Rance is one of the oldest and most well-known visual novel franchises out there. Despite this, the series has gone on for almost 30 years without an official western release. And while there were periodic fan translations here and there, the franchise never took off because of this. MangaGamer has finally brought the franchise to the west, albeit starting with Rance 5D and Rance 6.
The very title, Rance 5D, sounds more like one of those short cinematic experiences where you are shoved into a dark, dank room with big rimmed glasses, blowing fans and shaking seats. However, the project was actually scrapped three times and it is this fourth attempt that has finally made it to the light of day, cue the D in the name.
Rance 5D is a stand-alone title that starts off slow and establishes its whole world and characters so everyone can enjoy. Even as newcomers to the franchise, players will be able to enjoy this humor-filled adventure.
The story follows the protagonist, aptly named Rance, and his slave, Sill. It opens with the duo lost in the magical land of Nippon, as they try to make their way out and return to their world. Rance, being the asshole horndog he is, also makes it a top priority to sleep with any maiden he might encounter during this trip.
The game has an amazing cast of colorful characters. Aside from the meek but caring Sill, Rance will meet up with characters from the previous games, including: Feliss, a demon who is currently on her flux (a kind of demon menstruation) and grows less powerful as the game progresses because of it; and the artificial humanoid lifeform Atena 2.0, who has more than one screw loose and ends up as the comedic relief of the bunch. Aside from a plethora of attractive girls, Rance and his party will stumble across various dolls, yokai, demons and the game’s silly Hanny mascots. Each one of them is charming in their own bizarre way and it’s ultimately their interactions which make them even more likable.
Rance 5D is less of a visual novel and more a bizarre concoction of seemingly disjointed genres. On one end, there is a quasi-point and click/adventure game where you go around talking with characters and using items to progress further, on the other there is a dungeon exploration roulette-like mini-game and a totally random RPG battle system. All this is sprinkled with a bit of rougelike elements for good measure. But, despite how this may sound, not a single one of these genres feel out of place.
A major part of the game has you interacting with characters by clicking their portraits and using the available items for that scene shown at the bottom of the screen. There are times when you might stumble upon a moon logic puzzle, but these are rare and can easily be overcome by simple brute force methods. The game is perfectly playable without a walkthrough.
Once you make it to one of the game’s dungeons, it shifts to a mini-game where you spin a roulette and hope to land on a panel which will get you further through the dungeon. There are a variety of panels you can land on, such as monsters, treasure chests, traps, and even some chapter-specific tiles and nonsensical gibberish. Each dungeon has a total of 5 events before you complete the chapter, but you will have to work hard to land on these panels.
Battles are decided by the roll of a die. Everything is automatic and the most you can do is re-order skills or find helpful items which are passively used during battles. You can bring up to three characters into battle and, if you are not satisfied with your current party, you can always capture various gal monsters and recruit them to your ever-growing harem.
Every action you take in Rance 5D uses up a fraction of your time gauge located at the top of the screen and, if it runs out, a bunch of crazy penguins come at you with a game over screen. The time limit is never too strict and if you plan out your moves and use the safer roulette spins you shouldn’t have a hard time making it through the 5 chapters the game offers.
This isn’t to say that you won’t end up placing yourself in dead end situations, where you either run out of time or are too underleveled in order to effectively proceed. Thankfully, the game does save at regular intervals, namely the beginning of each event, so you will never be too far away from the last save point and you can easily jump to any point in the game at any time.
Rance 5D is relatively short and can be completed in around 10 hours, depending on your luck. Once you do make it to the end, the game has two additional difficulty modes which increase the challenge by either lowering the time you have, or by totally removing the ability to save. But generally, one playthrough is more than enough for you to unlock all the available artwork the game offers.
With that said, Rance 5D is a blast to replay, since battles, items and even some events are totally random. Because of this, you can easily have a drastically different experience every time you jump into another playthrough.
Rance utilizes strengths of the gaming medium and fuses both its story and gameplay. What struck me most is how it has an unbelievable amount of freedom for an entirely menu-driven game. It never holds your hand and it lets you explore things for yourself. Even though this is a relatively linear adventure, it’s ultimately up to you who you want to talk to and what you want to do. See a particularly annoying character and you can have Rance dish out a punch or have Sill read their mind. The game goes so far as to let you dump your key items to free inventory space, even though it might come back and bite you in the end. I went out of my way to mess with the game by doing things I wasn’t supposed to and the game masterfully handled these situations by showing me different outcomes – it’s almost as if the developers thought of everything.
Rance’s nonsensical humor is extremely refreshing in this day and age. What’s baffling is that it makes perfect sense in its weird and twisted world. From the shopkeepers who pack up everything and force you to come back in a few moments since it is against the rules to sell more than one thing at a time, to perverted otters spreading a disease and killing your party members, the jokes here had us in stitches more than once. The game even keeps tabs on how many times you had sex with each girl and increases their stats depending on that. The jokes more often than not hit their mark and the majority of them have a follow up later on. Still, some of it does end up being a bit too much and sometimes can cross the boundaries of good taste.
The game can be frustratingly challenging at times, however this doesn’t just stem from being underleveled or from running out of time, but instead from the brutal random number generator.
In my first playthrough, I focused on treasure chests and special events and, by the time I got to the second area, I hit a wall and was far too underleveled in order to proceed. The second time, I was powerful enough but lacked the crucial support items and missed out picking up backup party members in the form of gal monsters. Fortunately, you can escape from most battles with ease, and, even if your party falls, you can load the game right off from that very scene.
There is something alluring about Rance’s retro anime design. It has been modernized since the previous installments, but it doesn’t lose any of that 90s anime charm in the process.
The audio is also uniquely Rance. You can expect everything from traditional Japanese music, to modern rap and even burping hip-hop in the inventory menu.
Being a Rance title, you can expect adult content. Still, the sex scenes never last for more than a handful of minutes and are spaced out rather well. What is weird is how these scenes somehow manage to be both visually tame and have explicit content at the same time. Rance isn’t really the type to care about anyone except his own selfish needs, which would have made many of these scenes far more questionable if it wasn’t for the lighthearted atmosphere of the game.
Despite some minor flaws, Rance 5D ended up a far more enjoyable adventure than we first expected. It has a colorful cast, mindless humor, refreshing gameplay and allows the players to mess around with almost everything they stumble across. Rance 5D is alone worth the asking price, but considering it comes bundled with Rance 6 it should be a no-brainer for anyone who is at all interested in the franchise.