Rule of Rose Reader Review
14 years ago the Mega CD game Night Trap was the focal point of a storm of controversy about violence in video games. Along with MortalKombat it was the subject of debate in the US congress, they scratched their receding hairlines fretting about how the government should deal with such offensive material being played by our sweet and fragile children. After the senate pronounced Night Trap "ultra-violent" it was removed from many major stores across America and seemingly all this happened without any of it's attackers ever having played the game. Night Trap was a bit of fluff, a cheesy little vampire film with a few hints at interactivity. The violence we were all promised turned out to be whimsical at most, missing only a big Batman "KAPOW" sound as you flung balaclava wearing invaders into trap-doors. Did I mention it even featured a musical number halfway through? Terrifying in all the wrong ways!
The nineties are behind us now, along with the X-Files and Chumbawamba, and thankfully gaming has come a long way from Mega CD "interactive movies". It almost feels like gaming is becoming a legitimate past time amongst even those who don't watch Star Trek. However on the day Rule of Rose was expected to be released here in Europe by 505 Games, they announced its cancellation due to the wave of controversy the game had caused. Making it clear that, although a decade and a half has passed, a large chunk of society still doesn't understand games and are all too willing to condemn them unseen. The Mayor of Rome wanted the game banned in Italy and the European justice and security commissioner described the game's content as "obscene cruelty and brutality", and of course our very own tabloids knew a good band wagon when they saw one.
Ultimately though it should come as no surprise when I say it's highly unlikely any of them have actually played the game. If this was Wikipedia someone would be getting very angry with me right now as I can't cite anything to back up that claim. However the reality is once you've played Rule of Rose for a few hours it's clear there's not a lot to get very excited about. Anyone looking to play Rule of Rose on the back of all the controversy is going to be very disappointed as it's not in the least bit as sick or twisted as Silent Hill, which has always been sorely overlooked by the Daily Mail as a cause for the downfall of humanity. What we actually have on our hands here ladies and gentlemen is an interesting little psychological horror game that suffers from being a bit dull.
Fans of the horror gaming niche aren't always the pickiest bunch when it comes to gameplay. It took Capcom four iterations before smacking zombie nurses with a bit of metal became fun in terms of gameplay, though I'll admit the satisfaction that came with it was there from day one. Despite ropey controls and some hilarious running animations games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil have always had their loyal followers. Some looking or a fix of Romero-esque b-movie quality brain smashing and others looking to have their best underwear ruined by the sound of sirens dragging the player into a twisted world straight out of David Lynch's worst nightmares. The point being it's all about the story and atmosphere, and genre fans have been eminently forgiving about backwards gameplay as long as the terror is there.
If there's one thing Rule of Rose does right, and to be honest it does at least 2 or 3 things right, it's the atmosphere. The game presents itself as a children's tale, after a bewildering opening animation you're offered a children's sketch book and asked to read the rest of the story. The sketch book is of course blank and so the confusing tone for the rest of the game is set. The menu screens are styled like animated children's sketches and the narration throughout is presented like a fable straight out of LemonySnicket : "The unfortunate girl found the house strangely familiar". The audio visual experience compliments all this as nicely as you'd expect for a late PS2-era title. The soundtrack consisting almost entirely of violins is particularly haunting and is supported well by top end looking real-time andpre-rendered graphics. It never feels cheap, which is great as it's exactly what you modern game playing whippersnappers expect.
Of course I'm six paragraphs in now and I've so far avoided talking about gameplay. Simply put: I really want to like this game but Atlus have made it extremely difficult to achieve that goal. Most other horror titles rely heavily on monsters and the threat of impending death they bring to keep up the tension. Rule of Rose instead of relies more heavily on exploration and puzzle solving, like a modern point and click adventure. Sadly this generally involves running and back and forth around maze like corridors, sometimes consulting a particularly unhelpful map, as you carry out a series of contrived item hunts. "Have I tried this grey looking door before or was it the other grey looking door I went it a few minutes ago" and to be honest after a few hours you don't care much anymore. Despite giving you a choice of routes later in the game each section is incredibly linear and exceedingly dull. When you do encounter the occasional fight it doesn't add much fun to the proceedings neither does your little canine companion. It's all fairly clumsy and will leave you wishing you were playing another horror game, ANY other horror game, yes even Haunting Ground!
Overall if you're not too trapped by society's assumption that games should be fun to play then there's some great stuff in here just for you. They've achieved the perfect mood for the psychological horror niche with the delightful intermingling of a mysterious story, haunting music and beautiful presentation. However the sum of these parts sadly only amounts to a a title that dances on the borderline between boring and frustrating. The controversy this game has sparked is equal parts bewildering and depressing. If tiresome games are going to be banned then the games industry is going to face serious problems.
5 / 10