CW: References to rape and slavery as plot devices.

Sometimes, the games I review make me answer some unexpected questions. Given that my reviews of eroge always end up among the most viewed of my work, I knew I would be taking a look at this series eventually, and I always knew that I would have some difficulties with it. In this case, I don’t mean “difficulty” as in it being hard to play, but more so hard for me to review.

I’m sure that most of you are well aware that I’m a feminist, and that my feminist views have largely impacted how I perceive the world around me. If I’m being honest, I’m usually hesitant to bring it up with most normies because they either know next to nothing about it and thus don’t grasp the significance, or they are one of the many who have been groomed by right wingers to believe that feminism amounts to what they see on Buzzfeed or Youtube cringe compilations.

I’m fully aware that people can get very invested in their hobbies and don’t respond well to being judged by people who look down on them for said hobby. I get it, I’ve been a gamer longer than I’ve been a feminist, and I still have a bit of fear of being “canceled” because I gave a platform to a problematic game. Hell that has been a major fear of mine with this exact review.

I enjoyed Rance 5D, and explaining why is going to be quite the trip. The Rance series is considered one of the most influential eroge series of all time, and it extends back to the late 80s. The premise of the series basically comes down to “what if main character in a typical fantasy setting was a terrible human being?” So instead of playing as a brave hero, you play as a sleazy, slave owning, fuckboy who says the word “rape” every other sentence.

So that begs the question of how the hell AliceSoft managed to make this premise work for over twenty years when a gimmick like that sounds like it would get old very fast? I can’t speak in regards to the series as a whole, but I will say that Rance 5D had the right approach… for the most part.

Rance 5D works because the game was always intended to be stupid, and there is a sense of self awareness to its stupidity. A lot of the game’s humor genuinely made me laugh and there was a unique sense of charm to this experience that isn’t present in most games. That’s not to say there weren’t any problems though, so I better get the most obvious one out of the way.

This game makes jokes about rape, and it makes a lot of them. So that means a feminist like myself would send this game to the electric chair right? I wouldn’t, but I can see why many would, and I wouldn’t say they are wrong to do so. I am actually quite fond of a lot of tasteless, low brow humor. I can enjoy the occasional South Park episode and I can play a pretty mean Cards Against Humanity game, but I have my limits.

Most people who insist that rape is never funny and that anyone who thinks otherwise in any context are rape apologists, are those who have either been raped, know someone who has been, or live in fear of it happening to them. A lot of edgy humor tends to hit too close to home with those who have actually experienced the thing being joked about.

My opinion when it comes to this type of humor is basically what George Carlin said; that it depends what is being emphasized and what the punchline is, but it’s also important to keep in mind that I’ve never experienced rape or sexual assault. While I do find that this game does have a lot of genuinely funny moments that occur as a result of Rance’s buffoonery, the ones that involve rape just don’t land.

I’m sure it is.

They don’t land because there are points where this game seems to think that saying the word “rape” counts as a joke, and that may be funny if you are a hormonal teenage boy or incel, but it ends up being awkward and creepy to damn near everyone else. It doesn’t help that Rance 5D isn’t entirely consistent in how it wants to portray Rance. Most of the game is silly and stupid, and a lot of the jokes are “look at how much of a horny asshole this guy is,” but there are few serious moments where Rance is portrayed as well meaning and genuinely heroic, almost as if he literally doesn’t know that rape and slavery are bad.

And to be fair, that IS kind of how rape culture is spread; through people not understanding the dynamics of consent. Right at the start of game, Rance says something along the lines of “I paid for her with my own money, that means I can do whatever I want with her” without even thinking about whether or not owning another human being or using them as an object is even ethical. IE, it’s “just the way things are.” Yet later on, he sees a letter that describes someone viciously abusing his wife, too which he responds with absolute disgust, as if he doesn’t do the exact same shit pretty much everyone he comes across.

Perhaps the funniest thing about Rance is that, despite the sheer absurdity of its premise, it’s not much of a stretch to point out that a lot of people we consider to be famous “heroes” throughout history… are garbage people. Yet Rance is seen as an absurdist portrayal because we didn’t grow up being taught that Thomas Jefferson was a pedophile who owned child sex slaves, or that Winston Churchill was an insane bigot whose policies lead to the deaths of millions in the Bengal Famine. We instead only see the parts of their legacies that are kind to them and make them look nice, with all of the horrifying shit left out.

If I’m being honest, I have no idea whether to praise or condemn Rance 5D for its subtlety. While there certainly won’t be anyone who plays Rance 5D and becomes convinced that rape and slavery are actually okay, the concern that I and many others have is that there are too many garbage people who will look at a character like Rance, and think of him as a genuine hero, while also taking the existence of this series as a validation of their toxic mindset.

I’ve heard some go as far as to say that the Rance series promotes rape culture and is basically an incel’s wet dream. There are a LOT of eroge that fit that description, but I don’t think I’d say that Rance actively promotes it. It’s more so accurate to say that it doesn’t challenge it, and while that is harmful in its own right, it would be like comparing an early Eminem album to Mein Kampf. It is certainly problematic and insensitive, and plenty of assholes take after it, but it’s unfair to compare it to something that is actively TRYING to bring out the evil in people.

I find that I’m able to enjoy Rance 5D because it’s self aware enough to recognize its absurdity and vulgarity, but also because there is a lot more to it than its central gimmick. Even without its controversial premise, the Rance series has an immersive world with intricate lore to it, and I kept being surprised by all the unique locales and creatures I came across in this game. I also did find most of the characters enjoyable, although not especially deep. The story was fairly compelling, the visuals were well drawn, and the music was catchy as hell.

As for the sex scenes, one would think that Rance would be the type of game to feature a bunch of horrifying and grotesque fetish shit, and I don’t know if that’s the case with other games in the series, but Rance 5D’s sex scenes were surprisingly tame. In fact, they were pretty much inconsequential and I often forget that they even exist. While I ultimately found the sex scenes as erotic as listening to Ted Cruz filibuster an LGBT rights law, they are also ultimately brief and insignificant in the grand scheme of things… much like Ted Cruz’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

Not that the girls aren’t cute or anything, Rance’s narration just completely kills any sexual arousal.

The gameplay, much like the rest of this game, is certainly odd. Rance 5D has been described as a “roulette RPG,” which is basically a nicer way of saying that damn near everything is randomly selected. For those looking for robust, strategic battle mechanics, Rance 5D is NOT the game for you. Rance 5D’s game mechanics can be described as this odd hybrid of a visual novel, a point and click adventure game, a board game, and a turn based RPG.

The game is divided into 5 chapters, each of which gives you a limited number of turns. You use these turns to explore towns and dungeons, to move to new locations, to get in a battle, to buy items, and pretty much anything. While exploring dungeons, your progress is randomly determined by a roulette spin. Based on the result of the spin, you can either advance to a plot relevant cutscene, a random encounter, a treasure chest, a booby trap, and a portal that shows the player the history of the alien planet Kurupiston, a planet featured in previous installments but that has zero relevance to the main plot of this one.

The player is given a limited number of spins to view all the plot advancing cutscenes while also defeating bosses. Theoretically, this would make every playthrough unique given that you would not happen upon the same set of items or enemies twice, and would reach your destination a different way each time. Unfortunately, this just makes each playthrough feel less unique because you are approaching things the same way each time, and you just end up with a game that feels less polished.

I do like the approach of this roulette system, but I ultimate feel it would have been more interesting if it actually lead to different results each time. I mean sure, you could reach the end with a different set of equipment or monsters recruited, but Rance 5D wasn’t exactly the type of game that I felt motivated to play through a second time just to see these differences, and I still very much felt like I saw most of what the game had to offer by the time I reached the end credits.

The only difference that a second playthrough would have is that the player is less likely to use up all their turns because they already know that they can’t waste turns exploring, unlike in the first playthrough where one may decide to spend all their turns in the town in chapter two trying to explore, only to not have enough turns left to finish the dungeon and need to replay the chapter from the beginning because there’s only one save slot. So yeah, the game doesn’t even allow you to explore the mechanics in any serious depths because you are on a constant timer. What absolutely baffles me about this game is how much better it would have been with a New Game + feature. This would have given the player so much more time to explore these dungeons and find some of the items and enemies they didn’t get to see the first time.

There is somewhat of a solution in that the kind of treasure you can find by searching will change depending on which character you use to search. If you use Rance to search, then you can find time bags that will give you added turns. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that during my playthrough because Sill always had better results with searches, and nothing in the game indicates that different characters could find different items. To be fair, this IS mentioned in a MangaGamer blog post, but it would have been better if the actual game said so.

Battles are also determined entirely by dice roll. Both player characters and enemies will have their moves mapped to a number on a six sided die, and a single dice roll will determine the action of every character each turn. While the player does not have any input over the character’s actions during battle, the outcome can be changed based on the player’s party and equipment setup, so it’s not as if there is zero strategy. You can also fast forward through battles the same way you fast forward through text.

Rance 5D was an interesting experiment, to say the least. While I have some criticisms with the gameplay, I did ultimately enjoy the story and characters and am interested in the rest of the series. At the same time, I do think that the criticism of the story is also valid, and I can fully understand why some would take serious issue with it. The real reason I’m open to playing the future games in the series is because 5D is supposedly one of the weakest installments, in addition to the fact that Rance apparently develops into less of a scumbag as his creator came to realize that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to trivialize horrible atrocities like rape and slavery.

As for the question of whether or or not I’d recommend Rance 5D, I’d say… maybe. It is worth noting that Rance 5D was originally sold for the equivalent of $25 at retail (although I don’t know if that is fully accurate considering the fact that its original release was in 2002, given inflation and all), which was reflective of the fact that this was a lower budget game than previous installments. Outside of Japan, however, it was not released until 2016 where it came bundled with Rance VI: Collapse of Zeth, a supposedly much higher budget title and among the most well recieved in the series.

My overall impression on Rance 5D is a resounding, “it’s alright, I guess.” I think it’s easy to see why this is considered one of the weaker entries in the series. It was an interesting experience gameplay wise, and Alice Soft have shown that they do have some genuine talent with this project. But I’m ultimately still proceeding with a bit of caution in regards to the rest of the series, and I’d be far less interested if I didn’t hear that Rance‘s character underwent serious development in future entries.

While I have yet to play Collapse of Zeth and thus can’t vouch for the whole thing, you can purchase the bundle through this link for $34.95, or this one here if you are comfortable paying an additional $5 for a hard copy. Whether or not I’d recommend this bundle will largely depend on how I feel about Collapse of Zeth, given that it makes up most of the game’s content, and is supposedly an immensely superior title.

Anyway, It’s nice to be back to putting out content. I hope to resume a consistent reviewing schedule soon. See you all soon.

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