RANCE: QUEST FOR HIKARI / Alicesoft / PC
This is the first of the Rance games, and the first of my experiences with his legally and morally dubious adventures, but my understanding is that the series went on from this 1989 release to be extremely long-running (exclusively in Japan) and to lean toward RPG-strategy hybrids (like a pervy version of Suikoden). This opening entry plays more like the first Phantasy Star if it didn't have overhead-view map segments, instead conducting the entire game in a first-person menu-controlled style.
So it's basically a bunch of adventure game with some very basic RPG battles thrown in. The Phantasy Star resemblance also extends to the game world, which has modern architecture and technology yet the world is made up of monarchies and everyone is packing medieval weaponry and armor. I assume the later Rance games clarified what sort of time period this is supposed to be, but here it just seems like a random jokey mishmosh.
One of the things I like about the game is that there's a digital equivalent of "liner notes" in the Alice's Manor option on the main menu, in which the developers actually go into pretty extensive detail about the conceptualization and development of the game. What they tell us is that they wanted Rance to be an asshole and anti-hero to stand out, and the game outright calls him a "violent criminal" right from the jump. So you should have some warning as to what you're getting into here, if you somehow blundered into this one without any prior exposure to hentai games or anime.
Still, the game has an extremely permissive attitude toward sexual assault that may be shocking and disturbing to some, even those familiar with the horrors that hentai can wreak. I mean, you literally have an "assault" button as one of your omnipresent menu commands, and you're free to at least attempt applying it to any female character that you run across.
So that's the big sticking point for playing a Rance game, it would appear. And while I'm certainly not defending this one's attitudes (you did notice the 1/5 score, right?), Rance does muddy the waters at least a little bit. The tone is arguably not as bad as something like a Rapelay, as the whole thing is played as comedy. About as insensitive and tone-deaf as comedy can get, sure, but it doesn't have the same brutal edge as a "sexploitation" or rape fantasy film. Rance doesn't beat or kill women and there's no lolicon (at least by Japanese legality standards), so you can say that much for the game at least.
Of course, a humorous tone and bouncy music doesn't excuse the fact that Rance is learning spells by non-consensually diddling his "slave" assistant Sill, or extracting retribution on women who attack him by raping them, or groping unconscious or tied-up women, or extorting sex out of women he catches in vulnerable positions every chance he gets. And perhaps it's even more evil for painting all this in a coating of cutesy graphics and nerdy jokes. But it comes off as the product of socially unaware and sexually frustrated college kids, rather than something created by a serial rapist exhorting people to go out and adopt his lifestyle. In poor taste? Yep. Creepy? Oh yeah. But ultimately just fantasy in a fantasy world. You get the feeling these kids probably started feeling embarrassed about this once they got out in the world and got laid. Probably spend their days now hoping that their wives never find out they were involved in it.
So I don't give it the 1/5 because I feel like that's what the Progressive Social Justice P.C. Playbook dictates you do in these situations. I give it the 1/5 more because it's balls to actually play. There's actually a solid fundamental structure here, but the small details are all diddled up. Puzzles are stupidly obtuse, the worst of that "click on every possible object and action 800 times for no logical reason" style often employed in visual novels. One key item that you need to negate powerful attacks that later enemies throw at you can *only* be obtained at level 12 (you start at level 10) with no indication anywhere this is even a thing, and if you shoot past 12 without getting it it's gone for good. And some requisite level/money grinding you need to do to survive later battles is literally a matter of clicking the left mouse button as fast as you can, just because the combat system is bone-simple (at least it doesn't take very long).
It's a shame that Rance had to lean so rapey, as it often delivers some legitimate sensible chuckles in the non-sexual moments. But between the bad structure, tedious combat with monsters literally looking like they were scrawled in MS Paint, and the creepy sexual overtones, it's real tough to recommend to anyone but the same hardcore pervs who probably bought it out of the back of the closed-off section of the video store two-and-a-half decades ago.
* Nice read on the rapeyness of Rance
(though a little bit of a "look what a good person I am for decrying rape, pat my head" edge for my taste)