Rance 01 shows how immersion and worldbuilding isn’t about fancy tech

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One thing that visual novels and adjacent media have repeatedly shown is that you don’t need fancy technology or super-impressive visuals to get a player feeling fully immersed in a game world. And, indeed, Rance 01 is an excellent example of this. So that’s what we’re going to take a look at today.

Rance 01 unfolds almost entirely in the kingdom of Leazas — and specifically in the castle town capital of the kingdom. Unlike many RPGs, you don’t get to explore with complete “freedom” to wander around and do exactly what you want; as we talked about last time, the game’s interface is presented in the style of a Japanese adventure game rather than a more freeform RPG, which means you move between predefined locations, causing time to pass as you do so.

Rance 01

Now, a lot of modern players may find themselves questioning how this could possibly be as immersive and interesting as, say, the vast open world of something like Xenoblade Chronicles 3, to give a recent example. And the answer is pretty simple: it’s all about the writing, and the power of words.

We see Leazas through the eyes of Rance, and get to hear his thoughts. At heart, for all his blustering ego, Rance — at least the young Rance as he is in Rance 01 — is something of a country bumpkin, and as such he often finds himself surprisingly impressed by big city life. He also finds it to be a setting that agrees with him somewhat; for all his faults, Rance is someone who thrives around people, and so the colourful cast of characters with whom he interacts over the course of his Quest for Hikari make up an important part of the game’s overall worldbuilding.

Rance 01 gets us into this mindset pretty much right away by emphasising interactions between characters over and above a sense of exploration. For Rance, a major part of adventuring is exploring people as well as places — and thus over the course of Rance 01, you’ll find yourself spending a significant amount of time talking to other characters, learning more and more about themselves and their backgrounds, and, yes, often having sexual intercourse with them.

Rance 01

A big part of what makes Leazas feel so alive as a game world is that each of these characters have a lot of interesting things to say — and that those interesting things change and evolve over the course of the game. It takes effort to truly get to know these people — and indeed to get into their pants — but it never feels like a chore; rather, learning more about the many characters in Leazas is as much of a reward as anything else Rance 01 has to offer.

We also come to associate the various characters with different locations around the town, which in turn gives those locations a sense of personality themselves. We know that when we visit the item shop, Patty the Summer is going to be there, banging on about her noodles and how much she wishes she was actually by the sea. We know that when we head to the weapon shop, we’ll be spending some time interacting with the gloomy but oddly appealing Millie, whose “Rance desperately wants to have sex with her” sidequest is one of the most involved in the game. We know that every time we pass through the castle gate, Menad will be there.

And the really cool thing about this is that the game has a lot of flexibility in terms of how you go about playing it — meaning that it’s possible to miss quite a few interactions if you don’t explore thoroughly. Indeed, the vast majority of the sex scenes in Rance are the result of successfully following through on a sidequest or completing an optional objective, and as you might expect, having had a sexual encounter changes the relationship between the characters in question somewhat.

Rance 01

We’ll talk more specifically about sex in Rance 01 another time, because there’s actually a lot to discuss and unpack there, but suffice to say that the way the world and characters respond to your actions in the game goes a long way to making you feel like you’re actually there. You’ll find yourself caring about what happens; you’ll want Rance to succeed in his quest, and you’ll want the various other characters he encounters around the place to be able to find some sort of resolution to their various issues.

It’s one of those games you’ll find yourself thinking about extensively when you’re not playing it, because so many of the characters you encounter are just so damn likeable and well-realised. And for all his obnoxious behaviour at times, Rance is absolutely counted among this number. As later installments in the series make even more apparent, he’s a fascinating and nuanced protagonist, and seeing the world through his eyes definitely gives us a distinct outlook on the world and its inhabitants.

All this is created through the writing: the snappy dialogue, and the witty narration Rance ponders to himself when no-one else is around. On many occasions, Rance’s inner monologue will doubtless mirror what the player is thinking — particularly when dealing with excessively annoying characters and unnecessarily complicated chains of events — and this very much helps you step into the role of our protagonist, even if that may not always be a comfortable place to be.

Rance 01

Ultimately, the effect of all this is that Rance 01 does a fantastic job of maintaining the player’s interest while doing relatively little in terms of tech. The vast majority of the game unfolds with a silhouette of Rance standing in the foreground and whatever character is present in a location standing facing him. Many character sprites only have a single expression. CGs for major events other than sex are relatively rare. And yet, the experience as a whole is massively compelling.

A lot of this is down to the fact that Rance 01 is simply well-written — and well-translated to English — but, more broadly speaking, the fact that the series as a whole has some astronomically deep lore really helps matters. Because although many of the games take a “show, don’t tell” approach, not making a big deal of the extensive background material that makes the world of Rance what it is, you always get the feel that everything occurring has a sense of context, time and place.

Everything is part of something greater — and that’s one of the things that makes the series in its entirety so fascinating to explore. Because this isn’t a series where each individual installment just happens to involve the same central characters in the same world, but where there are no real ties between the games. No, this is a series where each new entry builds on what came before, gradually building up in terms of scope and ambition as Rance grows in competence, confidence and overall power.

Rance 01

New characters will be introduced, and will show up again in later games — indeed, there are several characters who first appear in Rance 01 that I already recognise from my previous encounters with Rance 5D and VI. Rance’s relationships with these characters will evolve and change in sometimes surprising ways, and there’s a real sense that you’re going on a journey through this character’s life as the series goes on.

And it all starts with Rance 01’s relatively humble beginnings: a horny 18 year old adventurer trying his best to get to the bottom of a missing persons case. There really is nothing quite like Rance.

Rance 01 is available in a double pack with Rance 02 from MangaGamer in both digital and physical format.

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Pete Davison
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