Rule of Rose – Review

Developer: Punchline
Platform: PS2
Release Date: Nov 2006

Click Here for Rule of Rose trailer

Getting your hands on a copy of Rule of Rose isn’t easy. You won’t find it in any shops, and Amazon sells it for, on average, about a hundred euro. Finding a leprechaun that looks like Roger Moore is far more likely than finding this game anywhere. Why is Rule of Rose so rare? Well, less one week after its release, it was banned in the UK. Bear in mind, games such as Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil have some of the most violent and sexually explicit content you can find in games, so what makes this one so bad? In a word: Children

The Set-Up:
Set in England in the 1930s, you play as Jennifer, a 19-year-old orphan on her way to her new home. Along the way, she gets dropped off near an old mansion and is led there by a young boy. Once inside, she is accosted by a group of young girls, calling themselves the Red Crayon Aristocrat society. They invite her to join their society, but in doing so, Jennifer may end up losing her sanity or even her life…

So, spoiler alert, this is a survival horror game. It’s one thing to depict violence and sexuality in a game, but it is quite another to do so with little children. Having said that, the game only implies childhood sexuality, it is never said or shown explicitly (thankfully). The most sexually explicit scene can be found in the trailer (see above), when one of the girls, Diana, curtesies to Jennifer. She raises her skirt, smiling wider and wider as she lifts it higher and higher before it eventually cuts to another scene. This is, admittedly, quite disturbing, and is just a sample of the tone of the entire game.

What is particularly disturbing about Rule of Rose, what really gets under your skin while you’re playing it, is that the children are acting almost exactly as you would expect them to act if there were no adults around for an extended period of time. It has a strong Lord of the Flies vibe about it. They establish their own society and live by rules that are based on whims, and are therefore ever-changing. Plus, they’re kids, and that’s creepy as hell!

The majority of the game actually takes place on an airship, not the mansion (which we later find out to be an orphanage). You pass out early on in the game before being buried alive, and wake up on this airship for reasons unknown. Once there, you must appease the Aristocrat club by delivering gifts in each chapter. This makes up the majority of the gameplay, exploring the very expansive airship, fighting off child demons and tracking down these gifts to present to the girls. And they will reward you by torturing you in as truly gruesome a way as possible!

For those familiar with survival horror, I can already hear the weary groans. Exploring a huge map, looking for tiny objects?! Where’s the fun in that? Well fear not, you lazy sods, for you have a companion in the form of the adorable labrador, Brown. Rescuing him early on in the game, you can present Brown with small, seemingly irrelevant, objects. He will take in their scent and then follow the trail to find a related object. This eliminates a lot of needless exploring and actually makes the game quite straightforward. You are often given a random item at the very beginning of each chapter which will, inevitably, lead you to whatever you are supposed to be looking for.

This brings us to some of the flaws in Rule of Rose. There isn’t really a lot of incentive to explore the enormous airship or the orphanage. There are some useless items that will lead you to bonus items such as sweets (which give you health??) or extra weapons if you send Brown to find them. However, these aren’t really necessary as the game itself is quite simple. What drives the player is the compelling story, so why explore any of these extra areas that don’t add to the experience? At one point, when I wasn’t given an item to begin with, I explored some of the areas that I hadn’t been to. This included a few engine rooms, some luggage rooms and the airship cockpit. None of these rooms were very interesting, or had anything in them to pick up, which begs the question: What’s the point?

The other major issue is with the combat. As mentioned, you will occasionally have to fight some demon children. Frankly, they look a little like midget versions the Scarecrow from Batman Begins, but it is in their movements that make them scary. They jump and latch onto you, like a child would to an adult when they want to play, which makes it very unsettling (as up to three children can latch onto you). Other enemies include humanized animals (i.e. Child sized pigs and rats that stand on two legs), which are equally disturbing. The best way to deal with these creatures is simply to run away from them, as this is generally quite easy to do. However…

Occasionally you are forced to fight, at which point you will discover that the combat system is the weakest part of the game. The connection between your weapons and your enemies seems to defy time and space. You might hit them right on the noggin, but the game does not always register this. Similarly, you may be a good few feet away from an enemy, but they may be able to knock you down with one swing. Annoyingly, there are some enemies that will keep swinging at you while you’re down meaning that, if you get hit once, you’re pretty much dead.

This isn’t too much of a deal breaker as, with the exception of bosses and final chapter, almost all fights can be avoided. Gameplay, therefore, boils down to putting up with the odd fight, and a series of fetch quests. It can get a little repetitive, but in small doses, you will hardly notice. On a side note, the exact same comment applies to the soundtrack. For the majority of the game, you are treated to some haunting violin music, which suits the tone of the game perfectly. However, hearing the same tune for twenty minutes or half an hour straight gets a little irritating.

The thing that keeps the entire game going, and will ensure the player sits through to the end, are the cut-scenes. This is why the game was banned and, oddly, this is what will keep you hooked. The graphics are simply beautiful to behold, the art design very idiosyncratic. Everytime a gift is presented, something bad happens. These ‘punishments’ or worse yet ‘rewards’, utterly demonize children, epitomizing what makes them so terrifying in horror. While each girl is sinister in their own way, there are two standouts. The first is Meg, the brains of the malicious outfit. She devises the methods of torturing Jennifer, but when she is angry, she puts her through the most gruesome punishment in the whole game: The Onion Bag. (Those sensitive to insects and claustrophobia should probably not watch this clip).

The other stand-out is Amanda. She is almost on the same level as Jennifer, as she is trying to get into the Aristocrat society as well. A big and ugly girl, she naturally has issues with self-confidence. It is with her that we are given the most evidence of a child becoming unhinged, as she clearly hates everyone in the game, but acts almost subservient to them in an effort to be popular. From a psychological point of view, her character is as fascinating as it is disturbing. Her most interesting yet disturbing scenes involve The First Gift and The Puppet Scene.

Overall:
Rule of Rose would have made a phenomenal 10/10 film. It has a powerful storyline that can be read a number of ways, twisted yet thought-provoking characters, and some grotesquely beautiful imagery. Unfortunately, very mediocre gameplay holds it back. Having played it once, there is little incentive to trudge through the expansive halls with the wonky enemies again. Although at 8 hours (much of which is made up of the terrific cut scenes), and broken up nicely into 10 chapters, it gets the pacing and length just right.

Rating: 7/10

Are we too cruel?” – Diana
“Heavens, no.” – Meg

Shamelessly Awful Stuff:

  • In order to obtain this copy of Rule of Rose, I sold my soul. Not to the devil, that’s too clichè. No, I sold my soul to Tom Waits. (in actual fact, this was a very well received birthday present. I have no idea what was done or how many lives were destroyed to obtain this game, but frankly I don’t care, I’ve wanted this game for years!)
  • After doing an entire dissertation on children in horror, with added Freud, it is a kick in the gut that I couldn’t have included this. I have no doubt that, if I had, I would no be president of all the countries.

  • Unless I lend it to them, it is very unlikely anyone else will ever play this game.
  • Much of the inspiration for this game came from the cruelty to children depicted in Grimm’s fairy tales.
  • The scariest children that I remember seeing in film were actually completely and utterly on the sidelines. They are the three girls that are skipping at the start of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Forget your twins from The Shining, forget your Sadako from Ring, it’s those creepily innocent singing girls that’ll always top my list.
  • Apart from the moments I’ve mentioned already, the most disturbing moment I can remember in the game comes from the Unmarried Mermaid boss. It is a young girl who has had her legs lashed together forcefully to resemble a fish tail. She has clearly been thrashed mercilessly before you arrive, and attacks by vomiting on you while crying. Now if that’s not disturbing…

This game is kind of like:

  • Freud: The Videogame

or

  • Watching the greatest horror film of all time, in three segments, in three cinemas, placed all across town.
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  3. I feel like you may have missed a great deal of the games subtext. You know all along you’re at an orphanage, and you don’t just wake up on an air ship for no reason, also, I get the lord of the flies vibe but the reasons why the girls act that way are pretty heartbreaking.

    To understand this game without research or on a first playthrough is near impossible, so I’m gonna sum it up as best I can.

    Jennifer is an adult throughout the entire game. You play as her in a pretty twisted world because jennifer’s subcounsious is willing her to remember her past and the promises she made. This past occurs to her in the form of a boy named joshua (Who has been dead the entire game and jennifer never met)

    When jennifer tries to remember her memories are absolutely screwed as she has been through so many tragedies, so the game doesn’t play out in a chronological or even sensical order. At the start of the timeline jennifer boards and air ship which later crashes leaving her to be the only survivor.

    Finding the wreckage of an airship a man named gregory abducts jennifer to replace his son that just died. This man is not stable. He dresses jennifer up in boys clothing and makes her into his son for months and the airship is eventually found by authorities to have no survivors.

    A short while later a girl named wendy from the neighbourhood orphanage finds joshua (Jennifer) through a basement window. They exchange messages and develop a romance. Wendy eventually springs jennifer through and they promise ever lasting true love.

    This works well until jennifer finds a dog. Wendy get’s jealous of the dog and forms the aristocrat club in an attempt to make jennifer feel bad and deliver on her promise of ever lasting true love how see she’s fit.

    When it doesn’t work wendy goes to gregory and uses his weakness against him (The death of his son) to get him under her control. Acting as Joshua 3.0 wendy unleashes gregory on the orphanage. Gregory kills everybody except jennifer who knows too much about him to die at his hands. Jennifer gives gregory his gun and he kills himself leaving jennifer to again be the only remaining survivor.

    But dig a little deeper and you’ll understand the girls aren’t warped just because they’ve been orphaned. Resident doctor hoffman has been raping and abusing a handful of these girls. They are not stable.

    There is much to this game to be discovered, the game just presents it in a way that you requires the player to be engaged. It just sucks the combat is so awful it can actually disengage most players.

    Suffice to say the least.. Combat aside, I think this is one of the most geniously constructed games with the bravest story ever told in a survival horror.

  4. I finished the game and I personally thought Diana stood out the most out of the aristocrats. Her cruel and manipulative nature and her weak side that was shown in the Mermaid Princess chapter made her a very interesting character.

  5. I wonder if it’s anything like Haunting Ground… You get a dog companion in that too, I think its a good idea, better than having a human companion. Sounds like a cool game, pity about the price.

  6. It does sound interesting and very disturbing, but I don’t think 19-years-old qualifies as a child. Then again, the age of adulthood might be different in the UK.


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