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Rule of Rose

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Atlus


PS2 Review - 'Rule of Rose'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on Sept. 27, 2006 @ 1:50 a.m. PDT

You play as Jennifer, and stumble into a world where the rules are written by children, seemingly innocent children, but with a sadisctic mindset. Your job is to get to the truth, solve puzzles & mysteries.

Rule of Rose
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: SCEI
Release Date: September 12, 2006

One of the most basic human fears is being in a situation where you know nothing, no one, and don't have an easy way out. Some would call it "xenophobia," but it's still an intrinsic element of the human psyche. Haven't you ever panicked at being dumped someplace completely alien, with no aid, no friends, and nothing is going to save you but yourself? If not, just ask Jennifer ...

Rule of Rose is the ever-unfolding story of that very Jennifer, a British schoolgirl in a bit of her own private nightmare. After suddenly losing her parents, her home, and everything else, she is swept away on an empty bus, going where we're not told. Any travel plans are interrupted by her own curiosity. When the only other passenger aboard hands her an apparently empty storybook, she chases after him ... and the bus leaves without her, stranding Jennifer in the middle of the English countryside, within sprinting distance of an abandoned orphanage. Within mere minutes, Jennifer goes from stranded and helpless to a virtual prisoner of The Aristocrat Club, a group of children who are all demented in their own way and very firm supporters of Princess Rose. To top off the creepy jolly time, they're aboard an airship that shouldn't exist, let alone work.

In its heart of hearts, Rose is a survival horror title of sorts, though less in the vein of Resident Evil and more akin to Silent Hill. In the very beginning, Jennifer is completely clueless, and the flow of the game is built to push her in a specific direction to further the plot. Unlike Hill, though, Rose is not built on a long, epic storyline, but is structured in levels, episodically. The situations change from "level" to "level," with doors switching between open, locked, or blocked by the children of The Aristocrat Club. It is a very strongly linear feel, which in some ways defeats the idea of creating this great multi-level environment, but it does allow for the story to be built in "blocks," filling in clues as time passes and Jennifer prods about the virtual city on the airship.

The story is fragmented and distorted, not unlike the games from which it lifts ideas. Jennifer is just a regular young girl, so she imparts no special knowledge into the story other than what she sees and hears. The Aristocrat Club members are well on the way to insanity (if they're not already there), and they speak in pointless gibberish or random commands, generally making no sense. No one aboard the airship seems to care why they're aboard, just that they are. It keeps things quite confusing, and after a while, it begins to wear, especially after finishing a level which seems to have contributed little or nothing to the overall plot. Still, for fans of the genre, this is generally a forgivable offense.

Less forgivable is the general presentation of the package. At first boot, I had to stop and verify the disc I'd put into the console: the opening cinematics seemed less at home in a late-generation PS2 game, and more like those I'd experienced back in the late '90s from the PlayStation. (They bear a strong resemblance to Silent Hill, further pushing comparisons.) In-game graphics are nothing spectacular either; models are simple and animated only as far as necessity requires, while the environments themselves are exceedingly stark and dreary, with everything dressed up in a 1930s military decor. I understand the concepts of "survival horror," but running through grey corridors for hours on end is not particularly exciting. Audio may as well be ignored: Jennifer rarely speaks outside of commanding her dog Brow about, there is very little music, and many of the characters simply make canned noises when you speak to them while the text rolls by in subtitles ("The Very Wise Princess," for instance, repeatedly says, "mm hmm"). In the end, you'll hear little more than barking, footsteps, and diesel engines. In a title that initially has limited combat, it's hard to keep excited.

You'll notice I mentioned the dog Brown. Rather early on, Jennifer finds the poor puppy being tortured in an engine room and rescues him. At that point, he becomes her walking deus ex machina: His nose is exceedingly powerful, and he can sniff out items and people based on other items you find. For instance, having Brown sniff Meg's notebook will lead you to Meg, while using a biscuit (a minor healing item) will lead you other items. It's very useful and rather original but gets abused; instead of putting items behind puzzles or in clever places, they simply don't appear until Brown sniffs them out or are placed so oddly that you'd never find them on your own. At least two levels I played through consisted of finding the right item, then following Brown while he sniffed the trail. It's somewhat aggravating because it's mostly non-interactive, and it becomes the favorite time to throw combat in your face.

There is the single-most obnoxious element of the whole montage, the one thing that I cannot seem to get over: combat. After finding Brown and her first weapon (a dessert fork — I kid you not), Jennifer is attacked by an unnamed ... thing. It appears as a child with no eyes and a great gaping mouth, but they vary from there on. Recall, if you will, what I mentioned about Jennifer earlier: She is a 14-year-old schoolgirl who is scared past her wits' end. She is, as a result, an exceedingly poor combatant, often swinging wildly and even turning away and shielding her eyes. This would be no problem in a one-on-one fight or even against small groups, but that's not how it ends up; at times, Jennifer is faced with groups of almost 15 enemies.

Her weapons often can't strike more than one, and if one falls down near her, she switches to feebly kicking at it – an attack which appears entirely broken, as it never stops anything – or swinging her weapon downwards. While you can often run through small groups and evade, in some instances Jennifer will become trapped in the crowd, unable to move forward or back. Brown is some help, as he will draw enemies away by barking at them, but he is only so effective. Tossing in boss fights simply cranks up the levels of ludicrousness one too far.

It's at that point in Rule of Rose, when combat becomes a dominant factor but the provided elements simply don't hold up, that frustration sets in. I'm in a very conflicted situation: I want to see what is going on, desperately — there are enough fragments of story that I can't help but want more. The off-balanced fighting ruins that, though, and as it gathers more focus, it's much harder to appreciate the events transpiring in the background. My suggestion for any fan of Silent Hill or its ilk is to at the very least glance Rule of Rose's way and give it a chance, with the thought in mind that it is not perfect in all ways.

Score: 6.0/10

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