Genre: RPG Developer: AM2 Publisher: Sega of Japan Players: 1 Released: 1991
Rent A Hero often pops up in fans’ lists of games they would like to be translated. Released in 1991 exclusively in Japan, it sure looks intriguing in the beginning. You play as a nameless young guy in a family that recently moved into town and there is a housewarming party going on. At some point your father sneaks upstairs to don his Godzilla costume, while your call to the local delivery service gets you no food but a superhero costume instead, right to your doorstep. Obviously enough, you’ll get into that costume and start a little show fight with Godzilla dad, only to send him flying into the wall with your first punch. Having found out that the suit boosts your strength, you’re now a superhero for hire! From your PC you’ll get a diverse range of job requests from the citizens, ranging from food delivery or finding lost kittens to more advanced fare like playing bodyguard or helping the police in crime investigation.
It’s not only in storyline and some quirky quests that the game diverges from your standard RPG fare. For starters, there are no experience points or leveling up. You can transform into the superhero using a command in the menu to boost your stats, and though even walking around will drain the suit’s energy, you’ll want to keep it on most of the time since your non-hero self is literally unsuited for the random battles you’ll get into. During random enemy encounters the action is displayed from the side, fighting game-style en lieu of a round-based system. There can be multiple enemies on screen, but you can’t move into the background, so it’s not really like a brawler but more like a very basic versus-fighting game with three moves and cruel hit detection. You can either punch, jump kick or use a special attack that will drain your battery and is thus very limited in use. These specials also need to be developed first by sending money to the suit’s company. You can also donate money for the development of new versions of the suit, the closest thing to leveling up. Managing your funds is vital to survival in this game.
While even the most basic fighting games can be fun, in Rent A Hero even touching an enemy costs you health points, so you need to be exceedingly careful. Fighting is usually done by approaching the enemy, trying to get in a punch or aiming a kick very precisely, and immediately backing away before you take a blow. The occasional bosses can kill you within seconds, so you’d better save your battery and spam them with specials. Overall, the fighting feels stiff and awkward, but it remains playable and getting through a fight without losing health can be rewarding in that peculiar way of beating a game’s sub-par programming. Another annoying factor though is the random nature of the enemy’s strength, along with the random amount of money you get after a fight. Sometimes you run into a tough adversary and get almost nothing in return, which is more than a little weird.
As for the rest of the gameplay, you mostly walk around the city following a lead, talking to different persons and stacking up on healing items for your limited inventory. You’ll also have to send money for the rental of your suit. Yes, you work for the company, yet you pay them for the rental, plus you finance their technical development! It might be a new idea but it doesn’t really add to the game’s experience when you don’t pay the rental fee in time and lose your suit. There are attempts at variety with missions where you have to defuse a bomb for example, but there are no mini games or such fancy ideas for this, so despite the different jobs gameplay is fairly limited in its range. You do get a little puzzle from time to time. These word-based puzzles and the strictly verbal hints at your next target are what make this game unplayable if you don’t have at least basic Japanese skills (there are only kana used, no kanji).
From time to time there are a few nice touches. For example, you’ll run into an arcade with various Sega machines like OutRun or G-LOC standing around, each one playing a little tune from the game if you examine it. And the overall atmosphere of the game is a welcome change from most RPGs, with some more or less funny dialogue lines and a mostly realistic setting instead of dungeons and dragons. Another welcome feature is that a few hours into the game you get a handy item that will let you save at any time into three slots. Since random fights can get unexpectedly tough, you’ll find yourself saving and loading a lot.
On the technical side of things, I’m afraid to say that Rent A Hero doesn’t shine. As you can see in screen shots, the level graphics look quite drab and wouldn’t have stood out positively even in the beginning of the system’s lifespan. The backgrounds during fights actually vary nicely according to the surroundings, but the animation of the character sprites is laughable. Apart from the cool title tune, the music is somewhere between okay and annoying, with particularly horrendous music playing in the shops.
My overall impression is that there was a severe lack of funds or time in the making of this game. Despite this, there are some redeeming features, mostly having to do with how unusual parts of the game are. The remake for the Dreamcast (later ported to the Xbox), which was again doomed to stay in Japan, is proof enough that there are some promising aspects to the game, and it seemed to have a few fans. Some nice details and nods to Sega’s fans like a Mega Drive sitting proudly in the protagonist’s room or the aforementioned arcade make this a clear contender for a cult classic. And it could have been a killer had it been given a bit more variety, graphical sheen and a smoother fighting system. While I wouldn’t call the game a hidden gem, here’s hoping that the long-abandoned translation will someday be finished, so that all fans can play this fairly decent and unusual RPG. However, if you’re looking for the definite version of the game, I’d advise you to go for the remake.
SCORE: 6 out of 10