In 2015, Nippon Ichi released a little Vita puzzle platformer with one of the strangest titles ever, “htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary”. While the game showed some potential with a charming art style and an interesting story, it was ultimately hampered by its gameplay design, where it offered some of the most annoying and frustrating puzzles to ever grace a videogame.
When I first saw screenshots of “A Rose in the Twilight”, I had flashbacks of my nightmarish experience with the Firefly Diary, as it shared a very similar art style and was yet another puzzle platformer.
However, I believe in giving things a second chance and not judging from initial impressions alone, so I decided to give it a shot. What I found was a title which was by no means exceptional, but was still a solid improvement over the Firefly Diary in more ways than one.
Length: 8-10 hours
For those who would look at the cover of A Rose in the Twilight and think, “Oh, it’s one of those happy, cutesy anime platformers!”, I can understand why someone would think that but it is a misconception all the same. In fact, it couldn’t be further from happy as it is hands down one of the most depressing games I’ve played in years.
As Rose wakes in a cold, dark dungeon, she notices that there is a thorny flower that has grown on her body, and she has gained strange powers to absorb or bestow blood on objects, suspending them in time. She meets a gentle giant along the way and sets out to unearth the secrets of who she is and ultimately escape this giant castle which has become her prison.
While the premise is quite simple, there is a great deal of mystery surrounding Rose and the castle that she finds herself in. Her peculiar condition with the thorns and the history of the castle is unraveled slowly through various scrolls and books, as well as blood memories which Rose can absorb to gain important insight into what really happened in this abandoned castle.
Even though it took me a few hours to get invested in the lore of this forsaken world, once I was in, I was committed to getting to the bottom of all its great secrets.
From a gameplay standpoint, it’s more or less what one would expect in a puzzle platformer. Rose has her powers of object manipulation, and with a press of a button, the controls can be switched to the giant golem which has its own abilities. Taking careful consideration of what each playable character can and can’t do and then formulating a plan is the typical process of solving a puzzle.
Even though most of the puzzles felt relatively well designed, there were a handful during the course of game that felt incredibly frustrating due to the precise timing required. While I don’t mind difficult puzzles, I feel that the challenge should stem from figuring out what needs to be done, not executing the solution itself. Especially in titles like this, where physics plays a major factor, it could mislead the player into thinking a solution is something outlandishly complicated while obscuring a simpler, much more elegant solution.
As I made progress, I was stopped by an arbitrary number of blood memories required to access new areas through the use of “Execution Grounds” which wouldn’t be that bad if the path to getting some of the blood memories weren’t some of the most frustrating puzzles in the game. I would have much preferred the blood memories remain as lore rewards and not as a mechanic to make me backtrack through levels I’ve already cleared.
As stated before, Rose is truly a tragic figure, and is subject to cruel and, frankly, disturbing deaths where she has to willingly place her under own head under a guillotine or walk into an iron maiden, quivering in fear as it slowly closes around her in a crimson embrace.
Due to her curse with the thorn she is revived after death, but I never got used to watching her die even though I bore witness to it dozens of times. It helped to make Rose a more sympathetic figure that I wanted to grant a happy ending, whether that was possible or not.
A Rose in the Twilight is a title with a dreadfully oppressive atmosphere that stars a tragic heroine whose trials and tribulations are heartbreaking to experience. It features solid, albeit sometimes frustrating puzzles and an abundance of backtracking. It’s a title with a niche appeal, but to those that can appreciate a dark fairy tale and have the stomach to suffer through some disturbing imagery as well as some obtuse puzzle designs, this might be a flower worth cultivating.
Fun Tidbit – I got stuck at one point in the game for hours which delayed this review quite a bit. Always embarrassing when that happens and there aren’t any message boards or FAQs to fall back on.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.