get away with what is regarded by most people as one of the most serious crimes it is possible to perpetrate outside of murder? For that, we have to consider the context of the world in which Rance’s story unfolds — as well as the nature of Rance himself.
We see over the course of Rance VI’s narrative that the inequalities in Zethian society aren’t just a simple matter of inequality of opportunity. The mages literally see the second-class citizens as little more than livestock, as property to be used and abused as the ruling classes see fit. This includes killing people for sport and fun, raping innocent women for pure sadistic pleasure, and in extreme cases, even sacrificing large numbers of people to save an elite few.
Rance, by contrast, does some horrible things to people, but he doesn’t do so out of outright maliciousness or a desire to actually hurt people. In particular, he doesn’t act indiscriminately; rather, he deliberately seeks out women he regards as “beautiful”, and who he believes to be on a similar “level” to him in terms of society. And he’ll try to seduce them through his self-confidence first and foremost; rape is always his last resort, and even then sometimes he just cuts his losses and gives up, particularly when he values his friendship with someone more than his desire to stick his dick in them.
In other words, he doesn’t usually take advantage of his position as a powerful warrior to abuse people weaker than himself… though there is the odd occasion where he can’t quite help himself, most notably in Rance VI where he rescues a young woman from imprisonment only to immediately take advantage of her before releasing her.
Rance acts this way for one of two reasons: as revenge for being wronged (or a way of “putting someone in their place”), or simply because he feels like doing it at the time — usually because he thinks he “deserves” it as a reward. The latter, you may argue, might make him little better than the mages who are raping second-class women, but there’s a marked difference in the tone of the scenes where Rance is abusing someone and those where we see how Zethian society operates.
Even when Rance is having sex with someone who doesn’t want it, he is shown to have a certain degree of “consideration” for them; this might sound like a strange and inappropriate thing to say about rape — an inherently inconsiderate act, to put it mildly — but that’s really the best way of describing it, as paradoxical as it sounds. In a late-game scene where he forces himself on a Fiend he has defeated, for example, he takes care to pleasure her while forcing her to tend to his “needs”, though he does give her something of an ultimatum, allowing her the opportunity to escape if she can bring him to orgasm before he does the same to her. And this is far from an isolated example of such an incident.
By contrast, elsewhere in the game we witness a group of mages gangraping a character who began as an antagonist and later becomes a reluctant ally. The scene is horrific and described in graphic detail while it is occurring; it’s clearly not designed to be titillating in any way whatsoever. It’s an act of violence rather than eroticism. It’s made all the more heartbreaking by the character in question just getting up afterwards and walking away, clearly used to being abused in such a disgusting manner thanks to her position in society.
This is all worth considering in the context of the overall series lore, too. It’s important to remember that humanity, as the current Protagonist Race (or “Major Power” as the new translation rather more boringly puts it) primarily exists to entertain Rudrathaum as part of Planner’s grand Scenario. Rudrathaum has shown on numerous occasions in the past to become bored if things are too simple and straightforward, so it follows that Planner may have created Rance to be something of a “wild card”, at times demonstrating both the very best and worst that humanity has to offer, rather than simply one extreme or the other. Or, as is suggested at a few points throughout the series, if Rance really is a total anomaly or “bug” in the overall scenario, Planner is in no hurry to correct the situation as he certainly keeps things interesting. You may find Rance morally repugnant, but he’s certainly not boring.
Don’t mistake all this as Rance himself not having any character development, however; he’s far more than just a one-dimensional horny brute. The size of the main cast in Rance VI allows us plenty of opportunity to see many different sides of him, as well as them being interesting and well-developed characters in their own right for the most part; there are a few party members who are primarily there for mechanical reasons to pad out the party in the early game and postgame challenges, but even they are given plenty of personality despite not getting much screen time.
Of particular note is the developing relationship between Rance and Rizna. Following directly on from their first encounter in Rance 5D, Rance VI sees the pair of them striking up a friendship that is initially a bit uneasy, but which gradually blossoms into something approaching mutual trust. There are some truly touching scenes between the pair of them as Rizna struggles to accept her body, trained against her will to be highly sensitive to sexual stimulation as a sex slave, and Rance helps her to understand herself. Sure, he has somewhat selfish motivations — and outright lies to her to get her into bed in the early hours of the game — but it becomes clear she is more than just another girl to him.
Shizuka is an interesting example, too. Her ongoing backstory concerns her longstanding desire for revenge against the individual who killed her parents. This has been bubbling away in the background since the second Rance game, where Shizuka put in her first appearance, and finally comes to a head in Rance VI in one of the game’s most substantial sidequests. Even if you’ve only come to the Rance series for the first time with 5D and VI, this narrative thread finally reaching its conclusion is obviously a significant, powerful moment.
Rance VI also gives us a pleasing opportunity to see a more tender side of our brutish hero thanks to the character Caloria Cricket. Introduced as the last survivor of a tribe of “insect users”, Caloria is initially shy and reserved, but Rance’s honest caring for her and standing up for her when she is bullied causes her to develop into a delightfully pleasant young woman. When the pair of them inevitably end up in bed together, it’s one of the most notable examples of both parties clearly being there because they want to be there, and because they like each other on equal terms. From there, their friendship is delightfully honest, genuine and always heartwarming to see.
To delve into the full details of Rance VI’s excellent story, complex, deep characterisation and context within the series’ immaculately crafted lore is well beyond the scope of a single article; suffice to say for now that Rance is far from irredeemable — there’s a particularly memorable scene partway through the game where, in a rare example of a selfless act, he smashes a paedophile ring that abused a young girl with whom he has, by this point, developed a close personal (and, I might add, emphatically non-sexual) connection — and the developing relationships with the central characters, many of whom return in later installments, show he most certainly has potential to grow and improve as a person. If this sort of thing is something that particularly attracts you to Japanese role-playing games or ongoing fantasy epics in general, Rance VI most certainly does not disappoint — so long as you have the stomach to deal with its more violent, disturbing scenes.
Sights and sounds
One aspect of Rance VI’s presentation worth highlighting is its excellent dungeon design. I’m not talking from a technical perspective here — it’s a grid-based dungeon crawler engine that happily runs over 470fps on my extremely modest computer, so don’t expect stunning visuals or indeed much in the way of detail — but rather the way they have been convincingly designed to convey the feeling of realistic environments.
Many modern dungeon crawlers — Dungeon Travelers 2 is an excellent example — design dungeons to be intricate mazes that are effectively giant puzzles to navigate your way through. Filled with one-way doors, dark areas, conveyor belts, invisible passageways and all manner of other goodies, there’s been an assumption pretty much since the days of Wizardry that a dungeon map that doesn’t fill every damn square is not worth bothering with.
Rance VI takes an approach more akin to early ’90s first-person shooter map design, in which maps are designed to resemble more realistic structures, albeit presented in simplistic detail using nothing but 90-degree corners. And it’s really effective in stoking the fires of the imagination; despite rooms being nothing but empty boxes, their context within the overall level design makes it clear what they’re supposed to be.
In one map, you explore part of a city, including traversing a highly convincing apartment block. In another, you climb a mountain through a cave that runs through its interior, then emerge outside a small house on the peak which you can then enter and explore. In another still, you’re raiding a bank, first traversing an area that is clearly supposed to be offices before descending into the vaults below. The maps have character and personality about them, and while a few gimmicks such as breakable walls and conveyor belts are used here and there, none of them are used so much that they become an annoyance or make exploration inaccessible to subgenre newcomers.
In battle, Rance VI displays some beautiful pixel art for the playable characters, the monsters you fight and their special effects. While animation is very limited, tending to consist of a single idle frame and a single frame for each attack or ability accompanied by a short pyrotechnic effect, every battler has a great deal of personality about them. And there’s clearly some love and attention gone into them, too; while a few monster types have several variations throughout the game, these are never a simple palette swap; the more powerful versions always have extra details about them as well as being a different colour. Plus it’s always a delight to see TADA’s Microsoft Paint monsters put in an appearance, particularly the hideous assault on the eyes that is the “Doodle Dragon” superboss.
Rance VI’s somewhat more serious tone than its immediate predecessor is perhaps most apparent in its music. While it’s still lively and energetic, making use of electric guitar and synth sounds rather than the sort of orchestral-type score you might expect from a Western dark fantasy title, there are no deliberately humorous tracks such as the flatulence-filled “Camp” theme from Rance 5D, or indeed the stock rap sample-filled “Japanese Beat” from the same game. Hype up the motherfucking beat and all that.
Series veterans will, however, be pleased to note that Rance’s main theme My Glorious Days is still present and correct, and still unashamedly based on the East German national anthem Auferstanden aus Ruinen. This isn’t the only Germanic influence on Rance, either; besides the series logo typically being rendered in a Gothic blackletter-style typeface, a series of robe-clad enemies (actually automatons built by the long-dead Holy Magic Sect) throughout Rance VI carry the names of prominent German figures from World War II, up to and including Hitler, and have abilities based on German military hardware such as Junkers and Messerschmitt. Why? Well, it’s all part of the Rance world having hints of our world about it; there’s a country called Nippon (JAPAN in capital Roman letters in the original Japanese script), after all, explored in Sengoku Rance, and Copandon reveals that she’s from Portugal in this game. Plus, of course, if you remember the lore, the current Archfiend is literally from our reality.
To wrap things up nicely, the event and character art, once again delivered by Orion after his series debut in Rance 5D, are clear, consistent and extremely well-drawn throughout the whole game. Orion, who claimed to be rather lacking in confidence when confronted with the opportunity to draw for Alicesoft’s flagship franchise back in 5D’s “Alice’s Mansion” developer commentary corner, very much seems to have found his feet with this title, packing the dialogue sprites with personality and the event scenes with plenty of emotion — sometimes drama, sometimes horror, sometimes comedy. All in all, it’s a great-looking, great-sounding game that actually remains rather timeless thanks to its stylised aspects.
Rance VI is an incredible game. It’s mechanically well-crafted, its narrative is enjoyable, its characterisation is excellent, its humour is genuinely amusing and its willingness to unashamedly depict the darker side of humanity is rather refreshing in a world where creators are increasingly being encouraged to shy away from “problematic” material.
I had no experience with this series prior to booting up Rance 5D for the first time. After playing through both 5D and VI, I’m a fan for life, and am extremely grateful to both the enthusiastic Rance community for its dedication to this series over the years, and to localiser MangaGamer for finally bringing it over in an official capacity, allowing Western fans to throw money at Alicesoft and show we want more of this sort of thing, yes please, we do.
Best of all, there are two more games in the series to look forward to in the coming year; grand strategic adventure Sengoku Rance, in which our (anti-)hero and friends visit the land of Nippon, and Rance Quest Magnum, which marks a return to the top-down adventuring of some of the series’ earlier installments. You can, of course, count on full write-ups of both here on MoeGamer.
So what are you waiting for? Two grand adventures quite unlike anything else you’ve ever played (um, assuming you haven’t played a Rance game before) await. And there’s more where that came from. I for one can’t wait.
More about Rance VI
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