Today I want to talk to you about the Rule of Rose, a survival horror game by Punchline. It came out on the PlayStation 2 and was first released in 2006 by Sony Computer Entertainment in Japan, by Atlus in America and by 505 games in Europe.
The game is set in England in 1930, and revolves around Jennifer who becomes trapped in a world ruled by young girls. The game director describes the game as an interactive movie, which should give you an idea on the gameplay.
In a nutshell this game is wonderfully creepy, getting the balance of story and disempowerment just right to keep you on the edge of your seat. The aesthetic and setting are powerful, giving the game both atmosphere and tension. The character’s, both the player character and the side characters you interact with are wonderfully developed and nuanced.
The game is set in 1930, as Jennifer, who is 19 at the start of the game, is led to an abandoned orphanage. Naturally there is a graveyard there and Jennifer digs up a coffin, before being pushed inside it by children.
She awakens not in a coffin but on an inflight airship. The airship is populated by adults and children but ruled over by young girls known as the Red Crayon Aristocrats. During the course of the game, Jennifer must, with the help of her friend Wendy and a dog, bring offerings to the Red Crayon Aristocrats and during this she regains fragments of her own memory and ascends to become part of the Red Crayon Aristocrats herself.
She remembers her own upbringing after being orphaned by an airship crash. She lived with a farmer, who thought she was his own dead son and effectively held her prisoner. She had a friend, Wendy, who convinced her to escape.
The game then changes abruptly and Jennifer is back in the orphanage, and horrified to find out that she is the next offering, though her dog is killed in her place. Wendy then reveals herself as the Princess of the Red Rose.
Jennifer is asked by the Red Crayon Aristocrats to take over and depose Wendy. But Wendy is clearly not going to go without a fight and unleashes the farmer who held Jennifer prisoner, he has been mentally destroyed and is now a raving lunatic. Once in the orphanage the farmer kills everyone. Only Jennifer survives, Wendy becomes remorseful of the mass murder and is killed off screen. The farmer has a moment of lucidity and kills himself.
The game ends with Jennifer, now a child again, reminiscing over what happened.
I understand that the team drew inspiration from Brothers Grimm fairy tales for the narrative, and the Silent Hill series for graphics and art style. Reviewers of the game have compared it to Silent Hill and it is easy to see why. With the focus being on story elements and incorporating the horror from those elements. Yes, there are physical threats in both games but the main drive of the game is not to beat the scary monsters but to uncover the mystery of what on earth is going on.
The story element in the game can feel a little convoluted and difficult to follow as Jennifer changes locations, times, and age herself. The core of the story, being about her and Wendy, is solid and interesting enough to keep the player engaged.
The game was created by Punchline to be a psychological horror and while it does have its high stakes action moments, it’s focus is definitely on that aspect of horror. It is far more mental than physical and this is reflected in the gameplay. But that being said the game does play up to instinctive fear and social tensions.
The atmosphere is a compelling one and changes at different points in the game though the core, solving the mystery, remains constant throughout.
Overall, it is a game I would recommend. It’s not the best horror game on the market, but with great atmosphere and suitably tragic elements it’s certainly worth your time.