Be molested. Be very molested.
After being traumatized by zombie dogs
, loons with giant scissors
, and demon infested apartments
, today's unflinching gamers have grown a layer of skin over their eyes tough enough to strike a match on. Developer Punchline recognized this and crafted their new adventure, Rule of Rose,
to be psychologically horrifying, effectively bypassing our hardened gamer eyes, and going straight to our soft brains.
It's a great theory, and Rule of Rose does an admirable job of making you feel eerily uncomfortable. But while we gamers, as a group, can certainly relate to its many scenes of public humiliation and pervading sense of discomfort, those are generally the kinds of things we trying to escape by playing video games. After a couple hours, you’ll wish Punchline would have kept their hands to themselves.
You experience this creepy tale in the cute, little shoes of Jennifer, an unlucky teenage girl in 1930s England. As you're riding a night bus, a faceless little boy hands you an evocative story book with many blank pages. The bus stops in the middle of a desolate country road, the boy takes off, and just like in a B horror flick, you inexplicably run after him. Further down the road you arrive at a decrepit orphanage with little kids in paper masks beating on a bloody sack. Not heeding what is clearly a bad sign
, you follow the boy into the orphanage. Once in, the doors lock behind you, and you are trapped by a sinister society of children called The Aristocracy of the Red Crayon. Dun Dun DUNNNNNH.
Since you’re a newcomer, the aristocracy gives you a rank of “Beggar” (the least respectable echelon of creepy, undead orphan) and tasks you with finding gifts to offer The Aristocracy, lest they kill you with, presumably, a red crayon. While you search for these, random awful things will happen. You'll eventually witness some animal torture, and a slobbery little girl will crawl up your body, stick a dead rat in your face, and then apologize profusely. For the record, apology not accepted.
The overall experience is neither frightening nor emotionally gripping, and the only thing that will keep you playing is a sense of curiosity about how far Rule of Rose will go to try and creep you out. There is a mystery at the center of the orphanage, and if this developed more quickly, Rule of Rose might have been an interesting ride. Instead, its personality is entirely creepy, and its gameplay is sadistically boring; not a winning combination.
If you can imagine the original Resident Evil
without any guns or interesting puzzles, you have a pretty clear picture of Rule of Rose
. To make matters worse, you’re supposed to explore this huge orphanage, but you move really
slowly, and your map is completely inadequate. Expect to backtrack a lot while checking long hallways full of locked doors. When you finally find an open one, something terrible and creepy happens to you. It’s like a visit to the urologist’s, but cheaper.
And you aren’t nearly as good at fighting, thanks to inaccurate collision detection, slow melee combat, and easily exploitable, cheesy A.I. You also get a dog named Brown, although he’s hardly Rin Tin Tin
, or even the violent canine beast in Capcom's Haunting Ground
. Instead, Brown is only capable of stunning smaller enemies by barking at them and grabbing the legs of larger foes so you can whack them from behind. But if he gets hurt, prepare to get smothered by one unavoidable attack after another. Instead of a best friend, Brown is more of an incompetent henchman.
He does have one, extremely useful talent, though, the ability to sniff an object in your inventory and miraculously lead you to the next cut scene, giving you a much appreciated sense of direction, and in turn laying the game's complete linearity bare for all to point and laugh at. There’s only ever one thing to do, or have done to you at a time, and Brown obediently leads you to your fate.
Which is usually at the end of a really creepy hallway, dripping with atmosphere. The dissonant symphony playing in the background as you sluggishly jiggle locks is ominous, as are the environments’ bleak color schemes, highlighted by strange crayon scribbles and little posters hung by the children. It’s definitely creepy, but not very memorable. There's even a gritty layer of static that gives the game an old, dusty look, foreshadowing its fate in your closet after the painful loading times make you eject it once and for all.
And eject it you will, because Rule of Rose has almost nothing going for it other than sheer creepiness, and as you are probably aware, creepiness doesn’t count for much. Gameplay and an interesting story, on the other hand, are big features, and both were carelessly pruned. Since it isn’t scary or interesting from one moment to the next, what truly qualifies Rule of Rose as "survival horror" is the actual, real-life experience of playing it. Take our advice, don’t let this one live.