RANCE 4: LEGACY OF THE SECT / AliceSoft / PC
I find myself appreciating the Rance games more in this modern social climate we find ourselves in. Not due to the character's "problematic" approach to women and sex, which I could care less about - in this fourth entry the "H" scenes are still the same old bog-standard censored anime JPGs found throughout the hentai genre, and are one of the most boring parts of the game (you'll see a whole lot worse just firing up the front page of PornHub and looking at the thumbnails).
No, it's because it's - as the kids would say - "based." It's the refreshingly punkrawk attitude toward parody and expression, which has always been the one worthwhile thing about these games. Like the three games that preceded it, Rance is a no-holds-barred send-up of the ridiculous elements of RPGs, harem anime, and gamer and otaku culture in general. I can understand why this series became so popular in a culture as extremely repressed as Japan has tended to be.
We find ourselves deep in that sort of culture in the West now, as the Wokefolk slacktivists roam the plains of social media taking it upon themselves to fight the battles of every potentially aggrieved or offended group on the planet (whether they were asked to or not ... and they're almost never asked to). People fret about the rise of nationalism, and indeed that's the most immediately politically potent threat, but what they tend to miss is that the internet has given rise to a taste for extremism across the board - both right and left. Anti-democratic right-wing oligarchs and nationalists occupy seats of power in a worrying number of major economies, but the left-wing extremism of Cancel Culture and Thought Policing has been simmering away on the backburner the entire time threatening to spill over and become the next major fire at any time.
Rance is the sort of thing that, were it not so obscure and past its prime in terms of relevancy, this culture would love to use for easy layups to rack up their wokie points. The developer decided they wanted an H-game that just laid bare all the nonsense and gave you a hero that is lecherous and self-centered to an absurd degree, who wants to sex up every attractive woman he comes across and has little compunction about cajoling or bullying them into it. The funny thing about that is that the erotic art is the most boring and unremarkable part of it all. It's completely standard H-game stuff, and much tamer than most as it doesn't drift into disturbing fetishes or lolicon. It's the text that's "problematic", because that's the only way we get the implication that Rance is Rancing a bunch of these women without their full consent.
There's a whole big conversation that leads to about censorship priorities and double standards and what you're "allowed" to make jokes about in fiction, but we're here for a game review and I've drifted far enough away from that already. Rance 4 continues in the style of the previous games, essentially a visual novel adapted into an RPG. I think this was the first one not developed for the older MSX computers, so it has slightly sharper art and a more convenient mouse-based interface that lets you do absolutely everything with left and right clicks alone. In terms of gameplay it's extremely similar to the previous entry, and in structure it's most comparable to Rance 2 in that it centers on a lone town with one massive, sprawling dungeon to explore.
At the outset, Rance and his eternal companion Sill have been teleported to a place unknown after defeating some ancient demon in a pocket dimension at the conclusion of the previous game. They soon discover they're on a floating island above the mainland (a la Ys, which this series seems to love to poke at) that has been out of contact with the rest of the world for hundreds of years. To get back home, they'll have to explore the massive monster-infested ruins that sprawl below the city and up into a number of towers around the island.
"I have a very large-a brain"
While it's a little easier to navigate than it ever was, and the soundtrack is surprisingly good (using digital audio with high-quality synths instead of the usual MIDI crap found in H-games), Rance 4 trips over the same things the previous game did. Even more so here, due to nearly all of it taking place in one sprawling dungeon with very samey maps. As with Rance 3, it really isn't hard and often feels like a cakewalk, but it's irritating and tedious due to a lot of backtracking to find obscure progression flags (in classic visual novel style) and being interrupted by a lot of tedious random battles.
Unfortunately, as much as I appreciate the spirit, the gameplay is still indefensible. The game ultimately lost me about halfway through or so due to all that tedious dungeon backtracking. While the comedy is often quite enjoyable and it's a much more creative and developed world than the usual H-game affair, at this point it's still not really worth all the tedium and clicking through the endless sex scenes (which range from boring to cringey) to get to. Sex scenes aside, I appreciate what Rance 4 was going for in terms of extreme absurdist parody, but those bits of it are still too much mired in poor game design and porn that the game would actually probably be better off without.
* Gameplay Video
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