Rule of Rose is a game originally developed by Punchline with CG from Shirogumi and published in Japan by Sony of Japan. There was quite a bit of controversy involving this game early on due to some erotic overtones involving the cast of female minors. It was due to this that Sony of America decided to pass on the title, leaving Atlus the task of localizing and publishing it in the United States.
With the psychological horror genre carrying some stiff competition with the Silent Hill and Fatal Frame series, among others, will Rule of Rose manage to stand tall against the competition or will it suffer from one too many thorns?
One of the first things that’re noticable about the graphics in Rule of Rose is that they have a similar style and feel to them that the graphics in the Silent Hill series did, caused by some sort of graphical filter. It causes some graininess to appear, especially during gameplay, but that’s more to set the atmosphere and mood rather than a defect within the game itself.
The character designs are all rather good, although they all seem a bit off, as if something wasn’t quite right with them. This seems to be more on purpose again, helping to set the tone of the game and give the player a feeling that something just isn’t quite right here. Amanda, in general, seems to have a mouth that’s a bit too wide for her face, and is definitely quite creep in various stages of the game.
The developers seem to go a bit too far on the enemies though, as outside of the bosses they appear almost … crude and not at all spooky, giving more of the impression that something is wrong as opposed to something being legitimately scary.
It has to be mentioned that the cutscenes in the game are truly beautiful, and are the source of most of the truly disturbing elements of the game. Credit goes to the folks at Shirogumi and Punchline for the solid CG work.
The music in Rule of Rose is very atmospheric, consisting heavily of string-based orchestrated pieces with a few period vocal tracks. The music does an excellent job of setting the scene, much as the music in a really good horror film will, building you up before springing a surprise or a shock upon you.
The voice acting in the game is more hit or miss. While the voices themselves are quite solid, all having (to an American ear) solid British accents with different regions reflected, the timing and location of the voices leaves a little bit to be desired. Early in the game, almost everything is voiced while later on, the voicing drops off noticably, especially when running into the various children in the game. You’ll hear them laugh while text is on the screen, but they won’t actually be saying anything audible. It’s more disappointing than anything else, as it might be hoped that the game would be fully voiced, as it would definitely help with the atmospheric end of things.
The controls in Rule of Rose are a mixed bag, especially when it comes to the camera. The basic controls themselves are pretty simple. Moving Jennifer around is done with the analog stick, and moving it further from center will cause her to run while holding it close will cause her to walk. A nice touch is that after you’ve had her run for a bit, she’ll catch her breath when you stop, with the breathing time taking longer if you have her run longer. It has no real game consequences, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
Circle and Square are used to cause your dog to either wait where he is or come to where you are. Triangle is used to cause the dog to ‘find’ a certain item that you’ve set up previously. X is used to confirm choices, move through dialogue, and attack when pressed while the R1 button is held down.
The L2 and R2 buttons are used to rotate the camera, but the camera will pretty much only move behind the character, and only in rooms that are big enough. There are numerous occasions when it would be helpful to be able to position the camera manually to help see around your character, but as the game doesn’t support this, the camera work can get quite frustrating at times.
Finally, select opens up the map, while start pauses the game and opens up your inventory.
In Rule of Rose you play the part of Jennifer, a young British woman travelling on a bus in March of 1930. While on the bus, a young boy approaches you with a request to read a story. While reading the story, the bus stops and the boy runs off the bus. As you go to call after him, the bus takes off, leaving you stranded near an old orphanage. After exploring the orphanage, you’re captured and taken aboard a dirigible where the rest of the story plays out.
Each month, you will be tasked with bringing a certain item to the Aristocrats Club, or risk being killed by the ‘Prince’. During the search for the items, you’ll run into various of the children from the orphanage and also be attacked by a number of child-like imps.
The theme of the game seems to be more about the interaction of Jennifer as she tries to escape the torments of the other girls in the Aristocrat’s Club (also called Aristocrats of the Red Crayon). As with Silent Hill before it, the gameplay is more about the visuals of the game and storytelling, with a healthy dose of exploration, puzzle solving, with combat being more of an afterthought. Most of the imps in the game can be dodged or avoided, with only the boss characters and a few of the other fights being truly necessary, although it is quite satisfying to knock the little imps around from time to time.
The only real problems in the game are that it doesn’t do its job as psychological horror to really scare you. The game seems to be less horrific and more just slightly off. The few highly disturbing moments are more few and far between, and even the enemies are more annoying than spooky.
The other problem stems from the fact that a lot of the game involves going from location to location, triggering specific events to open up other areas on the map. Early on, this is especially plodding in nature, as it’s a frustrating pain to have your dog try to lead you to an area which is locked because you haven’t triggered the specific section that opens it up yet. In this respect, the game feels more plodding than actually exciting.
As far as the dog goes, unlike Haunting Ground, which this has been compared to, the dog is not there to help you attack. He’s more there to help you find hidden items on the ground both for plot purposes and to help find recovery items. A few special items can be found by him as well, which unlock bonus hidden content in the game later on.
While Rule of Rose has somewhat solid gameplay, and an engaging story that’ll make you think while playing the fifteen to twenty hours the story can take (at a minimum. Finding all of the secret items can push gameplay up to thirty or forty hours easily).
The game does feature two seperate endings, as well as a New Game+ mode with extra costumes and the ability to play the game again with amped-up weaponry, the game itself really isn’t all that fun. It’d work much better as a movie than it does as a game. The cutscenes are great, the game really pushes the boundaries of what we consider a ‘game’, especially in the United States, and the developers as well as Atlus themselves should be commended for that.
If only it was more fun and a lot scarier. Rule of Rose is more of a rental title, unless you can find it on sale somewhere.