The Rance series of RPGs is one of the longest running, rivalling that of Ultima and Final Fantasy. The series started off as a Visual Novel with very light RPG elements and started coming into its own at around Rance III where it added some tactical battles. However, after Rance IV, Alicesoft decided to experiment by going into a full blown Grand Scale Strategy RPG game.
If you’ve played any of the early KOEI Grand Scale Strategy games (such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms), the gameplay should be quite easy to pick up. It’s not that deep (though it does have the “one more turn” syndrome of Civilization), but that’s not where its strength lies…
In Japan, this game has the reputation amongst eroge players around the likes of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7. It’s the sort of ambitious game that comes around once in a blue moon by a sort of fevered desperation and diligence and breaks new ground in the genre.
What stands out about the game is the amount of freedom and flexibility it gives you. Unlike the usual linearity of most JRPGs, you can conquer areas at your own pace to build up your powerbase, though there are certain plot-based time limits. It’s not an instant game over if you fail them, but the game will certainly make you wish you hadn’t!
The game is known for being very dark for its time, and combined with its huge amount of choice and consequences, combine for several gut-wrenching moments. Do you take the easy way out, killing an innocent girl who was soul-bound to a demon to end its existence? Or would you rather try to take it down through the battlefield, throwing away a huge portion of your army and sacrificing a noble hero to take him out? Do you give up a magician girl and instead take in her jealous sister, allowing the former to set off on a journey of self-fulfillment but losing her combat potential, or do you selfishly keep her, letting her sister enter a self-destructive lifestyle?
Compared to this game, Dragon Age seems more like a Carebear special, rather than the “dark, mature, gritty” game that it proclaims to be. This game is not for anyone expecting popcorn fluff.
Yet in the end, the game does have an optimistic tint to it. Even with a protagonist who’s sort of an asshole and generally does things out of his own self-interest, it’s possible to end up making the world a better place to live in. The true ending to the game is probably one of my favourites in videogames.
The music in this game is surprisingly varied. Everything from the slow, dread-building “Ontlogy” of the Demon Army, the Arabic-influenced “Magical City” of Zeth, and the overly macho “Force” of Leazas Kingdom makes the game a joy to listen to. The breakout song from this game is probably its opening, “Rough Edge”, which has had several remixes and covers done for it.
The Rance series has gained a small amount of popularity in the English-speaking region due to the fantranslation of Sengoku Rance, another fantastic game and interest has been raised on the other parts of the series. Perhaps one day, we might be able to see this classic too in English, available to be enjoyed by all who would spend the time to check it out.
Alicesoft has released this game as freeware, which is actually a really generous move, sort of like if Blizzard decided to release Starcraft for free. If you are able to read Japanese, I highly recommend checking this game out.