Let me start off by saying this; I love Atlus. They bring some of the best and most obscure titles from Japan to this side of the globe and for that I salute them. My only problem is that 99% of them have been RPGs, and if you have read this site for more than say, oh two days, then you know I am not the biggest fan of this particular genre. When Atlus announced they were bringing Sony’s latest trip into the survival horror genre I was really excited to get my hands on it as I am a huge fan of the genre.
Rule of Rose is not necessarily a survival horror title per say but it does borrow from the genre quite a bit especially titles such as Haunting Ground and Silent Hill. For instance your main character, Jennifer, pairs up with a canine companion very early in the game that can sniff out items and help you solve various puzzles. While similarities like this will certainly be noticed by fans of the genre, Rule of Rose never really seems to bring anything to the table to make it stand out from the crowd.
Let’s begin with the storyline. The game is set the in 1930s and lets you take on the role of a young teenage girl named Jennifer. On her way to a local orphanage she is confronted by a small child on the bus that insists she reads him a story from an old book he is carrying with him. While reading through it Jennifer discovers that most of the book is blank and before she knows it the boy runs off the bus and for some strange reason she is compelled to follow him to an old abandoned mansion where the game really takes a turn for the weird.
The mansion only appears abandoned from the outside as Jennifer soon discovers that it is inhabited by several small children that have formed their own aristocracy; think Children of the Corn and you will get a good idea of the premise. The entire “kingdom” is headed up by three girls all with unique personalities and plenty amounts of creepiness to back it up. While investigating the children, who appear to be beating some sort of animal in a sack, Jennifer is covered in water, thrown into a coffin in the ground, and transported to an airship; yes the game never ceases to get weirder the further you progress.
The plot line is what keeps Rule of Rose moving along and to be honest it is at least unique if not the weirdest story every penned for a videogame. Doors and buckets talk to you, children wear paper bags over their heads and close doors as you try to open them, and all they seem to want is a gift once a month. I can certainly see why Sony decided not to bring this one to the US as most gamers would have hit the power button long before the storyline even gets going. Thankfully the developers have paced the game extremely well and if you are in it simply for the story, you will find entertainment value in the gorgeous CGI cut scenes and the creepy atmosphere.
This brings me to my disappointment; the game play leaves a lot to be desired. For instance the combat system, which isn’t a huge factor in the game, but it is necessary to progress is atrocious. Getting Jennifer to aim properly and actually hit a target is sometimes more frustrating than trying to headshot a ten year Quake veteran online. The mechanic for the simple aspect of combat seems almost like it was never intended to be included and the developers really didn’t spend much time tweaking it. This can cause many frustrating sessions when trying to progress through the story.
Another tragedy found here are the camera angles. Now I know that most games of this type can suffer from some pretty shoddy viewpoints, but Rule of Rose really does a job of keeping the player disoriented when traversing from one scene to the next. This also hinders combat, as if it needed any help being more frustrating, by giving the player a false sense of where their opponent is and causing Jennifer to hit more dead air than anything else. Why developers in this genre simply do not add an option for a free-camera system is still beyond my comprehension.
All of these problems would be irrelevant if the game didn’t suffer from the plague that haunts most games of this type. More often than not you will find yourself on an endless fetch quest that involves you sniffing out one item, retrieving it, and moving onto the next all while wondering the same corridors for what seems like hours on end. Once you do discover an extremely important item the baddies show up and require you to wrestle with the combat controls before actually moving onto a new area, which decidedly looks very familiar to the one you were already in. Then it’s back to rinse and repeat motion with the same results, very tedious and will certainly not entertain gamers for very long.
The worst part is that I really wanted to like Rule of Rose; in fact if you can stomach all of the aforementioned issues the storyline and cut scenes are worth it alone. The premise is fantastic and the visuals really do draw you into the dark world this game presents; it’s just a shame that so many vital aspects of it are broken or Rule of Rose could have easily given Silent Hill a strong run for its money.