Announced back in 2018 alongside a the future release of Rance 10 – Showdown –, AliceSoft enjoyers have waited for Rance IX to be playable in English for quite a long time. At last, on February 23, 2023, Mangagamer finally released the game for download on their store. Rance IX is the last game translated by Arunaru before he stopped working with Mangagamer, and a very quality localization overall―by and for true Rance fans. Does it hold up to the hype?
Disclosure: I received a review code from Mangagamer in exchange for this review.
Rance IX was directed by Purin rather than TADA (who directed most other Rance games save the remakes.) AliceSoft veterans might recognize Purin from his game Mamatoto ~a record of war~, a strategy RPG from the turn of the millennium, which some considered his definitive work before this point. Rance IX borrows not only gameplay mechanics and general design philosophy from Mamatoto, but also certain story beats, and it could be considered Mamatoto‘s spiritual “re-imagining” set in the Rance world.
After the unforgettable ending to the opening movie, I knew I was in for a special adventure. The excitement in this game is palpable.
Driven from his rightful throne by a conspiracy and determined to retake his country, exiled prince Patton Misnarge, who was officially known in Helman to be dead, goes to Rance for help. Rance is an unmatched warrior and invaluable ally, but he is also a narcissistic, violent jerk. Casting aside all wariness about Rance’s motives, and subjecting himself and his crew to all manner of abuse, Patton appoints Rance as the leader of their group of rebels.
Rance is as selfish as ever, but he also shows more of his loyal side in this story. During the events of a previous game, Rance’s… well… slave, Sill Plain (a mage who accompanied him on many adventures, and who he truly loves but would never admit), was cursed to be permanently frozen in ice. Aside from bagging all the riches and women in Helman, Rance is after anything he can use to break Sill’s curse and be reunited with her.
Helman’s citizens live in poverty. The food is slop, and the people, knowing no better all their lives, have acclimated and are grateful for whatever they can find. They have suffered many recent disasters, plague, famine, and death, and the corrupt ruling class has left the people to fend for themselves. Helman is a male dominated society and there is tremendous inequality, greed, and corruption. Despite the themes of cruelty and violence, the core of the narrative revolves around peoples’ will to unite and overcome their suffering.
The game is structured into bite size scenes, and players have a small degree of choice what order to read them in. I always felt like I was making progress, and it got me hooked on reading. Also, there are frequent breaks and many different kinds of scenes (including, of course, the ero) which vary the pace. Things are kept light and entertaining when they need to be. Dialogue outside of the H-scenes is top notch, and there is also a bit of characteristic AliceSoft corniness when it comes to epic scenes. This only adds to the charm, in my opinion.
That said, there is a lot of exposition. A tremendous portion of the story is large-scale political and military intrigue, and there is a huge focus on expanding the series lore and tying up a few long-developing mysteries about the world. Thanks to the pacing and structure, I never felt bored with it, though. There is consistent tension and an engaging, dramatic feeling throughout the story. The fantasy world of The Continent is fascinating and goofy in equal measure, and fans of the series will definitely be excited to finally have a look inside the massive Empire of Helman.
Rance IX balances the lighthearted comedic tone characteristic of AliceSoft games with a thrilling story, and completely delivers for those who can’t get enough testosterone-saturated fantasy.
By this point in the series, the size of the cast is immense, but there was an attempt to give each character individual focus wherever possible. Most of their interactions are built off of their prior relationship to Rance, so while the story might still be enjoyable if you are meeting these characters for the first time, and their history is briefly addressed, newcomers might feel alienated or overwhelmed. There are also some character bios for anyone who feels the need to catch up, and a large glossary that gradually fills out as needed during the story.
If you’re lost about who a character is, “Trivia” is the place to go.
On the other hand, even returning fans might feel like some returning characters fall flat or were reduced to shallower incarnations of themselves. I felt like Kanami and Shizuka’s previous characterization was betrayed. Their characters were previously built on their hatred for Rance. They begrudgingly accepted him as their ally and often served as the voice of reason against Rances horrid behavior. But in this game, they “fell in love with him” all too quickly and easily, and had none of the same bite. They felt more like sock-puppets that look like Kanami and Shizuka, and not the characters I know and love. Maria Custard also didn’t show much of her personality, and was mostly a “don’t forget, I exist too!” type of character much of the time. For the most part, the new characters definitely steal the show.
My honest reaction (to some of my favorite characters, this time).
There are a number of new characters, and I especially liked Sheila, the princess of this game. Most of the cast is funny, endearing, or entertaining. Miracle, who is peak chuunibyou, also stood out to me. Chancellor Stessel is an intimidating antagonist in the best way, and was surprisingly the main force keeping me interested in what happened next.
Perspective sometimes follows multiple points of view, something underutilized in previous games, and this gives several characters their own time in the spotlight. This includes multiple male characters, each of which are interesting and well-developed (if the women didn’t feel as much so by-and-large in this entry).
I was a little disappointed with the handling of some of the returning cast, which seems to be a problem for Yoidore Dragon in particular, and it seems like he doesn’t feel confident enough to work with existing characters (but then again, I found even the new cast in Evenicle bland and lifeless, too.)
Despite these gripes, I found the series of individual character event stories entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.
The ero artwork in particular is excellent, and many scenes have two different illustrations with some variants of each. It’s worth noting though, that Mangagamer has once again de-censored the artwork. Whether this is positive or negative is up to personal preference (some find it erotic, and others may be put-off by “Mangagamer-penis-syndrome”) and a certain joke loses its effect due to the removal of mosaic.
If the ball of clay had mosaic, it would have been a better sex joke.
I will say that in terms of writing, the H-scenes can be awkward or clumsy at times. Still, this is not out of the ordinary for translated eroge, particularly other Rance games, and it’s difficult to tell whether this is a product of the translation or consistent with the original Japanese. The H-scenes can also be very long, especially those with multiple CGs. Thankfully, I’d argue, most of the draw of the game is not in the ero at all, but in the story.
Plenty of ero occurs during the story, but as always, ero with the main girls is “free” (in “Rance Mode”).
Monkey orbs are obtained during battles, and can be saved and spent on H scenes.
Be warned: there is a lot of rape in this game. A number of these are Bad End scenes which seem more geared toward developing the brutality of certain situations rather than the eroticism, necessarily. (But at the same time, many of these undeniably involve some pretty extreme kink-stuff.) These scenes involve perpetrators other than Rance, usually antagonists. In Rance’s case, Rance doesn’t think anything of the assaults he commits, he genuinely thinks that women must want to have sex with him, so he never considers consent. He’s playing “RPG-hero-who-always-gets-the-girl” and doesn’t respect that others aren’t playing his game, even though in his own distorted perception he’s acting without malice. Girls’ reactions to this can range from understandable, sad, and traumatizing (and quite honestly upsetting to read), to a bit eyebrow-raising-ly porn-oriented. In good cases, it can make you empathize with the girl and think about how wrong that act is. In bad cases, it took me out of the experience by being written through the lens of eroticism.
How respectfully sexual assault is handled in an AliceSoft game (in terms of tone, appropriateness, realism, etc.) varies from writer to writer. Tori and Dice Korogashi are the best-of-the-best, and Yoidore Dragon is a bit middling―he makes an observable effort to respect it but falters in the execution, and his manner of “framing” causes me a little offense. It’s a very fine line, and difficult to put into words. But, it’s still worth noting that this version of Rance IX is a localization, interpreted through the eyes of the translator, and this may account for some of this delicate issue. I have not compared it to the original Japanese.
What I will say is that I personally found some of its content distressing, and often not in a positive, “challenging” way. A couple scenes made me feel deeply upset or uncomfortable, and even angry. At times, I had to question my will to continue playing. I’ve heard some described as gratuitous shock-value, and I can’t say I disagree. Some things were flippant, in my opinion. Others, like the Bad End scenes, were disturbing and gruesome in a way I don’t think I appreciated. This game caused me to re-evaluate my entire outlook on eroge, and not exactly in a good way, even being someone with a high level of tolerance going in.
While this sounds damning and harsh, it’s important to remember that your mileage may vary; impressions will depend heavily on each reader’s individual tolerance, and what you might be looking for out of a game like this. You may read something else in these scenes than I do, but I think other AliceSoft games, like Dohna Dohna, Rance VI, and moments in Rance 03, handle it better. In my case, I might have just picked the game up at a bad time, but I am definitely glad I kept playing despite this reaction, because there was a lot I liked about the experience as a whole. Whatever your case may be, there is always the ctrl key. I tried, I really did, but the ctrl key became my friend.
Rance IX came at a turning point for AliceSoft, as their games started to take on a more polished, premium feel. It is without a doubt a step up from Rance Quest in terms of visual design, character model quality, and presentation. There are well over 100 CGs, and each one feels like something really special.
Character models are honestly lovely, and have some simplistic but charming battle animations.
The soundtrack is quite catchy and up to an even higher standard than before, with jazzy and high energy tunes in a variety of styles. Personally, I’ve listened to the soundtrack many times on my own―it’s just that good! I would go so far as to call it an underrated as Rance soundtrack. My favorite track was “Trivia”.
This is the game where Orion’s art style really came into its own, and the artwork is stunning. Backgrounds are immersive and high quality, and character sprites are crisp. The sprites face each other this time, unlike in a traditional ADV style game. There are even a number of adorable chibi-style CGs.
The game starts out very grey, and much of it remains so, but as the story progresses, there are absolutely beautiful, vibrant, and awe-inspiring CGs. I absolutely must recommend seeing all the gorgeous artwork for yourself.
Rance IX a somewhat simplified, top down, grid based strategy RPG, in the vein of Fire Emblem and the like. Still, the bulk of the game is reading, with a general balance between gameplay and text similar to Aquaplus’s Utawarerumono (this game is a bit like Utawarerumono in more ways than one.)
For gameplay sections, the UI might take some getting-used-to, but anyone already familiar with Rance series gameplay will likely feel at home. Those who enjoy strategy games in general might feel that its simplistic, but anyone not used to gameplay in their eroge might find it a bit complicated and difficult to master. Its systems are by no means bloated, but they can be a little obtuse (as they sometimes can be in Rance games). While this is NOT Rance 5D, there were some battle systems that I didn’t always feel like I had control over, and which I had to figure out for myself.
“The numbers, Mason, what do they mean?”
If you are finding battles hard, you can use the “optional” free battle mode to gain experience. I found a boss battle early on difficult, and had to do a few free battles before I was able to progress. Thankfully, there are settings to speed up battle and skip certain longer animations, but there is no auto-battle function.
Free battles are kept interesting by their variety; some offer unique twists on the gameplay that feel like mini-games. For example, one is a scrolling level where you have to continually move forward and defeat enemies without being left behind at the edge, or letting enemies through. Some are standalone boss stages. You can also get rare items from these battles. On the other side of this coin, a couple free battles were tedious and had poorly designed maps.
Don’t forget that you can upgrade stats and equipment in the “status” screen before battles to make sure your party is always strong enough to face the next challenge. The weapon and armor upgrade (“boost”) system system is a little strange, since spending gold only gives you only the chance to upgrade each weapon or armor. It often takes one to three (sometimes five to six) boost attempts before the value is increased, either by one level or sometimes three if you’re lucky. I found it strange (but unsurprising) that it was chance-based unlike in Sengoku Rance, and boosting equipment can eat up your gold very quickly, as each attempt raises the cost.
Aside from this, there is a skill point allocation system. Skill points are earned for each individual character when they defeat an enemy, and can be spent like currency. Unlike gold, however, these are character specific, so you must use characters you want to upgrade to earn skill points. Lastly, the Hoverfort, a sort of base-building minigame, can be customized and upgraded using its own form of currency. The Hoverfort grants general bonuses which you can pay to accrue as you progress through the game. You spend this currency to shrink (“miniaturize”) facilities so that you can place more within the grid and accumulate more bonuses.
All that said, leveling up and becoming stronger in Rance games is a uniquely rewarding experience, and I would definitely praise the gameplay flow. As gameplay eroge go, you can’t do better than AliceSoft. Each Rance game has a different playstyle, and no two are exactly alike (though 01 and 03 are similar) so I would certainly recommend checking out the other games as well, particularly Sengoku Rance.
Story – 7.5/10
While some of the cast felt mischaracterized or shallow, Rance IX is a thrilling epic and engaging from start to finish. Pacing keeps the story consistently interesting, and the “free” choice structure of scenes makes it easy to keep reading for a long time without getting bored.
I didn’t personally find the content erotic, (same as most previous Rance games, but this is still better than them) and it feels a bit clumsily written. The ero artwork, however is certainly among the best in an English Rance release. Those sensitive to fictional portrayals of sexual violence should proceed with caution, and may be triggered or offended.
The most polished Rance yet, but not without blemishes. I am particularly a fan of the immersive backgrounds and striking CGs. Character art looks better than ever. Music is boppin’ and groovy. 3D character models are much more appealing than the previous game. (Still, there are greater heights to be reached in the future *cough*Rance 03*cough*.)
Consistently enjoyable with a great sense of progression, but not without jank, a few convoluted aspects, and lengthy, inadequate tutorials. A free battle mode and tips before each battle will help keep you from feeling stuck, and the freeform/linear structure was very approachable.
Rance IX is a premium game at a premium price point, and it’s well worth the cost of admission. Despite my conflicting feelings, I can’t help but give this game a generally warm 7/10. It is geared more toward those who have been invested in the series for a long time, so I would recommend experiencing prior games first. Anyone interested would do well for themselves to try Mangagamer’s previous English Rance releases in numerical order. For existing fans, Rance IX is a satisfying addition to the Rance pantheon.
7/10 – Recommended
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