Posted on September 18, 2006 by Flames
Sony PS2 console game developed by PUNCHLINE Inc.
Little orphan evil.
Rule of Rose tells the eerie and disturbing story of Jennifer, an apprehensive protagonist who must face the fantastic evil of a child’s imagination. Set in an English orphanage of the 1930’s, the game is a story of social outcasts, cruel violence, strained relationships and prepubescent sexuality. Since the cast of the game are almost entirely children, Sony was hesitant to release the game in America. Atlus, a company with a history of importing niche titles, stepped up and took the risk of bringing a game of challenging issues to the market.
Adults being nearly absent in their lives, the girls of the orphanage form a misguided hierarchy; the Aristocrat Club. Membership is compulsory, and monthly dues must be paid in the form of presents to Princess Rose. A girl who fails to bring Rose what she demands faces shame and abuse from the other orphans. As the new arrival, Jennifer is at the bottom of the pecking order and is mistrusted and humiliated regularly.
The story itself is strongly scripted and plays out in beautifully rendered movies. Each chapter begins with a tragic fairy tale illustrated with children’s scribbles of Mermaids caught on fishhooks, monsters dressed in people’s clothes and so on. Entering certain areas and finishing chapters treats the player to gorgeous movie segments with terrific voice acting and twists and turns to the story that shock and disturb. The story alone is compelling, as frail and weak characters are pushed into relentless confrontations with their supposed betters.
Music is reflective of the setting. Piano and string ensembles provide a mix of stirring romantic melodies and early 20th century insect-like plucks and discordant bangs. Scratchy gramophone recordings of childlike melodies appear as well. If there’s any flaw in the music, it’s that there isn’t enough. Most cues repeat often during long stretches of investigation. Sound effects are also well crafted but repetitive. Even then, there is still a powerful effect to hearing a creature just around the corner whispering to itself.
Controls and mechanics in the game are familiar to anyone who has played the PS2 Silent Hill series or early Resident Evil games. Like most survival horror titles, the focus of the game play is on exploring creepy environments and finding keys and items that will open up the next series of doors into new areas. Here is where the developers have introduced a great innovation: Brown, Jennifer’s dog.
Brown is a gift to everyone who’s ever spent hours in a game walking up to each and every object and using the search command. If Jennifer shows Brown an object she can tell him to go find more. Brown is an excellent tracker and will lead the way and reveal items, doors and even people. Each item also has multiple others related to it, so one search may lead a chain that carry Jennifer and Brown all over a region. Inventory space is limited but dropped items always return to a depository and are never permanently lost.
Creeping through darkened hallways is only scary for so long. Monsters appear, usually after a trigger event, and Jennifer must fight or run. Like the Silent Hill games, Rule of Rose requires angling enemies into striking range while trying to maneuver around their attacks. Jennifer is a very poor combatant, a fact shown in her animations of limp-wrist smacks and stabs that end with flinching. Hit detection is poor in play and uneven collision between characters means that sometimes Jennifer and her enemies will “slide” off each other instead of landing a blow. Jennifer almost never faces a single opponent too, so she is quickly surrounded and overwhelmed. Running often seems like the best option but this means limiting exploration and missing out on items that could open optional paths. Achieving a good ending unlocks weapons that reduce the hazards of fighting but the satisfaction offered by fiercely striking back against fear is never realized.
Survival horror has taken the place of the adventure games of past video game generations with item hunts leading the player through a linear story. Open ended play is not a part of this game and aside from the branching of multiple endings based on discovery of items and places, there is no real influence over the story. Players must be willing to accept this retro approach if they want to enjoy what Rule of Rose has to offer.
I found myself enthralled by the bizarre unwinding story and the slow decay of the surroundings and the children into twisted reflections of innocence. The simple lingering of the camera generates an unsettling sexual tension that shows these children are desperate for love and attention. A steady feeling of dread is built as questions pile up and go unanswered, places and times inexplicable shift and violence looms closer. Combat flaws aside, I found myself pleased with a purchase that I would rate alongside the early survival horror titles as a well made adventure game.
Reviewer: Russell Collins