Leveling Down: The Story of Hentai RPGs

Chapter 9. The Zone of Greatness. Undress, Ye Heathens! The Sad Tale Of Crimson Lotus.

Windows '95 came, and marked the end of DOS. It also heralded a new world, world of FMVs, pre-rendered backgrounds, and real 3D. How did small hentai companies deal with all those monstrosities? Well, in the beginning, they tried. At least some of them. A new warrior has appeared on the battle field, replacing D.O. and others as the leader of hentai RPGs. It was Zone.

I'll try to explain why I like Zone so much, even though historically it can't be compared to D.O., Illusion, or even the overrated Alice Soft. They worked during a very short time period, from about 1996 to the end of the millennium, and didn't break any new ground in development of hentai RPGs. But they had heart, and they had talent. First of all, games made by Zone are probably the most aesthetically pleasant of all hentai RPGs. They had very talented artists who could draw beautiful erotic pictures. In a way Zone RPGs were, and still are, the culmination of everything 2D stood for.

They also had awesome CD audio music. It's a pain to get it work on modern computers, but it can be done (all the CD drives have to be disabled but the one with the game disc in it). Modest, attractive graphics, lovely music, traditional, but very cozy and comforting Japanese RPG gameplay, and good stories with developed dialogues and interaction with characters - that is Zone.

To all this you should add a feature they have not invented (some hentai RPGs, most of them not very good ones, did this before), but surely perfected. Basically, the random enemies you encounter are sexy girls. Sexy girls in skimpy clothes. You defeat them in combat, they take their clothes off. I think I've said that already, but it's simple and genius. I think many people will agree that random battles are the most annoying feature of Japanese RPGs. Well, in Zone games, they've made lemonade out of a lemon. They managed to make the player want to fight more random battles! Which RPG developer would dare say such a thing? And they did it with a simple, elegant exploitation of our hormonal urges. I hereby suggest that this feature should be implemented in all games with random battles. Enough with those stupid gold and experience points. Not strong enough to kill my people? Then undress, bitch!!

They started with two Yōjo Ranbu games, both first-person 3D. The first one (1996) had a cool story, one with an almost "I-am-your-father" plot twist, and very solid dungeon crawling and combat system. The second one (1997) had better graphics, so that you really felt you were playing in a fully 3D environment, not a fake one like in PC-98 games. Characters were sprites, though, and the 3D looked quite poor. The story was a bit of a let-down, so Zone did something very strange: it released the game again three years later, this time under the title of Avaron (2000). It has the same graphics and same locations, but a different intro, different dialogues, altered story events, and cooler animations in battles. However, for some reason they have removed the voice acting. Very, very strange. I don't even know which version I should recommend, I actually intend to play them simultaneously and compile a complete list of differences. If you know something that is more nerdy than that, please let me know.

After Yōjo Ranbu, Zone switched to more user-friendly top-down view for exploration in their next game, Asgaldh (1998). They even made an anime after it. Actually, I find it the least interesting among Zone RPGs, but it doesn't mean it's bad. It's still nice in its very characteristic Zone-y (I totally talk like a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) way. Interaction between the hero and the girls, beautiful graphics and music, undressing enemies - Asgaldh has it all.

We are getting closer to one of the most unforgivable and shameful events in the history of hentai RPGs. But first, I'm proud to introduce Guren (1999), which means "Crimson Lotus" and which is definitely the best of all Zone games. It has all the coolness of the others, with the girls being almost unbearably hot, and the music absolutely fantastic. It is set in feudal Japan, Tokugawa era, and the setting adds a beautifully dark and sometimes almost disturbing color to the game. The monsters are genuinely scary, and some of the scenes are not for weak-hearted. It also has an awesome character-building system. The characters don't just automatically level up, like in nearly all Japanese RPGs. Instead, they pay money to train their attributes. So you can choose which attributes to raise, just like in a Western RPG. It's just unbelievable that a little hentai RPG had more intelligent gameplay than most of its mainstream big brothers. Let's have a minute of silence in honor of Guren.

Now comes the shameful part. Zone made two sequels to Guren. They don't deserve the MobyGames link I'm making for them, but I just want to show you how low Zone fell. Guren: Shura is, quite simply, something that should have never existed, like Hegel's philosophy or Kenny G's records. The only good thing in this game are the ever-delicious graphics. Otherwise, they have removed everything. Levels, experience, money, items, equipment, and - get this - movement. They have turned the wonderful Guren into a bloody digital novel, with idiotic, meaningless turn-based battles that are impossible to lose. The next one, Guren: Rasetsu, has at least a saving grace: dice-based board game to navigate the character through the dungeons. But otherwise, they are both complete disasters.

Is it me, or are you noticing a pattern here? Like the others, Zone has turned its back to RPGs. It soiled its good name with those two pitiful sequels to its best game. This is a tragedy in the history of hentai RPGs.

Continued: Chapter 10. Things That Were Remade. Lesbian Retro. 3D Action, Hurray!

Table of Contents: Leveling Down: The Story of Hentai RPGs