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PS2 Review: Rule of Rose

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Children can be so cruel. Though they represent the purest form of innocence, without any kind of supervision or discipline, they are capable of performing acts of evil with out any guilt. Perhaps because they lack the knowledge of right and wrong we tend to think of them as innocent, but does it make their acts any less heinous?

Without a structure of good and evil, as well as adult discipline, you cannot have order. This is why society crumbled in Lord of the Flies and it’s why society crumbles in Rule of Rose

It’s the 1930s. Jennifer, a 19-year-old English girl, gets off a bus to chase after a mysterious boy that slipped her a storybook. She follows him to a seemingly abandoned orphanage, but quickly realizes she is far from alone. The children have taken control and there’s not an adult in sight.

Soon a young boy who keeps prodding her to come to terms with her sins is tormenting Jennifer. After digging up a mysterious, coffin shaped box the children have buried, Jennifer finds herself trapped and hauled abroad a mysterious airship that appears to be a giant flying catfish.

It is here that she meets the Red Crayon Aristocrats, an exclusive club amongst the children, complete with its own hierarchy. At the top is the Duchess followed by the Countess, the Baroness, the poor and then finally you, the beggar. The group has also developed a system of royalty lead by the Red Rose princess and the Bear Prince.

The children live in fear of The Stray Dog, a creature that will haul children away if they do not please it. Clearly this is another reference to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where the children lived in constant fear of an unknown beast that existed for the same purpose as The Stray Dog, to explain why the kids are how they are and have done, what they have done.

Jennifer’s time on the airship can at best be described as a severe psychotic episode. When the children are playing, everything is fine, but when they disappear, the ghouls come out and things get very, very trippy.

Enemies come in the form of deformed children. Their eyes are replaces with sunken flesh and the scream a terrifying shriek. Some carry weapons such as kitchen knives and push brooms, other’s will simply latch on and bite you. Bosses are even queerer, often coming in the form of twisted adults that appear to have been tortured.

Combat remains the same as it is in any other survival horror title, grab a pole, hold R1 and tap X to swing, the only difference is that where Silent Hill understood the concept of reach, Rule of Rose does not. Often you’ll have to get much closer then you need to just to land a hit with a four-foot pipe.

Boss battles in particular suffer form this massive lack of reach as bosses often have a wide attack radius while you are forced to run into them before you can even score a hit.

While Rule of Rose does not deviate too far from traditional survival horror conventions, there is one game play addition that drastically changes the way the game is played. That addition is a little dog named Brown.

If there’s an item you can’t find, just give Brown a whiff of something related to it and he will find it. At first this may appear to make the game too easy, but you’ll quickly realize the developers designed every puzzle around this feature. Brown exists as more of a guide than a hint book, and that’s a good thing, because it’s almost impossible to not get lost while aboard the airship.

Most of the Lower Deck consists of long halls and storage rooms. Many of them look the same and if you don’t pay careful attention it’s very easy to get lost. Simply finding your way back to a save point can be a real hassle and may take upwards of 10 minutes. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience and if you don’t have an object for Brown to follow, you may be running around even longer.

As far as graphics and sound are concerned, Rule of Rose is pretty average, at least within its genre. Textures tend to strongly favour dark earth tones, giving the game a muddy, depressing look that accents the intended mood. The music is equally depressing and moody, especially the song used for the opening cut scene.

Voice work is fairly well done, however the mix between listening and reading can be a bit odd. Some cut scenes, specifically ones that are done in-engine, have no voice work, just auto scrolling text, while the beautiful CG cut scenes are all voice acted. It can be a bit frustrating, because you’ll know when a cut scene is coming, but you won’t always know if it’s one you have to read, or one you can listen to while browsing Gamefaqs for hints.

Speaking of hints, Rule of Rose features its own built in hint system. If you get stuck you can go to any save point and choose the, ‘ask for a clue’ option. Often the response you’ll hear is cryptic, but sometimes it can be incredibly useful. Some players may find having the option to get hints cheapens the experience, but for new comers to the genre, or players who don’t want to waste seven hours trying to chase a rabbit, it’s a feature of insurmountable importance.

Rule of Rose is an interesting social commentary. What seems normal or okay to a child can be seen as appalling and cruel to an adult. You could even expand that statement to say the game shows just how different and strange other cultures can appear.

With a rich story and solid presentation Rule of Rose should be a surefire hit, but unfortunately it’s held back by a confusing map design and clunky fighting controls.

Rule is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence and Suggestive Themes.

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About Jason Westhaver