Rule of Rose
Rule of Rose[a] is a survival horror video game developed by Punchline for the PlayStation 2. Set in England in 1930, the plot revolves around a nineteen-year-old woman named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in a world ruled by young girls who have established a class hierarchy called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. It was first released in 2006 by Sony Computer Entertainment in Japan. After Sony Computer Entertainment's American and European branch did not express interest in localizing the title, it was published later that year by Atlus USA in North America and by 505 Games in Europe.
|Rule of Rose|
Development on Rule of Rose began after Punchline was asked by Sony Computer Entertainment to make a horror game. Punchline wanted to develop a "new type of horror game" with an emphasis on psychological horror. This decision led to the concept of childhood, specifically the "mysterious and misunderstood" nature of young girls. The team drew inspiration from the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales for the narrative, and the Silent Hill series for graphics and art style. The entire score was produced by studio musicians in order to bring a human element to the game's atmosphere.
Rule of Rose was the subject of a moral panic in Europe prior to its publication there, based on rumors of its alleged content. Various European authorities condemned the game and called for its banning. The game was cancelled in the United Kingdom, despite the Video Standards Council calling the complaints "nonsense." Rule of Rose received mixed reviews from many publications; reactions to the story, music, and horror elements were almost universally positive, while the gameplay was panned. The game has been compared to Silent Hill and Haunting Ground, due to the psychological horror used throughout and because the main character is accompanied by a canine companion.
Rule of Rose is a survival horror game in which the player guides Jennifer through exploring the game environments and advances the plot by accomplishing tasks while sporadically encountering enemies and bosses. Combat is almost exclusively melee-based, with a variety of improvised weapons available, such as kitchen knives and pipes. Jennifer is a timid character: her melee attacks are neither powerful nor long-ranged. Evasion of enemies is often a more viable strategy instead of fighting. With the exception of a handful of bosses, all enemies in the game are imps—skinny, doll-like creatures the size of small children. Different animal-headed imps appear throughout the game, alongside regular imps.
Early in the game, Jennifer encounters and rescues a dog named Brown. Brown accompanies her throughout the game and will respond to the player's commands. Brown can be ordered to track items by scent, be commanded to 'stay' and be called to Jennifer's side. Brown cannot attack enemies, but will growl to distract some imps and bosses, allowing Jennifer to retreat or attack without fear of retaliation. He can be injured to the point of collapse, causing him to stop distracting enemies or track items.
Brown's ability to locate items is an integral part of the game, used in every chapter of Rule of Rose to progress further. The same system allows the player to find health restoratives and other items which, while not essential to complete the game, can help the player survive enemy encounters. Players select an item from the inventory for Brown to locate, which is then connected to the 'find' command until changed or removed. Every item selected this way can be used to find at least one type of item. When tracking items, Brown will lead the player through the game environments, scratching at doors in his way, signaling the player to open the door. Most health restoratives and all tradable items are hidden and must be uncovered by Brown, though the player can choose to avoid searching for these items to progress quickly. Restorative items include snack foods, candy, and chocolate. The different types of restorative items heal varying amounts of health. Bones and other items can be used to restore Brown's health if he becomes injured. Other items such as marbles and ribbons have no immediate use, but may be traded with non-playable characters in order to obtain food, rare items, and weapons.
Taking place in England in 1930, Rule of Rose centers on Jennifer, a 19-year-old woman who is led to an abandoned orphanage by a small boy. She follows him to a grave in the courtyard, where she digs up a coffin with a bloody sack inside it. Four children sneak up on her and pour water on her, before shoving her into it, and she loses consciousness. She awakens in an abandoned airship[nb 1] ruled by a cruel group of young girls known as the Red Crayon Aristocrats: the mysterious Princess and Prince of the Red Rose; the confident Diana, the eldest of the group of children and the highest-ranking under the Princess and Prince; the distant Eleanor; the intelligent Meg, who loves Diana; and Amanda, who despises Jennifer, as her arrival caused Amanda to be put at the bottom of the hierarchy. Jennifer is also ranked by the Aristocrats near the bottom of their hierarchy, and under the threat of death, Jennifer must appease the Aristocrats by bringing an offering for them each month. Although she encounters adults and other children on the airship as well, they are either unkind or distant toward her. She eventually befriends the sickly child Wendy and frees Brown, a dog who aids her in finding gifts and battling imps.
Jennifer eventually regains her memories of being cared for by Gregory Wilson, an emotionally unstable farmer who named her Joshua after his dead son, after being orphaned in an airship crash. Wendy discovered her at his home, and they exchanged letters. She convinced Jennifer to escape from Gregory, but not before taking his gun. The two renewed their oath of "everlasting, true love", with Jennifer's stuffed bear being exchanged for Wendy's brooch. On the airship, Jennifer retrieves the stuffed bear after it is stolen and is given a red crayon, the symbol of the Red Crayon Aristocrats in return.
The game's setting then transitions to the now-inhabited orphanage.[nb 2] Bullied by the children, Jennifer is horrified to find that she has become the offering of the month and loses Brown when she encounters Wendy in the courtyard. She eventually learns that Brown has been killed instead. Wendy then reveals herself as the Princess of the Red Rose, the leader of the Aristocrats. Jennifer, now a child, slaps her and casts aside her brooch, hating the Aristocrats and herself for being too cowardly to oppose them.
Afterward, the Aristocrats approach Jennifer, now an adult, in the hopes that she will replace Wendy as their leader, as they have cast aside the tale of Stray Dog, a creature which kidnaps disobedient children, as Wendy's lie. Jennifer, however, finds that Wendy has brought Gregory to the orphanage, having conditioned him to obey her, and he proceeds to kill the children and orphanage's owners. Wendy then orders him to kill Jennifer, who manages to subdue him with the aid of inexplicably alive Brown. Wendy then confesses that she brought Gregory to the orphanage because she had felt that Jennifer did not love her. After giving Jennifer Gregory's gun, Wendy is snatched into the orphanage by Gregory. After a brief battle with him, Jennifer gives a remorseful Gregory the gun, which he uses to commit suicide.
Rule of Rose concludes with Jennifer, now a child, waking in the orphanage and reflecting on the events and characters. Letters exchanged between her and Wendy reveal that the sickly Wendy had become jealous of Brown, feeling that Jennifer treasured him over her. Jennifer reveals that after it was discovered she was the lone survivor of not only the orphanage massacre but the airship crash that was thought to have no survivors, the media coverage of the children's deaths was diminished, and she vows to remember her friends. In the final scene, Jennifer visits Brown, now a puppy, in the shed and puts a collar on him. Promising to protect him for eternity, she then closes the door on him.
The company Punchline, which had previously developed the video game Chulip, developed Rule of Rose for the PlayStation 2. A group of twenty-five developers, Punchline began the project after being asked by Sony Computer Entertainment to develop a horror video game; not wanting to create a game similar to the survival-horror series Resident Evil, Punchline decided on the goal of developing a "new type of horror game, one which wasn’t the usual zombie, ghost and slasher type," with an emphasis on psychological horror rather than "surprise- and shock-based horror." A proposed early draft by Yoshiro Kimura was a dark fantasy "boy's story" that centered on a boy abducted by "a big man" and his attempts to escape, while encountering the ghosts of previous victims. Keywords included "Kidnapping, imprisonment, children, bullying, dwarfs, airship, escape." This concept was turned down by the publisher on the basis of being "too dangerous a topic," and Kimura turned to the idea of examining the "fear between girls."
This decision led to the concept of "a game surrounding childhood and children," but from both view points to show how children and adults can find the other one terrifying, with a primary focus on the adult's perspective. Though the game has garnered comparisons with William Golding's 1954 allegorical novel The Lord of the Flies, the developers did not draw inspiration from it, instead focusing on the "mysterious and misunderstood" nature of girls. The story formed through trial and error as the developers figured out how to create a sense of fear, ultimately adding the children's secret society, the Red Crayon Aristocrats. They also included Brown as a way to balance Jennifer's "helpless and unhappy" personality and make the game more enjoyable. Because of budget and time problems, the combat system was left a little rough.
Rule of Rose's graphics are heavily stylized, incorporating a series of visual filters similar to those used in the Silent Hill series. The developers researched the behavior of children, monitoring a group of European and American children, and photographed references for "the game’s textures and models"; for the motion capture, the team had Japanese children act. At the request of the developers, the group of children also expressed through drawings or written words what caused them to be happy or afraid. The company Shirogumi worked on the computer-generated imagery present in Rule of Rose's cutscenes. The musical score was composed by Yutaka Minobe, who also co-composed the music of Skies of Arcadia and some tracks from the Panzer Dragoon Orta soundtrack. The entire score was produced by studio musicians, including the Hiroshi Murayama Trio, and vocals by Kaori Kondo. According to the game's developers, the music was intended to bring a human element to the atmosphere in the game. A 6-track promotional soundtrack CD was produced by Atlus, which was issued to customers from certain retailers when Rule of Rose was pre-ordered.
Punchline included several themes in Rule of Rose, with the primary one being "intimate relationships between all people". A major theme in the game is the difference between a child's and an adult's way of thinking, and how children might treat adults if they were given power over them. Players are helpless to prevent their adult player-character from being bullied by the children. Another is how attachment "to one thing can bring out the worst in people."
Prior to its publication, Rule of Rose was the subject of a moral panic in Europe. At E3 2006 Atlus announced that it would be releasing Rule of Rose in the United States, following Sony's decision to pass on an American release, as the game "wasn’t really in sync with their corporate image" and the company had wanted the game to "be a bit tamer, if it were to have the Sony name in the U.S." The developers disagreed with this, saying that "the theme is supposed to be one of intimate familiarity" and that they had intended to portray how children behave "without the filter of guilt or sin." Rumors of violence towards children in the game tied into a larger discussion of morality and violence in video games appeared in the Italian magazine Panorama in November 2006, and were quickly picked up by the British media, which alleged that the game had scenes of "children buried alive underground, in-game sadomasochism, and underage eroticism." These allegations were untrue. At the time, Rule of Rose had already been rated by various video game advisory boards as suitable for an older teenage audience: in Japan, it was rated 15+; in the majority of Europe, 16+; and in North America, 17+.
European Union justice minister Franco Frattini attacked the game as containing "obscene cruelty and brutality." He also called for changes to the PEGI rating system in place across Europe and for government officials to engage in discussions with industry representatives. Frattini received a letter from Viviane Reding, commissioner for the information society and media, who criticized his actions: "It is...very unfortunate that my services were not pre-consulted before your letter to the Ministers of Interior was sent out," reminding him of the commission-backed self-regulating ratings system called PEGI that has operated across the European Union since 2003. The PEGI system of classification, according to Reding's letter, offers "informed adult choice" without censoring content: "This is in line with the Commission's view that measures taken to protect minors and human dignity must be carefully balanced with the fundamental right to freedom of expression as laid down in the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union." On March 7, 2007, a group of Member of the European Parliaments presented a Motion for a European Parliament resolution on a ban on the sale and distribution in Europe of the game and the creation of a 'European Observatory on childhood and minors'. The game was further suggested to be banned for sale in France, and to be kept from the public in Poland. At this time, the game had not yet been released in Europe; the public officials suggesting that Rule of Rose be banned had not played the game, only having read about its alleged content or seen the trailer.
505 Games' Australian distributor, Red-Ant, canceled the game's Australian and New Zealand release, and 505 Games later canceled the United Kingdom release as a result of complaints by Frattini and other EU officials, and "largely misleading" commentary from the British press, although review copies had already shipped to video game journalists. It was released in the rest of Europe. The British body which had granted the title its 16+ PEGI rating (the Video Standards Council) responded to the press and Frattini's comments: "I have no idea where the suggestion of in-game sadomasochism has come from, nor children being buried underground. These are things that have been completely made up. [...] We’re not worried about our integrity being called into question, because Mr Frattini’s quotes are nonsense." The Council further noted that "there isn’t any underage eroticism. And the most violent scene does indeed see one of the young girls scare Jennifer with a rat on a stick. But the rat’s actually quite placid towards her and even licks her face.”
The game received mixed reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. The reviewer for video game magazine Play wrote: "I think everyone should experience this game, especially horror fans, but in order to do so, you're going to have to suffer through times of sheer agony--just like poor, unlucky Jennifer." According to Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine, the game "[b]lends the stuff of nightmares with stylish sound and graphics. Sadly, the developer should have spent longer on the gameplay." Edge found neither plot nor gameplay appealing: "It’s just a murky brew of meaningless, exploitative dysfunction filling an empty game, and it leaves a bitter taste."
It is generally agreed that the title has an interesting plot, with The A.V. Club observing that "aside from a few deep curtsies and an unlockable Gothic Lolita costume, the characters are more sinister than sexualised". However, the gameplay is widely lambasted as clumsy, archaic, and unrewarding. The press was generally divided upon how much the gameplay detracts from one's ability to enjoy the story itself. GamesRadar described Jennifer as "a cringing, passive non-entity" and stated: "There's no denying that Rule of Rose is extremely pretty, atmospheric and disturbing.... but as an adventure game, Rule of Rose just sort of wilts." Acegamez, on the other hand, not only admired the game's plot but also found the gameplay appealing if slow, "a wonderful psychological thriller that will draw you in with its bizarrely compelling narrative, atmospheric presentation and thoughtful story-based gameplay".
In a retrospective article on survival horror games, GamePro's Michael Cherdchupan listed Rule of Rose as one of the classics of the genre, writing that the game was a work of art that lingered long after playing through; he praised it for its delicate handling of its subject matter and Jennifer's journey as she processes her trauma. IGN listed Rule of Rose as one of the worst horror games created after 2000. While enjoying the "refreshingly adult take on sexual awakening and repressed memories that's consistently unsettling without ever resorting to cheap shock tactics," it criticized the game's "totally broken" combat and "thoroughly excruciating" backtracking, controls, and camera angles.
Because of the limited number of copies published, Rule of Rose has garnered a reputation as one of the more expensive video games to buy second-hand.
- The "Bird of Happiness" chapter starts in the airship, but its final scene shows Jennifer and the children in the orphanage.
- Characters who have died in earlier sections of the game, the maid Martha, the distant young adult Clara, and the headmaster Mr. Hoffman, all appear unharmed and inexplicably alive in this section of the game.
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