Looking at the role of sex in Rance 01

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One cannot talk about the Rance series without talking about sex. In the developers’ own words, the game was always intended to be an erotic experience — and the less desirable character traits of our “hero” Rance were decided on a whim, but quickly adopted as a noticeable distinction from what other games of the time were doing.

“It all started from the idea of making something dirty,” wrote series creator TADA in the “Alice’s Mansion” developer commentary section of Rance’s original 1989 release. “We decided to make an RPG-like fantasy adventure game, and while we’re at it, [we thought] let’s make the protagonist a piece of shit. It’s hard to have sex scenes with a cool protag, after all.”


NOTE: This article contains sexual references, discussion of sexual violence and explicit imagery, and thus is almost definitely not safe for work. Unless you work at Rice. There are also Rance 01 spoilers ahead.


Rance 01

Indeed, the Rance series is most notorious among people who have had very little contact with it for being a series that is heavy on rape and sexual assault. Chances are if you’ve ever tried to talk about the series with someone who only has a passing (and negative) familiarity, they’ve probably brought up that one screenshot from Sengoku Rance where the player is given the options “Look at her underwear” and “Rape her”.

Look, let’s be up-front and honest about this because there’s no sense beating around the bush: Rance is, absolutely unapologetically, a series that features a lot of rape and sexual assault throughout. Even during erotic scenes where that sort of thing isn’t happening, the question of consent is sometimes a little murky and there’s a tendency towards the more rough, brutal and even violent end of sexual encounters.

But the important thing to note is that the sex throughout the Rance series always has a meaningful purpose to the games as a whole — and moreover, there is a significant amount of nuance that is well worth talking about along the way. Because as flippant and self-deprecating as TADA can be at times, the writing in Rance speaks for itself; this isn’t a series where the erotic scenes have been thrown in just for the hell of it.

Rance 01

Let’s consider a few specific cases from Rance 01 to explore this a little further — because this degree of nuance is present even in this first entry in the series. TADA would likely be the first to admit that some of the nuance has been brought about by the remake — he would rather most people forgot about the original release of Rance and focus on this new one, it seems — but the fact remains, especially to a modern audience, that said nuance is present and correct now.

Rance, the character, demonstrates some clear attitudes towards sex in Rance 01. Firstly, he enjoys it, and has experience. Secondly, he believes he deserves it whenever he feels like it. Thirdly, it is his preferred reward for a good, heroic or otherwise impressive deed done, even over and above riches and fame.

Fourthly, he is not above taking what he wants when he believes it is an appropriate time to do so, but he also recognises that there are times when it is not appropriate to attempt to jam one’s dick into someone. And fifthly, even when taking a partner by force, he rarely does so with the intent of deliberately causing distress, pain or injury; his own selfish pleasure comes first, but more often than not he exhibits a curiously twisted sort of “consideration” for those he ends up entangled with.

Rance 01

This last point is particularly important, because it is something that is clearly demonstrated in Rance 01 — and it’s something that the series often returns to as a means of highlighting the difference between Rance as a “Chaotic Neutral” protagonist, and genuine evildoers.

Let’s get the major spoilers out of the way first. The “Big Bad” in Rance 01 is Princess Lia of Leazas, who is all sweetness and niceness up front, but hides a darkened, blackened heart that is corrupted by bitterness, resentment and an addiction to causing pain and distress.

Towards the latter portion of the game, Rance is sent by Lia to investigate a “haunted house” in the town that is supposedly an abandoned royal villa. As he investigates, he encounters a ghost named Lavender, who sends him explicit visions of the abuse that she suffered in the past by an initially unknown (but apparently female) assailant — Lia.

Lavender, like many before her, was captured and taken away from her school, friends and family, and confined to this dusty old mansion. Every day, she would be taken to a torture room, where she would be chained up and placed naked atop a wooden horse, unable to escape some form of pain however she moved. Initially, she was whipped by her captor, but over time, her mistreatment escalated to further bondage on her mouth and breasts, branding with a hot iron and rape at the hands of monsters.

Rance 01

Eventually, we discover, she committed suicide as she was unable to endure the abuse any longer, but her resentment and sadness at how things ended up resulted in her spirit haunting the place.

This is obviously horrifying to discover — and deeply, deeply uncomfortable to witness in the excruciating detail that Rance 01 describes it in. Rance is furious at the discovery of this — particularly if you direct him to try sitting on the wooden horse for himself out of curiosity when he discovers it, only to find that the pointy bit is really not kind to a gentleman’s unmentionables, let alone a lady’s. And, subsequently, this fury leads into the dramatic conclusion of the game as a whole.

But how is this different from any time Rance takes a young woman by force — such as during the earlier part of the game, where he rescues a young woman from a thieves’ gang who has been sexually abusing her, but not before he rapes her blindfolded, bound self while pretending to be the gang leader he just defeated? Both situations are, of course, unconscionable behaviour — but there’s a clear difference.

It’s all to do with intent. In the former case, Lia’s abuse of Lavender and her other victims was out of nothing more than malice and a desire to inflict pain. There was no pleasure there; no sexual thrill from it all. Lia was doing it because she had been so corrupted by bitterness and rage — and become so addicted to those negative emotions — that she seemingly almost felt that she had to in order to express herself somehow.

Rance 01

Rance, conversely, desires nothing more than pleasure — primarily for himself, but if the girl gets off on it too, so much the better. This is why during scenes where consent is non-existent, we still see Rance making a specific effort to ensure that everyone involved has at least something vaguely resembling a good time. Not only does his partner feeling some degree of arousal make his side of things easier, one also gets the distinct sense that he derives a certain degree of satisfaction from delivering as well as receiving pleasure.

This is even true during the game’s final scene, where Rance finally catches up with Lia and, in his words, “rapes the shit out of her” for several hours as punishment for her actions. Indeed, this scene shows Rance at his absolutely most brutal in all of Rance 01 — and yet despite the scene concluding with him leaving a dead-eyed and barely conscious Lia lying in the middle of nowhere with her clothes shredded and her body literally covered in semen, at no point does it ever feel like he’s doing something quite as “bad” as what Lia did to her victims.

This is not the same as condoning his behaviour, of course. We can recognise that Rance did something wrong, but we can also recognise that he is simply acting according to his own particular code of values.

Rance 01

Rance’s idea of “sex as punishment” is used a few times over the course of Rance 01 any time there’s a female character who does something obviously objectionable. It’s important to note that this isn’t a matter of “double standards” or anything, either; those who suffer Rance’s “punishment” in this way have always actually done something wrong. It is emphatically not a case of “a woman doing literally anything ends up being sexually dominated by a man”.

There are two main instances of this in Rance 01. Firstly, there’s the roulette croupier Hazuki, who has been fleecing men all over Leazas out of their money by a combination of appealing to their baser instincts and outright cheating; and secondly, there’s Heidi, a maid in Leazas castle, who has been stealing vast amounts of bread from the royal kitchens to feed her impoverished family.

In Hazuki’s case, Rance’s “punishment” comes after a lengthy and extremely convoluted sidequest, during which both Rance and the player will likely be feeling increasing amounts of frustration at how seemingly “untouchable” this scheming young woman is. By the time you eventually expose her little scheme and Rance takes out his aggression on her genitals in the toilets, I hesitate to say that most decent people will feel she deserves what she gets — but you will at least feel like Rance’s own distinctive and inappropriate brand of justice has been dealt out.

Rance 01

Likewise in Heidi’s case; Rance only gets physical with her after he catches her in the act twice, and she demonstrates zero remorse for the way she has been behaving. Once again, one can’t really say that she “deserves” what happens to her next, but Rance’s “punishment” of her at least gives her a moment’s pause — even if she doesn’t actually end up changing her ways as a result.

The important thing in both cases, again, is that Rance’s “punishment” was not primarily intended to cause pain and distress as Lia’s torture was. In these instances, “dispensing justice” became a convenient excuse for Rance to indulge his sexual desires and enjoy the pleasure of conquering an initially resistant partner.

Consider the number of times you’ve outright killed someone in other role-playing games because they did something “evil”, no matter how minor; now consider if that’s any better or worse than the fact that after Rance has finished doing what he does with them, he inevitably lets them go, even in the case of Rance 01’s “Big Bad” Lia, whom he doesn’t attempt to hand over to the authorities or even reveal the truth of her behaviour.

Rance 01

There’s not really a definitive answer there; both are obviously unconscionable acts from the perspective of modern society and decent, law-abiding folk such as you and I, but at least in Rance’s case there is the option — often, though not always, taken — of redemption. Indeed, following her absolute complete and utter humiliation at the end of Rance 01, Lia goes on to become a thoroughly interesting character of great importance to the series as a whole; had the conclusion to her story been “Rance stabs her through the heart”, things would have likely turned out quite differently.

Alongside the acknowledgement that Rance does indeed carry out a significant number of sexual assaults over the course of most of his adventures, it’s also important to note that not every sexual encounter he has is like this. In fact, the other sexual encounters it’s possible to have over the course of Rance 01 provide some of the most interesting moments of character development in the entire game.

Take the confident lady thief Necai Sys, for example (fun fact: she was originally named Config Sys, but this apparently turned out to be a bit hard to say in Japanese) — when you first encounter her, it’s clear that she is 100% aware of the sort of person Rance is, and is an absolute queen in terms of teasing him without allowing him to get his hands on her at all. It’s only if you complete an optional sidequest and bring her some valuable alcohol that you get a sexual encounter with her — and it doesn’t unfold in the way Rance expects.

Rance 01

Rance is, as you will doubtless be aware at this point, accustomed to being the one who takes the initiative when it comes to sex, whether it’s consensual or not. But when Necai absolutely dominates him using nothing more than her mouth on his chest and her hand on his penis, he discovers that it’s possible to feel an extreme amount of pleasure by simply surrendering yourself to a partner — either willingly or by a certain amount of force.

A similar optional situation unfolds later in the game when Rance acquires a “personality change scroll” and wonders what it would be like to use on his normally rather demure slave Sill. He is rather surprised to discover that rather than simply becoming slutty as he hoped, she actually becomes extremely assertive and dominant, once again placing Rance in a thoroughly submissive position and forcing him to begrudgingly understand that sometimes not being in control can be as pleasurable as taking charge.

It’s interesting to consider these incidents and reflect back on Rance’s behaviour — because in some ways the scenes with Necai and Sill can help us to understand how many of Rance’s non-consensual scenes can be argued to fall under the heading of “rape fantasy”, and for that to be the main contrast between them and the horrifying scenes we see Lavender enduring. While Rance isn’t exactly “non-consenting” to the scenes with both Necai and Sill, the position of complete submission he’s put in mirrors the situation his non-consenting partners end up in.

In other words, it’s okay if you feel squicked out by the Lavender scenes, and yet you find some of the Rance scenes oddly hot, despite the inevitable guilt that might come along with them. Non-consensual fantasies are quite common, supposedly particularly among women, and so long as no-one is actually getting hurt — and, of course, so long as you recognise that what goes in fantasies is absolutely not the same as what goes in reality — it is 100% okay to be curious about exploring those feelings.

Rance 01

Then there’s the sexual encounters where there are some moments of genuine connection between Rance and his partners. There are three instances where this is most clearly seen: gate guard Menad, colosseum champion Yulan, and weapon shop owner Millie.

Both Menad and Yulan have similar hang-ups about their own lives; they’re concerned that people don’t see them as women, and instead simply see them as strong people who might as well be men. Both of them feel like this has made them somewhat unapproachable, and have dealt with it in similar ways: Menad by throwing herself into her gate guard duty rather than doing something that is more on her level, and Yulan by constantly keeping up the “facade” that she uses to perform in the colosseum.

In both cases, when Rance has the opportunity to get intimate with them, they are extremely taken by the fact that someone is seeing them not as their strength, but as a simple woman. And in both instances, it’s obvious that although Rance is seeking pleasure through his sexual encounters with them, he also has a genuine degree of affection for them; he likes them as people, rather than them just being another notch on his bedpost.

Rance 01

Millie, meanwhile, is a particularly interesting case, because she is so cold and unemotional throughout the story, and yet she doesn’t seem particularly averse to the idea of having sex with Rance any time he tries it on. Unfortunately, her blessing and/or curse of “Absolute Luck” means that any time it looks like she might be coming to harm — such as when a notoriously brutal adventurer is bearing down on her with his dick out, for example — things tend to happen that prevent the situation from escalating any further.

Millie has come to resent her “blessing”, because it prevents her from feeling like she has ever achieved anything by herself. At one point she takes to deliberately throwing herself in the path of a violent monster because she simply wants to put herself at risk of death in order to “feel alive”; Rance, not wanting to see a girl he hasn’t had sex with yet come to a sticky end, rescues her — and this is how he learns about the Absolute Luck.

The sidequest to deal with Millie’s Absolute Luck spans pretty much the entire game, and as a result when you finally do discover a means to resolve the situation — at least temporarily — it’s immensely satisfying. Although the sexual encounter doesn’t quite go as smoothly as one suspects either Rance or Millie would have probably hoped, Millie does at least come out of the experience feeling like she has actually experienced something rather than just having had it happen as a result of her supposed “blessing”.

Oh, before we finish up today, it’s perhaps also worth noting that there’s a loli character in the game in the form of Jericho, the extremely childish prison guard. Rance establishes numerous times throughout the series that he very much has an upper and lower age limit, and he isn’t willing to give in to lolicon tendencies.

Rance 01

As such, the optional scene with Jericho that would be a sex scene with any other girl is actually highly comedic — particularly as the writing has been composed in such a way as to make it sound considerably filthier than it actually is.

Anyway, we’ve banged on (no pun intended) for three thousand words about fucking in Rance 01, so I think that’s probably enough for today. Suffice to say, it should be pretty clear at this point that, in terms of sexual content, Rance is a lot more than “Look at her underwear/Rape her” — and more broadly, that the series is far more than just its erotic content, too.

Next time, we’ll take a first look at Rance 02, and see what our questionable hero’s next adventure holds for us. Until then, tread softly, carry a large collection of big swords — and take care not to step on the mini-hannies.

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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