It’s time mainstream gaming history and criticism acknowledged the adult games sector

Here’s my not-particularly-hot take of this boiling hot Friday afternoon: adult games deserve respect. Adult games deserve celebration. Adult games deserve the opportunity to stand along mainstream hits as genuine, bona fide (no pun intended) classics of the medium, and not be ghettoised as “just porn”.

I’m not saying all adult games have to be acknowledged as classics, of course, because just like mainstream, non-adult games, there’s a whole lot of absolute pap out there. In this sense, the adult sector actually has a distinct advantage over mainstream gaming, because the absolute pap tends to have obvious red flag names like “Hentai Girls“, “Sex with Hitler” and “Throbbing Slobbering Cuntchops“.

What I am saying, however, is that when adult games are good, they deserve to be celebrated as being good without caveats or apologies. Yes, we should acknowledge that as an adult game it features sexual content and should not be readily available to those who don’t want to see that material and those who aren’t suitably equipped (or mature enough) to deal with that material — but the presence of adult content absolutely should not preclude a game from being widely talked about and celebrated.

I have a selection of just a few examples I’d like to share with you today, though there are myriad more I could talk about also. So if you’re open to the idea of adult gaming and haven’t explored these as yet, I would encourage you to do so. You might just be surprised at quite how high-quality these titles are.


Did you know the Rance series is as old as Final Fantasy? And, with thirteen mainline installments (some of which are now non-canonical) plus remakes, it almost rivals Square Enix’s classic franchise in terms of how prolific it’s been over the years… minus the many spinoffs, of course.

The Rance series is commonly agreed to have begun with a 1987 adventure game for PC-98 systems called Little Princess, which we’ve previously explored as part of The History of Lewd, our occasional exploration of classic adult games.

If that statement sounds a little hesitant, it’s because Little Princess wasn’t originally intended to be the start of a new series — but as time has gone on, its events have been retconned into important lore for the Rance series as a whole.

Adult games: Rance 02
Rance 02

The 1989 release of Rance I: Quest for Hikari was considered to be a particularly noteworthy moment for the fledgling adult games industry, because it marked one of the first times that a game with adult content actually featured a meaningful story and gameplay rather than simply being a means of loosely tying together some pornographic images.

Along with its two contemporaries, Chaos Angels from ASCII and Dragon Knight from ELF, the first Rance game clearly demonstrated that there were Japanese creators keen to prove that explicit, erotic content could be intertwined with a compelling narrative. After all, by this point the anime sector had already been putting out series with both significant erotic content and strong narratives.

As time went on, Rance proved itself to be a series that had real legs, and later installments became more ambitious in terms of technology, gameplay mechanics and narrative. Eventually, after many years of assuming we’d never see Rance officially in the west, publisher-localiser MangaGamer reached an agreement with developer AliceSoft, and we haven’t looked back since that first western release of Rance 5D and VI in a single, awesome bundle.

So why doesn’t Rance get the attention it deserves? Simply put, because of its reputation. And this is a somewhat complex issue to address, since the Rance series has a significant component of non-consensual sex in its narrative material — and to make matters worse, said incidents are just as likely to be at the hands of the eponymous protagonist as they are the work of “evil” characters.

The very existence — and relative frequency of — sexual assault scenes in Rance causes people to immediately baulk at it and shut down to any potential discussion of it whatsoever. I once had someone yell at me on Twitter because they did a “Ctrl-F” on an article I’d written about Rance and didn’t find the word “rape” anywhere. (Largely because I’d used the term “sexual assault” instead, but never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.)

This is unfortunate, because one of the most consistently fascinating things about the Rance series is what an awful person the protagonist is — or, more accurately, what a selfish person the protagonist is.

Adult games: Sengoku Rance
Sengoku Rance

Rance was deliberately designed to be a response to the typical “heroic” figure established in Japanese popular media — the anti-Adol Christin, if you will. He’s older than your average teenage protagonist, plus a lot more cynical, selfish, self-confident and horny; it’s only in more recent years that we’ve started to see popular Japanese fantasy series feature similarly flawed protagonists. Many specifically point to Kazuma from Konosuba being “Rance Lite” — he even dresses very similarly — but there’s still something undeniably special about Rance himself.

You see, the world of Rance allows capital-H Heroes to exist without them necessarily having to be heroic types. Rance is a particularly special case in that unlike most people in the world, he was not only born without a level cap, he also has the ability to raise the level cap of others by having sex with them. I’m sure you can imagine how that becomes relevant from a gameplay perspective.

But more than anything, the existence of Rance raises a fantastic philosophical question: if you’re going to be saved by someone like Rance, are you really being “saved” at all? If a terrible situation is resolved by a terrible person, is that a good thing? And, on top of all this, I defy anyone not to end up actually kind of liking Rance after following him on just one of his adventures, even after witnessing all the awful things he does.

Adult games: Rance Quest Magnum
Rance Quest Magnum

He’s just that well-crafted a character, and there are times when he shows that there’s clearly some good in him — his relationship with the character Rizna in 5D and VI is a particularly good example. Nuance! Who’d have thought it?

Anyway, the Rance series is a fantastic example of a long-running series with a clear creative vision — and a coherent narrative running through the whole thing if you’re paying attention. Each individual Rance game stands by itself as a self-contained title — hence MangaGamer releasing the “soft reboot” Rance 5D and VI as the first titles in the west — but follow this terrible man’s career from start to finish and it’s hard not to get well and truly invested.

Best of all, within the next few years we’ll be able to experience the Rance series in its entirety here in the west without having to faff around with fan translations. Remakes of the first two Rance games are already available in English, with the third on the way. And you can experience 5D, VI, Sengoku (VII) and Quest (VIII) in English right now, with overworked and underpaid translators working hard on bringing us IX and series finale X to us at some indeterminate point in the (hopefully near) future.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

We’ve already spent many pages exploring the ambitious narrative of this spectacular Nitroplus visual novel, so I won’t bang on for too long about it — but if ever a single video game had the right to be declared an honest-to-goodness work of literature that is genuinely worthy of full-on scholarly study, it’s this one.

In the field of adult games, it stands out for actually featuring relatively rare explicit scenes — though when they do show up, they tend to have considerable dramatic effect. And in the field of visual novels in general, it stands out for its astronomically atmospheric, evocative writing, incredible characterisation and well-crafted narrative. It’s packed full of nuance, thought-provoking messages, fascinating moral quandaries and powerful emotions; there really is nothing quite like it.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is an absolute masterpiece of interactive entertainment, and anyone who tosses it aside because people get their willies and bums out in it is depriving themselves of an incredible experience. That’s all.

The Succubus series

I’m not sure why I’d put off playing the Succubus series of adult games for quite so long, but as soon as I started playing Castle in the Clouds, I regretted leaving it all this time. And that feeling only got stronger when I played Midnight Castle Succubus, which is genuinely a better Castlevania than several actual Castlevania games.

As I write this, I’m partway through Sword of Succubus, the series’ take on a Zelda-like formula, and that is likewise excellent; I still have its companion piece Tower of Succubus and Game Boy-style spinoff Succubus Hunter to explore — plus I think there’s a few titles in the series on DLsite which haven’t made it to Steam — but it’s already clear to me that this is a series of games we should be talking about in a similar way to how we refer to “modern retro” classics like Shovel Knight, Shantae and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.

I’m not joking; these games are that good, demonstrating a clear understanding of solid modern game design, plus the presentational conventions of classic gaming systems such as the Famicom and Game Boy — all with an unashamedly adult layer atop, which, unfortunately, is the reason that they languish in obscurity.

But again, this is a case of people seeing adult content and then running a mile, whereas in all of these games the sexual content is integrated into the experience in a sensible, entertaining and often amusing manner.

Be it Lily’s explosive orgasms in Castle in the Clouds, the fact that Midnight Castle Succubus allows you to successfully navigate through the use of explicit pictures, or the sheer sense of sexual empowerment present in Sword of Succubus — more on that when we do a full review — it’s clear that developers Pixel Teishoku and Libra Heart haven’t just slapped the explicit content in these games for the sake of it. They’ve thought about whether it “needs” to be there and integrated it well from both thematic and narrative perspectives.

And, as previously noted, these are absolutely magnificent games from a mechanical perspective, understanding both what made their clear inspirations great games back in the day and what modern gaming conventions can be added to make them better experiences for today’s players.

Vinegar strokes

The presence of adult content — whether it’s relatively vanilla or on the more violent side of things — shouldn’t preclude a game from consideration as something worthy of discussion and celebration. If anything, we should be looking at how these adult games handle their explicit content, and question if they do anything particularly well, or if there are things we might be able to do better in the future.

One thing that always saddens me a bit is on services like Steam, where you see reviews of adult games that are all stupid “are you winning son” memes, ASCII art butts or people joking about playing adult games on their main account; there’s relatively little meaningful discussion going on — just a schoolyard sense of “teehee, sex”. And that does a lot of adult games a great disservice.

There should be absolutely no shame in playing adult games on your main account — I do on a regular basis, and it doesn’t bother anyone; it’s even led to some interesting conversations, and some friends trying out experiences that they might not have otherwise explored on their own initiative.

Whatever the PlayStation brand might want you to believe, sex is an important part of all aspects of life — ranging from simply going about your day-to-day business to crafting narratives in all sorts of different genres. It’s time we got over our collective fear of all this, and started embracing everything that adult games have to offer us.

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Pete Davison
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