RANCE 3: FALL OF LEAZAS / Alicesoft / PC
I skipped over Rance 2 (as the original will probably never be translated and I can't get the remake to run), but it looks like that actually works out just fine as Rance 3 picks up from the ending of the first game. Kanami, the female ninja we last saw Rance giving the Angle Lock to and then lightly molesting, shows up at his door one day. The kingdom of Leazas, setting of the first game, is apparently falling to an invading army. The princess of Leazas, who was kidnapping and molesting young women in the first game and who was summarily raped by Rance for it, has been taken hostage by the army. I guess we're supposed to forget all that history though, or the fact that Rance ended the first game on the run from the princess since she was demanding he marry her, as he's off to rescue her in this one.

So the whole reason I started up with the Rance series is that apparently it eventually turns into pervy Suikoden; I love Suikoden and I'm OK with pervy. However, at this point, we're still in traditional RPG territory. No strategy elements, but the engine is significantly improved from what was seen in Rance 1. It plays more like a typical MSX or console top-down RPG of the early 90s, and battles now take place on an overhead grid with up to six other characters in your party. The graphics are a hell of a lot better too, with cutscenes and enemy portraits that are on par with the better visual novels of the period.

That said, even with the improvements it's still not much fun. It's pretty much a linear cakewalk that you steamroll through jumping from H-scene to H-scene. Combat is never much fun as you have little control over it; you only directly control Rance, with your companions guided by a simplistic AI script that would be dangerously dumb if the enemies were ever a threat. As is, however, Rance usually can truck the whole field by himself, and often has to as supporting characters attacks are consistently weak (with a scant few exceptions) through the whole game.

There's none of the adventure game puzzle element that the first game had, though that's probably a blessing, as it was so arbitrary and maddening at times there. "Puzzles" are limited to a few contrivances in the dungeons that are basically just a matter of random guessing your way through. As you can save and restore freely at any time, none of this is ever really a problem.

RPG battles and puzzles aren't the main things people are here for, though. It's a hentai game, so the hentai is at the forefront. There's certainly plenty of that, though it's the usual static screens with censored genitals common to your early '90s PC scene in Japan. And there's no way to pussyfoot around the fact that Rance is about rape, though it's in a weird place where it's more like a harem anime dialed up to 11 with semi-consent from the women and a layer of cutesey graphics / bouncy music to blunt the hard edge you'd get from something you'd see on Motherless.

I'm not going to get into a whole moral analysis/debate because this is just a game review and that's a headache I don't need, but I'll say this much. In my review of the first game I concluded that though Rance unquestionably is sexually assaulting women on at least several occasions, it's a real stretch to call it a celebration of "rape culture" and you shouldn't feel the need to flog yourself and run around the internet virtue-signalling in penance if you got caught playing it. I mean, if you aren't similarly stirred up by hentai and visual novels like this in general, I don't see why Rance would be a bridge too far ... I thought we all long ago made peace with the fact that tentacle rape comics are something you can just go ahead and read on the subway in Japan, and that's just how things are there and it's no palpable threat to society. I pointed out that Rance came off more like a product of naive, tone-deaf high school / college virgins just running wild and going all punkrawk with a sendup of RPG genre conventions, rather than some sort of tool made by sexual assault enthusiasts to popularize rape.
                                                                                                     Well, at least he's asking now ...
                                                                                                           .... nevermind

Well, I don't know what happened exactly in the second game, but by the third game that position is a lot tougher to defend. It's pretty much just a conveyor belt of rape fanservice at this point. Interstitial stuff that gave you a break between sexual assaults has been greatly whittled down here, especially the sly sense of humor poking fun at genre conventions that helped to make it seem like this was more of an extreme absurdist parody than fetish porn.

Rance 1 also had a lot more grey area in its hentai, with more sex being of a transactional nature ("bring me X item for sex" arrangements), and assaults reserved for defeated enemies. Rance 3 devolves into Rance assaulting everything that moves, even sympathetic innocent characters. The most glaring example I can think of offhand is Rance forcing himself on a girl he was just sent to rescue from a monster; another is when he assaults an ally character in the street out of nowhere (screenshots of that above). I'm reminded of a scene in Rance 1 where Rance encounters a naked and injured girl in a bandit cave about to be assaulted by some ruffians; choosing to take advantage of her triggered one of the "bad endings". If that scene was in this game, it's a certainty that Rance would jump on her and it would result in just another H-scene with bouncy music.

Still. it gets a better score than the first game just for being much more playable. It still isn't a good RPG, but it's a heck of a lot closer to being one than the slapped-together original game was. The art is drastically improved, and it even has a surprisingly good soundtrack. Really hope the Suikoden elements are about to kick in sometime soon, though.
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