*Warring: Spoilers Ahead
Rule of Rose is a unique addition to Darkstation’s The Return feature. The basic idea is to pick a game we enjoyed in the past and revisit it, only with an older, more discernable eye. Does Game X hold up after so many years? Or is our enjoyment of the game tarnished by rose colored glasses? This is the dilemma that awaited my return trip to Rule of Rose. Released in 2006, Atlus took gamers into a psychological nightmare involving a twisted aristocracy created by orphaned boys and girls.
A survival horror adventure where the main protagonist is extremely limited in what she can do under duress, Rule of Rose tells a fascinatingly dark story that is undercut by an excruciating control system and a fierce battle over the camera. Spend five minutes trying to guide Jennifer and every instinct in your body will cry out for immediate escape. The game does reward patience and understanding. Not in a Dark Souls sort of way, as there is absolutely nothing satisfying in the game’s action or adventure elements. The real reward is a beautifully complex story sheds very little light on Jennifer’s physical and emotional torment.
The promise of reacquainting myself with a story I absolutely fell in love with served as the motivation for a return. Unfortunately, time wasn’t enough to heal Rule of Rose’s wounds. Having suffered through poor controls and a merciless combat system once before, I felt as if those could be forgotten in exchange for immersion into Jennifer’s strange, atmosphere heavy situation. When the game proper begins, with Jennifer stuffed into a coffin and transplanted to the bowels of an airship, getting her around was a chore. I pined to have the game run on autopilot so I could enjoy the parts of the game that interested me most. And I won’t even go through the damning nightmare that is combat, especially against bosses.
Rule of Rose is difficult game to enjoy as a first experience and a replay. Holding it back from greatness is the sense that the player is powerless against near insurmountable odds (and not in a good way). Rule of Rose is the ultimate test in patience. It asks so much but the reward is great from a story perspective. Strip away the problems and what remains is a thoroughly creepy experience about a seemingly deranged cabal of little girls that rule the roost. During the story’s final climax, the emotional effect was similar to that of being punched in the gut. The revelations between Jennifer and the girls who tormented her are so heart wrenchingly awful in a manner that couldn’t not have been similarly conveyed with adult characters. The finale could only work with the innocence, confusion and naivete experience by children. It all carries the same emotional weight as Silent Hill 2, when the player realizes that James Sunderland was responsible for murdering his wife and that his guilt inspired the events of his journey. So few games manage to pull off such impactful pieces of exposition without it coming off as cheap, incomprehensible or unintentionally funny. Rule of Rose just barely dodges the latter, as it is often unbelievable what the children get up to without proper adult supervision.
It is unfortunate that such a gem of a plot is buried deep beneath the muck. Rule of Rose is certainly not for everybody, and I would wager that includes those who like games of this type. Time has done no favors for Rule of Rose. As much I admire what the game accomplishes, playing through it again really bummed me out.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.