Rule of Rose
As an unfortunate soul named Jennifer, you find yourself traveling the countryside of England in 1930. Your parents have recently died in a tragic accident and you're left with nothing in the world. On a bus seemingly to the middle of nowhere a young child gives her a storybook and then jumps off of the bus. Before Jennifer can really think about what she's doing she goes after the kid to see what's up. Biggest mistake ever!
Blindly staggering her way through a beaten path and looking for clues in the dark Jennifer eventually comes upon a building called the Rose Garden Orphanage. Something about the place gives a sinister vibe and quite frankly feels like something out of the Silent Hill franchise. After a few disconcerting events Jennifer finds herself on an airship infested by monsters and in the servitude of a group of girls called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. As you work for the Red Crayon's and try to discover what the hell is going on you'll find yourself progressively more and more confused. The tale here is straight out of a psychiatrist's worst nightmare and it continually gets weird as you go along.
As the line between reality and psychodrama begins to blur you'll find yourself getting reservedly drawn into this twisted tale of abuse and insanity. The game unfolds like a twisted children's fairytale and is presented much in the same way. From chapter to chapter the game leads you along by feeding you a mission at a time. These "missions" are basically glorified fetch quests where you have to run around God's creation looking for something that the Red Crayon Aristocrats want to get their hands on.
Along the way though you'll get some assistance from a semi-helpful pooch named Brown. He is mostly there to stem the feeling of isolation in this bizarre world but his keen sense of smell helps track down useful (or useless) objects or people. While another horror game (Haunting Ground) has already introduced the concept a helping paw, Brown certainly adds something to an otherwise frustrating experience. He isn't really an asset when it comes to combat though, so don't expect him to be like a badass attack dog. Most of the time he'll just sit there and bark which leaves it's up to you to whack enemies with a stick; if the game actually registers the hit that is.
Due to the way Rule of Rose's camera works (or doesn't) you'll often find yourself flailing madly at your foes. You have to line Jennifer up just right in order to get a successful hit and even then you're still going to encounter severe clipping and failed attacks. Sometimes you can't even see your opponents due to the way the camera is stuck. Needless to say the best form of combat is simply trying to get around them but since the controls aren't the best that can be a bit tricky.
While you can avoid various peons most of the time there's no way around bosses, so be prepared to get your ass handed to you on a disgusting silver platter. These boss characters are unrelenting in their ambition to send you to an early grave. They are overpowered to a fault and employ cheap tactics to get you out of their faces. Each requires several attempts in order to defeat them and quite honestly in order to do so a lot of luck is involved.
The fighting elements in Rule of Rose leave a lot to be desired though the simple act of walking around can get annoying as well. Whether it's in the orphanage, down a path, or through the airship, trying to get around often elicits joy on the level of one of the orphan girls getting another bowl of porage for dinner. Due to the way the camera system is you'll find yourself bumping into things and furiously trying to just get Jennifer to do what you want her to. It doesn't help matters that she gets round slower than grandma with her walker either. This makes the backtracking and fetch quests become tedious before too long.
Rule of Rose does break the mold as far as some elements are concerned. Sure you have to go around collecting crappy things for the Aristocracy but at least you don't have to spend your time trying to find an item to combine with another item to open a door. The puzzles are different than you normally find in survival horror games, though they really aren't that diverse. Brown adds something to the experience as well and you get the feeling as you're being guided along that he holds your destiny in his maw.
I'm not going to beat around the bush; Rule of Rose does have its share of problems. Combat sucks and boss fights are even worse. The camera can get extremely obnoxious at times and makes walking around a chore. The fetch-filled objectives grow tiresome as well. So what's the point to the game? In today's market survival horrors are running amuck with a "me too" syndrome. Rule of Rose feels somehow different. Through storytelling the game elevates beyond most of its flaws and becomes something that literally crawls under your skin. Few things rarely affect gamers nowadays but the disturbing visuals found in this orphanage will leave a lasting impression. If you're looking for a scare you should check this one out despite its flawed implementation.
Disgustingly beautiful is the best way to describe the visual appeal for Rule of Rose. In game the graphics are pretty standard as far as PlayStation 2 games are concerned. The edges are jagged and there is a decent amount of pixilation. Environments are dimly lit and often wash together with each other thanks to the textures and lighting sources. Cut scenes are another story entirely and are right up there with some of the better presented titles. Characters emote well and the animation, though choppy at times, is incredibly lifelike.
If the visuals don't give you the heebie-jeebies then the audio will. Ripe with ambient noise and a moody soundtrack Rule of Rose pulls you into its creepy atmosphere to the point that it will make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The real prize winner in this department though is easily the voice acting. It's not often that a game nails the whole sound package but Rule of Rose truly did by bringing some well delivered dialogue into the mix.
If you're looking for a new survival horror game to sink your teeth into then Rule of Rose should be on your radar. The storybook presentation and ultra bizarre tale repulse and appeal all at the same time. It's twisted from start to finish and you'll be drawn in more and more with each cut scene. The only problem is in between the game plays out in mediocre fashion. Combat is the lowest point with fetch quests coming in a close second. This is a fine package that could have been much more solid had a little more care went into a few elements. Horror fans can easily get buy with a rental for this game.