Rule of Rose
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Filed Under B, Japan, PlayStation 2, Review, Survival Horror, Video Games
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Way back in 1999, I got my first taste of Konami’s new horror series Silent Hill. While the mechanics behind the game itself weren’t of the utmost quality, all of the story-line elements had been crafted with such care and dedication that Silent Hill was no longer a game, but a mental and emotional experience. I bring this up because my introduction to Rule of Rose brought up many of the exact same feelings. Not since the tale of Harry Mason and the search for his lost daughter has a horror title so perfectly, yet so seemingly easily, created an entire universe and mythos that clicks from the very moment it begins.

We first meet our protagonist Jennifer sitting alone on a bus, on her way to a far-off orphanage after her parents die in a tragic accident. She is awaken from a sort of daydream-like state by a young boy as he pushes a crudely-drawn storybook her way, begging her to read it to him. (This element–the fables and stories the game’s children bring to life with crayons and bound-together sheets of heavy paper–serves as the game’s primary means of introducing us to each chapter that will be encountered along the way.) The bus suddenly comes to a stop, the young boy makes a mad dash out the door and into the nearby woods, and Jennifer, the silly survival horror heroine that she is, is compelled to follow. The path that lies before her will not only lead Jennifer to the aforementioned orphanage, but also the nightmare world that awaits her there (and later, the gigantic flying dirigible that she comes to find herself held captive in).

The name of Jennifer’s pain in this strange other world is the Red Crayon Aristocrats, a group of four young girls who are the game’s “villains.” Right from the start, Jennifer suffers humiliation at their hands, as they call her “filthy” and force her to bow to their every outlandish whim. If you come into Rule of Rose looking for a scary game, you may be disappointed; this is a game that would rather disturb you and make you feel uncomfortable than try to make you rethink the idea of playing in the dark. Where this works so brilliantly is that Rule of Rose doesn’t follow the stereotypical Hollywood horror tradition of having children play the role of the hell-born demon or murderous adult; instead, it has children being children at their worst. The torment and abuse Jennifer receives throughout the game comes from the fact that children, when left to their own devices, can be the most cruel and mean-spirited beings to walk the Earth. And yet, even as you grow to hate the various characters for the cruelty that they endlessly dispense on poor Jennifer, you’ll find times in the game where you can’t help but feel sorry for them and what they’ve let themselves become.

Thankfully, Jennifer isn’t totally alone in this nightmare world: shortly after the game begins, she befriends Brown, a dirty mutt who also has fallen from favor in the eyes of the Red Crayon Aristocrats. After saving him, Brown becomes a key element to the game, as you must rely on him to find items and clues that are required for story advancement. Almost any item in your inventory can be given to Brown to sniff, after which he’ll lead you to additional related items if any are in the nearby area. Some have compared Rule of Rose to Capcom’s Haunting Ground, another survival horror game which relied on an A.I.-controlled dog for various elements of gameplay. Unlike Haunting Ground, where I cursed and threatened Hewie every five minutes as he refused to do anything I asked of him, Brown is far more manageable and, dare I say, enjoyable to interact with. Some will be turned off by the trial and error that comes from asking Brown to search for something and then slowly following him to what could end up being nothing of importance, but the amount of searching that MUST be done to complete the game, and the searching that CAN be done if one so chooses, is quite a large difference.

Unfortunately, much like the original Silent Hill, the rest of Rule of Rose‘s gameplay then fails its other elements, except the breakdown here is much worse. The game’s combat engine feels like a last minute addition tacked on in a rush, and after your initial encounter with the game’s creepy child-like Imps, you may be ready to give up all hope. Jennifer’s first means of self defense is a simple kitchen fork, and not only must she stand right next to her opponents in order to hit them, she swings the fork blindly while covering her eyes with her free hand. Better weapons follow, but hit detection remains stuck at the level of “God-awful.” Your enemies, meanwhile, seem to have no trouble hitting you, especially from unfair distances.

Rule of Rose is one of those games that makes you hate doing reviews, because it’s so fabulously terrible yet so terribly fabulous. I know I should give it a lower score, but I just can’t bring myself to. Atlus deserves major love for being brave enough to bring this our way, because it really is one of the most amazing and dramatic titles I’ve played in years, storyline wise. (Not to mention the fact that it has one of the best “atmospheric” soundtracks since, well, Silent Hill.) I think everyone should experience this game, especially horror fans, but in order to do so, you’re going to have to suffer through times of sheer agony–just like poor, unlucky Jennifer.

Rating: B


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 at 1:23 am and is filed under B, Japan, PlayStation 2, Review, Survival Horror, Video Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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