Review – Rule of Rose

For bringing me my beloved Chulip, I feel I owe Punchline a debt of gratitude. Unfortunately, in their short time as a developer, they only made two games; the aforementioned Chulip and an obscure horror game called Rule of Rose.

The two games are nothing alike. Chulip is a weird adventure game where you smooch people, whereas Rule of Rose is a weird, introspective horror game about being bullied by children. They’re almost completely opposite, where one game has people rewarding your kindness by puckering up, and the other game has them rewarding your kindness by rubbing a rat on your face.

Nevertheless, I’m always up for an introspective horror game, and I feel I owe Punchline, so…

Well, this sucks.

I WILL SERVE YOU, PRINCESS

Rule of Rose is about Jennifer, described as “the unlucky girl,” as she finds herself in the clutches of a group of orphans. Having got off the bus in the wrong side of town, she is led to an orphanage, pushed into a box, and carried onboard an abandoned airship. She’s then held at the mercy of the Aristocrats Club, a cadre of children who force her to play along with them under threat of death. Jennifer, not being the strongest of protagonists, is too afraid to help herself.

Each chapter is different, but you’re generally tasked with finding an offering for the Aristocrats Club. These range from a butterfly to a mermaid. Helping you out is a dog named Brown. With him, you’re able to equip an item and then send him to find an associated item. He’s actually a pretty solid mechanic. Having him ensures that you don’t have to wander every single room in search of your quarry, and he can also find healing food and other pickups. All you have to do is pick up something related to your quarry, and have him go search for the next piece of the puzzle.

EVERYONE LIVES HAPPILY TOGETHER, EXCEPT YOU

It’s probably a good thing that Rule of Rose includes a mechanic that literally leads you to where you want to go because it contains a lot of backtracking and Jennifer moves at the pace of a one-wheeled bicycle. You’re trapped on the airship, and that means a lot of moving through samey environments from start to finish. The loading screens between rooms also take a smidge too long, so the whole game feels like you’re wading through tar.

It’s not helped by some truly atrocious combat. You’re luckily not often required to put up your dukes. Mostly you can just run past groups of enemies and shake them off if one manages to grab your ankles, but there are occasions that call for battle, as well as some bosses scattered about. Whenever you find yourself locked in mortal combat, that’s when things go from bad to worse.

Not that combat is typically good in survival horror games. The old argument is that it’s supposed to make you feel like an everyman; that it’s supposed to heighten the sense of fear, but in Rule of Rose, the clumsy combat only heightens the sense of frustration. Jennifer swings her weapon like she’s trying to dust a Faberge egg. The hit detection is so questionable that it’s impossible to tell if you’re within range of an enemy. Bosses also have the frustrating habit of mysteriously hitting you when they swing in front of themselves, even if you’re standing behind them. Silent Hill didn’t exactly have the best combat, but Rule of Rose somehow manages to be worse.

There’s also no way to tell if one weapon is better than the next. Does the blade of the butcher’s knife make it more viable than the long reach of the pipe? Are weapons found later always better than the ones found previously? Do they have differences at all? The game doesn’t say, and there aren’t many opportunities for testing their efficacy. I wound up favouring reach over potential damage, but was that the correct decision? I have no idea.

Damned kids!

EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORNS

So, from a gameplay perspective, Rule of Rose isn’t a really appetizing proposition. However, it helps that it gets everything else more or less correct.

It’s an odd tale that Rule of Rose has chosen to tell as a horror story. What it boils down to at the very most precise is that people, especially children, can be extremely cruel. It also explores what drives them to cruelty, whether it’s social pressures or the fear of losing something. Regardless, it uses this to present a hopeless atmosphere. Few characters show any sign of warmth, no one is willing to help you, and no one wants to be your friend.

It’s more isolating than being alone. The narrative feels more hostile than it would if it was merely filled with monsters. I mean, there are literal monsters, but the real monsters are the children.

The sad thing is that the story isn’t exactly understandable until the very end, something that not everyone is going to have the stomach to reach. It’s the kind of story that merely gives you the pieces and asks you to put it all together yourself, but it’s surprisingly easy to miss key pieces of information. The epilogue is where most of the pieces are glued together, but I wound up missing most of it altogether. I was able to load a previous save in order to get the pieces of plot that I left behind, but if I had made the mistake of overwriting it, I would have been the unlucky girl.

When all was said and done, I didn’t cry like I did at the end of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, but I did feel empathy for the otherwise cruel antagonist. I don’t remember the last time a game accomplished that.

EVERLASTING. TRUE LOVE. I AM YOURS.

Is it worth it to gather all those pieces of narrative and put them together? Yes, definitely. Rule of Rose features a simple plot, but it’s wonderfully layered. Like the Yomawari series, the story is less scary and more heartbreaking, or at least, that’s how it struck me.

But is it worth it to slog through incredibly slow-paced and clumsy gameplay just to get the story? Maybe! I think it is. Combat takes up such a small portion of the game that it’s not too difficult to put up with a few frustratingly annoying boss battles. The isolating atmosphere at least makes the slow searches for items a bit more tolerable. I can, however, say that you’re probably not going to have much fun here.

Do I think you should play it? Also yes! It made quite an impact on me, but while I can go on and on about how difficult it is to slog through the gameplay, I still have a massive soft spot for its story. It contains subjects that are rarely touched upon in the medium of video games, and I feel that alone makes the whole game worth experiencing. Just don’t be surprised if the experience makes you feel a little unlucky.

7/10

This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using a disc copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 161 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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