Rule of Rose Review

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Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: SCEI

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

On a bus to a new life, following the unfortunate demise of her parents, Jennifer meets a small boy who begs her to read him a story. Unwittingly, Jennifer is lured off the bus onto the grounds of the Rose Orphanage, an island in 1930s England where the orphans have escaped the rule of adults to establish their own, cruel rule.

Who could be more vicious than a troupe of lonely orphans with their own social pecking order and arbitrary rules governing social behavior? The children have formed the Aristocrats of the Red Crayon, a cabal that demands outrageous monthly tribute from its citizens. Jennifer, of course is doomed to be one of only two commoners in this noble social order.

Yet, the horrors of a world led by mistreated children is hardly enough to explain the strange experiences Jennifer must muddle through as she tries to puzzle out the strange world entrapping her. Jennifer finds herself wandering the corridors of an abandoned airship and other locations such as an isolated, rural basement, seemingly traveling through time and space with little cohesive reason beyond her own elusive memories.

Kyle Ackerman

Rule of Rose is a good survival/horror game that should have dropped the "survival" to be a great horror game. Without the unnecessary, largely pointless and poorly executed (albeit infrequent) combat sequences, Rule of Rose would be a brilliant and dreadfully creepy adventure/horror-style game for the PlayStation 2. It's unfortunate that combat is such a letdown, because Rule of Rose does such a spectacular job of creating a horrifying environment that is creepy down to the smallest detail.

The game's cinematics are incredibly detailed, telling the tale of an appalling clan of children that revel in abusing the main character, innocent animals and each other. Amanda (the "small-hearted princess"), a fat, uncouth girl with a piggish manner, pokes at Jennifer with a rat tied to the end of a pole. Jennifer is trapped, alive, in a coffin, and later in an onion sack, while the other children drop the grossest insects and trash they can find inside to keep Jennifer company. Every other month (chapter) in the game reveals a new bleeding corpse of a poor animal. And this tangled web of twisted tales increasingly reveals the details of Jennifer's own issues.

Every corner is filled with the children's machinations, ranging from chalk and crayon sketches to diaries, the contents of which are better left unread. The menu screens are like children's scrawlings on a chalkboard, and the illustrations graft the innocence of a schoolchild's doodles onto loathsome events that sicken the soul. Each month in the game is an enactment of the kind of fairy tale that is too terrible for even the Brothers Grimm to have told. These are tales in which a Cinderella-like girl is turned away from the ball because of her horrible odor, and a mermaid pines for her prince until she rots away, a loveless old maid. The game describes itself as "A mysterious, unthinkable, filthy tale." It is – in that, the developers have succeeded impressively. This is a game that, when the protagonist dies, rewards players with a sinister voice declaring "...and everyone lived happily ever after."

Never Let a Pet Come Between Friends

For all the glorious and discomforting horror, the game is hobbled by its combat engine. More precisely, by the lack thereof. Combat in Rule of Rose is a messy affair with poor collision detection and very little sense of control. While the detailed animations look extremely realistic when Jennifer is wandering with a shovel, or limping painfully with an ice pick in hand, very little attention was given to how characters orient themselves in battle. Jennifer might entirely miss a nearby grotesque imp although the pipe she wields seems to have passed through it, or she might be struck down by an imp waving a pushbroom somewhere to her side.

In most circumstances, combat can be avoided, and the basic enemies aren't difficult to take down, one-on-one. Of course, nearly every month in the game features hordes of imps, many of which look like hybrids of animals and that unhappy fellow from "The Scream." Sometimes there will be too many to run past, and Jennifer will be caught in the scuffle. With overlapping enemies and nearly every one of them clamping Jennifer in a vicious hug, she won't always escape. (If she does, she'll need to recover by eating a lollipop, scone or mince pie.) Worse yet, there are a few set-piece battles and boss battles that force players to break away from an otherwise engrossing game to indulge the designers in a stiff battle. And bosses give little clue as to their status in combat, so players may find themselves endlessly stabbing at a boss, wishing for the moment to end. Fortunately, offsetting the problematic battles is a brilliant play mechanic that eliminates much of what is painful about adventure games.

A Boon Companion

Brown is brilliant, and I don't mean the horrific UPS ad campaign. Early in the game, Jennifer acquires a dog named Brown, a companion who single-handedly eliminates most of the negative aspects of adventure games. Jennifer can equip any item in her inventory and instruct Brown to find it. For example, setting Brown on the scent of a little girl's pencil has the dog lead Jennifer to important letters written by that same girl. Instead of searching a vast area, poking around in every dark corner and trying to combine even seemingly unrelated items, the dog lets you follow obvious leads with minimal searching.

Not only does Brown have quite a personality and serve as a sane anchor in a world of juvenile madness, he makes the adventure portions of this game more enjoyable to play than nearly any other adventure game on the market. Never once was I doomed with the sense that I was wandering aimlessly, with no clue as to my next action.

Rule of Rose is a worthy experience, especially for those who want a horror game that ventures forth past Cthuloid monsters to a truly abhorrent adventure. Cut-scenes that would make an animal-lover flee the room are commonplace, and the game is replete with undercurrents of uncomfortable sexuality that make the game easily merit its "M" rating. The production values are excellent, and while there are moments that seem jarring due to the occasional absence of voice acting, and a few things that were never completely localized for an English-speaking audience, these are easily offset by the stellar cinematics, sickening plot and attention to detail. Were it not for the unavoidable combat sequences, Rule of Rose would be an exceptionally detailed horror that everyone should play. As it stands, it's still a worthwhile endeavor for the experienced gamer in need of a sleepless night or two.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 12, 2006 10:14 PM.

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