Rent-A-Hero No. 1
Release Date: 05/25/2000
It’s no secret that when it came to SEGA’s systems, the U.S. got boned on a ton of the company’s obscure and unique game titles. One of the company’s offerings that has a solid fanbase was the Rent A Hero franchise. It even, made an appearance in the wacky Fighters MegaMix for the Sega Saturn, but unlike the never-before-seen instances in a game such as Super Smash Bros., no attempt is ever made to explain Rent A Hero or garner fan interest in the series. Aside from guest appearances in character (Fighters MegaMix) and spirit (Samba de Amigo), the character did enjoy two full-featured game releases – Rent A Hero on the Megadrive and Rent-A-Hero No. 1 on the SEGA Dreamcast. On top of that, the Japanese Virtual Console has featured the Megadrive version since 2007. Back in 2004, it seemed like the Dreamcast version finally had a shot at a U.S. release via a release handled by Cool, which ported the title to the Japanese Xbox after SEGA collapsed as a hardware developer. It just wasn’t meant to be, though, meaning the only way for players to get their hands on the full Dreamcast title was through the means any red-blooded Dreamcast owner took part in – they imported the Japanese version.
If Rent A Hero was such a great title, wouldn’t more people have played it and wouldn’t SEGA have given it more of a chance to release in the U.S.? Why couldn’t Nintendo release the imported Rent A Hero on the Virtual Console? Well, most likely, it stems from the language barrier presented by the game. While most of what Americans get to see makes the title seem like a no-frills action title, Rent A Hero, is more of an adventure, requiring players to embark on fetch quests and investigation before they get to the meaty parts where they just rock the faces of injustice with cybernetic fists. Now don’t misunderstand this – the fetching and investigation do not go anywhere near the degree of that found in Shenmue, so don’t walk away just yet. Rent A Hero is more of an adventure-like RPG (in fact, the original Megadrive version used the Phantasy Star III graphics engine), where instead of participating in random turn-based battles, players engaged in hand-to-hand combat. With this, players will be talking to a lot of people, meaning there is a lot of dialog to translate, but the game’s inherent humor, somewhat to the degree of SeGaGaGa toward the end of the Dreamcast’s life, gives the title some legs to stand on and creates a unique, quirky identity to the title, which also allows it to poke fun at SEGA itself among other references.
While both versions of the game share a similar story, the Dreamcast version presents players with the opening premise: Taro is new to the neighborhood as his family has just moved in after his father receives a job in town. The game kicks off with Taro directly in the middle of a housewarming party, which involves the family’s neighbors, including a portly fellow who is eating the party’s food faster than Taro’s mother can prepare it. In a pinch, Taro’s father prompts him to order some takeout food and when he makes the phone call, a mysterious person claims Taro has won a promotion that discounts his dinner and throws in a free prize that is still in its testing stages. Anyone that understands the concept of foreshadowing should gather that when the package arrives, it ends up being the game’s trademark hero suit. At this point in time, in a desperate attempt to liven up the party, Taro’s father has donned a Godzilla-type costume and when he spots Taro fashioning his new super hero suit, he gloats and challenges Taro into a staged fight to entertain the guests. However, after Taro throws a light, playful jab, the power of the suit sends his father flying across the room, smashing him into the wall. From this point on, Taro realizes the suit isn’t just a toy and the events that unfold from here will shape him into a true hero if he can handle the responsibility.
While the story premise is fantastic and becomes much more involved while the player gets into the more serious missions, everything unfolds in text form, which means if you don’t understand Japanese, a good majority of the game’s content and charm will be entirely lost on you. Admittedly, I will say my Japanese is extremely far from fluent and there was a good bit of context I had to look up, meaning players may miss out on a few extras by not being able to read the questions there are being asked in a few of the game’s scenarios. However, this isn’t to say this a fault of a game developed in Japan, it’s just the standard U.S. player will most likely be turned away from the experience or become quite confused as to what they are supposed to do next and without a concept of dialog, players will miss out on the game’s humor and charm.
By accepting the responsibilities of the hero suit, Taro has now officially become the Rent A Hero and the game plays out appropriately based on the title of the game – along with the suit, the Service Café (or SECA to throw out an obvious reference) has delivered a SECA Creamcast (there’s two references) to Taro, which he uses to log onto an online interface to check for people looking to hire him for his services. As a rookie, though, he isn’t going to receive very many high-profile missions until he earns the trust of the city. This means players will get their feet wet handing out promotional pamphlets, delivering a love letter and delivering take-out food while maybe getting to take a few harmless punks until requests that ask you to protect deliveries or assist the police with criminal matters. The game follows a nice, logical progression with tasks that increase in difficulty as the game goes on and the earlier missions really allow for the player to get a grasp on the controls. Even without Japanese knowledge, the Creamcast interface is pretty straightforward and easy to use and players shouldn’t have any troubles launching any of the games missions. A lot of variety is involved with the missions as well and there are a chunk of optional missions that will provide Taro with cash, which become important when he becomes an official Rent A Hero and must pay a rental fee on the suit and purchase other items that will make him stronger.
The game’s controls are extremely straightforward and if you’re a seasoned SEGA connoisseur, the fighting engine will feel all too familiar to you. Players can do the basics such as initiate a single-button combo string, jump and block, but the variety in Taro’s moveset stems from a separate button that players hold down until a charge meter reaches the desired position for more powerful attacks – yes, this is the scheme used in Spikeout, a SEGA game that actually did release notably in the U.S in 2005 for the Xbox, even though low-key arcade versions of the title had been pumped out in the late “Ëœ90s.
While the control scheme is simple, this also means there is very little variation in what Taro can do in a fight as any new techniques learned must be swapped out – you can only have one combo and a handful of charge specials at any given time. This will really turn away fighting enthusiasts who are now spoiled by Virtua Fighter-sized move lists and it doesn’t really help that the fighting mechanics are slightly broken. Rent-A-Hero No. 1 tries to balance out the heavy-hitting techniques a little by having them drain the battery of the hero suit, but when players get low, they can use their cash to purchase more batteries (which turns into a gratuitous plug for Sanyo). However, if you’re keen on exploring every inch of the fighting mechanics, these broken mechanics really work in your favor, providing some really ridiculous juggles and cheap repetition tactics with moves that require no battery usage. While I’m sure it was unintentional on the part of SEGA, the fighting can get a little crazy if you mix and match your moves correctly, but, otherwise, the enemy AI does tend to be a little on the lame side, merely charging in fist-first to try and land their predetermined combo on you before you can pull off a move. This makes sense when Taro is taking on a group of thugs, but it comes off as cheap AI when it’s mano-a-mano.
However, when you boil it down, each button does what it is supposed to do with great accuracy. There are a few hiccups in having to double-tap a direction to dash while in the middle of a fight and some camera angles do not put your fight in the greatest perspective, but, overall, the fights are well done for what players are given, which, admittedly isn’t much. Most of the fun in the game revolves around the campy humor and references the game throws around, which occur outside of the battles. The control scheme differs just a tad of difference while not in battle, but this mostly revolves around interacting with the environment and alternating between Taro and his Rent A Hero form. On paper, switching forms doesn’t sound like a big deal, but people in environment will react to you differently depending on which form you are in, giving you different dialog bits and sometimes the storyline calls for Taro to be in a specific form.
For the most part, players accept a mission, talk to the person hiring Taro, carry out whatever task they desire (which is most often ensuring the safe delivery or protection of something), rough up any goon that gets in your way and get paid. Even though the game does give players some freedom in deciding what to do and offers a number of different areas to explore (with other areas of city accessed by train), the title’s progress is extremely linear, but players will still be able to sink a handful of hours into it. The best way I can describe Rent-A-Hero, really, is that it is a short attention span Shenmue: There’s plenty of fighting to do, but you’ll have to do a fair share of footwork, fetch questing and conversation to get there. As I alluded to before, it’s not nearly as drawn out as it is in Shenmue, but anyone looking to try and get into this title should be aware that is equal parts adventure to the amount of action. This could really turn away a lot of players, most obviously because of the language barrier, but anyone that sticks with it will find it to be a fairly satisfying adventure.
I’ve often heard stories about Rent-A-Hero No. 1 being a low-budget title for SEGA and if this shows anywhere, it is definitely in the title’s animation and sound. While the graphics and character models are very typical of any SEGA release for the time, the animation is hardly on par with other titles on the system. Of course, the Dreamcast can do better than the graphics presented in Rent-A-Hero No. 1 and they are passable, but the animation is noticeably lacking during most of Taro’s actions, even in his general running animation. There is no voice acting in the entire game aside from some battle groans and grunts, so the game puts the characters through some ridiculously overexaggerated animations to convey the action of conversation. Players will also probably notice all sorts of clipping and pop-in quirks with the game as well. Although these do not tend to occur during fights, they add to the group of nagging elements that are extremely visible throughout the title.
The audio in Rent-A-Hero No. 1, however, has got to be the lowest point of the title. There is no voice acting to be had in any part of the game. While it is fairly understandable that with the expansive amounts of dialog featured in the game, the disc probably wouldn’t be able to contain full voice-overs, having important cutscenes and critical story points pop out with some voices could have taken the game a long way. Overall, the music is pretty uninspiring as well, save for the classic Rent-A-Hero theme that belts out after the first scenario (with the accompanying video providing references to the game’s Megadrive release). A lot of the sound effects are just as serviceable and get the job done, but more effects and some variation would have went a long way for the title. Most of the game’s audio gets the job done, but the real offender overall is in what is missing from the title – a little more in the elements of voice, music and sound could have went a long way here.
Even though this Dreamcast entry is essentially a remake of the original Megadrive version, it does take its own liberties, such as introducing Rent-A-Hiroko (your female “sidekick”Â), arranging the dialog to bring the references up to date (Ms. Naomi, for example), so if you have for some reason played the original title, there is a whole lot more to experience in this title. Rent-A-Hero No. 1 definitely carries the allure of a character U.S players could never get their hands on (unless you are an Xbox pirate with the scheduled domestic release that got canned; it was reviewed by a few outlets so there has to be some copies floating around somewhere) and it is one of the more quirky titles on the system, which makes it a relatively appealing game. The fetching and language barriers will probably be the biggest detractor for U.S. audiences, however, but with all of the guides available online, if you’re looking for a unique experience, Rent-A-Hero should fit the bill, even with all of its shortcomings.
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BELOW AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
The Final Rating: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While you’re going to have to know a decent amount of Japanese or have a guide by your side to fully understand Rent-A-Hero No. 1, the title is another example of SEGA of America hesitating to pull the trigger on a U.S. release of a quirky and original concept. That being said, the title does have its share of issues such as its barely serviceable visuals, lack of quality sound, severely broken and repetitive fighting mechanics and sometimes slow pacing. However, the story and dialog is a good bit entertaining and filled with references to SEGA and the title really banks on its humor and charm. Even though the fighting is broken, it does allow for some customization and those who tinker with it will be able to go to town with some impressive juggles. There is very little deviation from the linear game progression, but the wide variety of tasks and characters the player runs into – from your female counterpart to who eventually becomes your archnemesis – are interesting, even though there is no spoken dialog. This title is above average in every single way, but its not hard to see from its originality, quirky nature and inaccessibility in the U.S. why it has a cult following.