Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rance 01 - Hikari wo Motomete

Remaking old games or revitalising old franchises is an appealing prospect for developers, as amongst other reasons, to allow an old game to be playable by a new generation of players on modern hardware, and can be less work than starting a new game from scratch. However, not every old game can get by with a simple remake, and when large-scale changes are made to an existing product, there is also the danger of losing some of the merits of the original that warranted the remake. In some cases, the original gameplay and/or story is strong enough to stand without changes, and updates can be largely cosmetic, and in other instances, new content can be added to supplement the existing game. Rance 01 is a unique case, as none of the original game's features are good enough by the standards of modern eroges to stand on their own, but as the series that originated from this game has maintained a lasting popularity over 24 years, in order for a remake of Rance 1 to be successful, what was necessary, was a complete rewrite of the game from the ground up.

Rance 01 is a remake of a 1989 eroge Rance - Hikari wo Motomete, commonly referred to as Rance 1. The game's package release was limited to pre-orders, but it is available for download purchase on various stores, including dlsite. The original Rance 1 has been released by Alice Soft for free download on the Alice Soft Archives.
Before describing the story of Rance, it is necessary to describe the character of arguably the most iconic protagonist of all eroges. Rance's original 'antihero' concept was established in opposition to the typical traits of a standard fantasy RPG hero. Rance is selfish, has no hesitation or feels no guilt over killing (males), and above all, seeks sex in whatever way he can obtain it. Despite these 'negative' personality traits which disqualify Rance from being a typical 'hero', the setting and context for his actions is generally constructed in such a way that Rance still acts as a force for the relative 'good'. Rance is in some ways an honourable character, as he does keep to his word, but in return, will expect the same from other party, and will use any means necessary to obtain his promised reward.
In Rance 01, Rance, being short of money seeks out a quest at the guild he attached to, The guildmaster Keys, offers him an investigation of Hikari's disappearance, and upon seeing a photo of Hikari and hearing about the unappealing nature of the other jobs available, accepts this quest. and journeys from his hometown to Ice to the capital of Leazus. Hikari is a student at the Paris Girls' Academy, an elite school, and was the most recent of several students to have disappeared from the school. Rance orders his slave Sill to enrol in the academy to investigate Hikari's disappearance from the inside, while Rance proceeds with an external investigation. The story is told almost entirely from Rance's perspective, as he freely moves around various maps, outdoor areas and dungeons between different locations. While the central story itself is relatively short, there are many optional events on it, which are required to clear certain characters. On the whole, the strength of the story lies in certain memorable scenes, rather than the relatively weak overall chain of events, which has to largely mirror those of the original Rance 1.

The Rance series, and the formation of the brand Alice Soft 1989. There are two earlier Champion Soft which are connected to the Rance universe, Little Princess, and Little Vampire, featuring Kentarou and Miki as the main characters (who both feature prominently in Sengoku Rance). Rance 1 was released on the same day as Intruder in 1989, and these games were the two debut titles of Alice Soft. In terms of accessibility, Intruder is certainly an improvement over Little Vampire, and is a vast improvement over Little Princess, which is a strong contender for the hardest (and worst) eroge ever made. However, there's little reason to recommend playing Intruder now, as 24 years after the release date, it is just a primitive, very short eroge with no interesting features. Rance, on the other hand, offered far more in the way of variety and characters, and the series is still ongoing (Rance 9 is close to completion and will be released next year, and Rance 10, the final game of the series has already been planned out). The original Rance 1 is very simple to clear with a walkthrough, but is challenging without one, not due to the difficulty of the gameplay, which is straightforward, but because it's not always clear how to advance the story. Rance 01 smooths out the difficulty a lot, by providing an overview of the investigation, by giving the next action Rance should take to advance the story. However, in order to complete a 'full' clear of the game, a walkthrough is still recommended, as not all of the sub-events are easy to find, some secrets are easy to miss, and it's possible to clear the game without even meeting some of the heroines.

A full description of the gameplay can be seen in the manual, but in rough terms, Rance navigates his way through areas which are represented as horizontal rows of five cards, with the player being able to move forward diagonally ahead left + right, or straight. Each card has a different event, which can include empty areas, monsters, traps or hazards that can inflict Rance with a harmful status, treasure and plot related characters, events or locations. The majority of the cards have their event depicted on their face, although some are left face down until Rance moves on them. With one exception, only a handful of cards in each area are randomised, so that with experience, dangerous areas of each map can be avoided. The system is fairly well laid out, and more importantly, the gameplay is fast-paced, and can be further sped up with the use of the Ctrl. key.

The gameplay is well balanced for the majority of the story, with a steady scaling of difficulty of monsters and the level of equipment throughout the game. During each turn of combat the player can choose to 'bet' certain chips, which contain various items, that can be single use, unlimited use, or unlimited use with a cooldown of 1 or more turns, the length of which depends on the power of the item. Several monsters have special abilities, causing them to either be immune to, or to be damaged super-effectively by items with certain properties, although for me, the only two times this became an important factor was when protecting against experience drain, and collecting the CGs of girl monsters.

Towards the end of the story, the balance becomes more skewed. The strongest shield in the game (which you can buy multiple copies of) is powerful enough to completely nullify all but a handful of attacks, but due to Rance's relatively low hit point total, any powerful attacks that aren't shielded against are likely to be able to OHKO him with a critical hit, or 2HKO him otherwise. Offensively, the game is quite straightforward, as due the possibility of attacking with multiple offensive chips on the same turn, the main defense most of the enemies have is a large number of hitpoints, and even this is not enough to prevent enemies (including the final boss on one attempt) from being OHKOed from a critical hit on an all-out attack. Hence, the main trick to the gameplay is to firstly have a steady rotation of shields, and after that, the most powerful weapons you have access to at a given point in the game.

One of the less user-friendly features of all old eroges, is the use of a menu system for dialogue, along the lines of 'look', 'talk' and so on. In practice, this feature allowed a relatively small amount of text to be spun out into a longer game, but outside of the central plot related/advancement dialogue with each character, the majority of the options produced a banal, single line response. Rance 01 retains this basic system, while improving it through the use of better writing, along with adding some unique, irrational options to certain locations or characters that wouldn't be possible to achieve in a more conventional format, for example, repeatedly falling, and potentially killing yourself while attempting to climb the castle's walls . Despite this, I still think the game would have been better overall as a pure ADV. This is particularly the case for certain story-related scenes, which lose effective when told through the clumsy system (the game sometimes effectively prompts you to pick certain options), and could be more effectively dealt with in a purely textual manner.

The art is perhaps the strongest overall element of Rance 01. The Rance Series' main artist, Orion, is currently working on Rance 9, and in his place, Gyokai, a relatively new employee of Alice Soft. He succeeded in providing high quality character redesigns of long established characters, along with good lineart and CGs. However, it is slightly disappointing the most of the characters only have a single tachie with no variance in facial expressions. On the other hand, the music, whilst of an adequate quality, is fairly disappointing. Alice Soft's long time composer Shade, who has worked on the music for all of the past Rance games, retired from the company fairly recently, and according to EGS, the new composer DJ C++'s only previous work was as a sub-composer on Pastel Chime 3. The drop in quality is particularly evident if the music is compared to that of Sengoku Rance. As always, there's an absence of voices, which is regrettable, but this is a common feature of all of the Rance games.

Perhaps the main criticism that could be leveled at Rance 01, as it stands in relation to the more recent Rance titles, is that it just isn't all that interesting. I feel that there are two key factors for this. The first, and most important, is that this is essentially a solo adventure, and the game really misses the inter-party dynamics between the Rance and the colourful cast of characters, who to varying degrees love or loathe him. Even on occasions in Rance 01 when other characters (briefly) join the party in the form of 'chips', they have little to no interaction between scenes that don't directly involve them as the main character. The characterisation is also not helped by the majority of the heroines in Rance 01 being civilians who have little overall connection to the central plot, many of whom are unlikely to play a key role in future Rance games. The second is the scale of the game. While Rance 01 takes pains to improve on the original, so much of the plot is unrelated to the search for Hikari, with the villains getting a relatively small amount of screen-time, that the final scenes don't have much of an epic feel to them. The same can be said for the story in general. While the villains are certainly more threatening, and relatively evil that they were in the original Rance 1, there's no real epic feel to the game, nor is there a particularly strong climax.

The question remains as to how Rance 01 should be evaluated, and who the game is likely to appeal to. Rance 01 was advertised along the lines of 'play the same eroge that your fathers did'. As a remake, it is in every way an improvement over the original game, and overall, it's a decent eroge. However, in comparison to other Rance games, it's just flat out inferior. Despite this game being the origin of the Rance series, and the first introduction, I wouldn't recommend it as an entry point into the games either (Sengoku Rance or Rance Quest with the expansion would be the best starting points), as there's generally enough background inform . For players who are willing to try older games, I'd recommend starting from Rance 3, the first large-scale, and epic game that Alice Soft made. Overall, while I think the game is worth the pricetag, I'd only recommend it to existing fans of the Rance series, who want something to tide them over before the planned release of Rance 9 in 2014.

Overall Score: 70%

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