|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SCEI||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept 2006||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|Review by Vaughn||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Vaughn Smith
Genuinely one of the most unique games I've played this year, Rule of Rose defies convention in terms of gameplay and story. You play as Jennifer, a recently orphaned girl due to the tragic deaths of her two parents. Set in the 1930's Jennifer is sent to the Rose Garden Orphanage by bus, Jennifer befriends a small boy along the journey who disappears into the night once they reach their destination. This sets the stage for a creepy, atmospheric experience which is part survival horror and part adventure set within the confines of a story that would perplex famed film noir director David Lynch.
The game starts off with a jaw-dropping intro CG sequence (it's the official selection of the Annecy 2006 International Animated Film Festival as the game features 50 minutes of CG in total) and foreshadows the bizarre events to come. Once the game gets underway and you have full control of Jennifer you'll quickly realize that you're playing the role of a young girl. Jennifer isn't an action hero ala Jill Valentine or Lara Croft; she's not given to fits of heroism or super strength. She's a frail human being who can't defend herself very well and it's this element of the game that will either turn you off completely or hopefully, pull you that much closer into the character. Many of the enemies you encounter can often be avoided, and should be, since they are often prone to attacking in large numbers. Jennifer can easily run around them most of the time, but naturally she won't be able to avoid boss battles.
The essence of the game involves roaming the halls of the orphanage and a large zeppelin, opening doors, collecting and examining objects, solving puzzles and either avoiding or confronting trouble. Eventually you'll locate a canine companion named Brown, who will help you locate your objectives by sniffing objects you've already located. Unfortunately for you, Brown isn't much of a help in battle, but his sniffer is an absolute necessity. Jennifer will be able to issue a few commands to Brown, such as Stay, Come and Go - which is the "find" command, allowing you to follow him while he tracks the scent of an item or person.
As you delve deeper into the story, your goal will be to attempt to rise in the ranks of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, which is comprised of the creepy boys and girls littering the orphanage and airship. The truly fascinating aspect to the children is that they act like kids, albeit demented and awfully creepy at times, but nevertheless, they remain flesh and blood rather than ghosts or other demonic apparitions - which I found only deepened the mystery behind Rule of Rose.
Every rose has its thorn, and RoR's protruding pain just happens to be its fighting controls. Gamers looking for a combat-oriented horror show will be sorely disappointed by RoR's pint-sized (somewhat hilarious looking) enemies and occasional boss battles. Tackling a room full of tiny terrors is futile and should be avoided as the fighting controls are hit and miss, although finding more powerful weapons certainly helps. Jennifer will be at quite a disadvantage during the RoR's boss battles which can be difficult due to sluggish control, spotty collision detection and lack of items to restore health. Making matters worse Jennifer slows to a crawl if she's almost out of health which makes her an easy target. Thankfully her health will be replenished once a new chapter begins.
Since your journey involves collecting and finding items, revealed to the gamer by a twinkling light, a quick tap of the Start button will whisk you away to the inventory menu where you are able to hold a select number of items. You'll eventually find more items than you can carry and in a flash of convenience while simultaneously ignoring reality, Jennifer can "drop" items at any time which are then magically placed in garbage cans situated in various rooms for swapping later. You'll also find a bucket-headed buddy located in these rooms whom you can tell your tale too, which saves your game. From the inventory screen you'll also be able to look at items, equip weapons and have Brown "find" the scent of the objects you're currently carrying.
The perfunctory level design - dozens of nondescript corridors and rooms - provides the game a heart-wrenching foundation on which this twisted tale is told. Everything in Rule of Rose is drab and dreary and that's exactly the way it should be. Visually the game isn't a looker, but remember that everything in RoR is secondary to the story. Complementing the stark visuals are quality voice-acting, narration and spine-tingling score which will immerse you fully and completely in this fairytale gone horribly wrong.
Rule of Rose may not satisfy those who prefer survival horror with more pulse-pounding action and disturbing R-rated scenes. It's more of an acquired taste, like an independent movie which becomes popular via word of mouth and later blossoms into a cult classic. It would be easy to rag on the spotty combat controls, but RoR isn't about kicking ass - as I've maintained throughout, everything is secondary to the story. If you're in the right frame of mind for something completely dark and decidedly different, you'll find it blossoming in the macabre bouquet of Rule of Rose.