When people think survival horror, the most common things that come to mind are deformed mutant monsters, psychotic killers, demons from hell, and the ever-popular endless wave of zombies. Usually throwing children into the mix means adding them as helpless victims or pawns of the evil plot, but Rule of Rose gives them a new role in the traditional survival horror adventure.
The player assumes the role of 19 year-old Jennifer, a meek and gloomy girl who has unwillingly stumbled onto the existence of a dark and dismal orphanage out in the middle of the woods somewhere in 1930's England. Curiosity killed the cat; after some exploring, Jennifer is taken prisoner by the children in the orphanage, and subjected to the cruel order of the Red Crayon Aristocrats. Trapped aboard a mysterious air ship, she must obey their rules and obtain an offering for the Princess of the Red Rose every month or she will be killed.
Needless to say, this provides a unique experience for the player. The seasoned survival horror player may be used to pus-covered monstrosities lurking around every corner, but what do you do or think when you see little girls hammering away at a wooden crate in unison within a room filled with bloody tools and crayon-drawn diagrams? And forget about zombies too. Schools of rotting fish with doll legs or children with brooms and bags over their heads may be the minions that do you in while walking down the hall.
The gameplay has a familiar feel. Players guide Jennifer through the dark and dreary yet beautifully rendered environment, examining objects and talking to the children (and the occasional adult) to progress through the game. Jennifer is also accompanied by a dog named Brown, who has the ability to sniff out clues. When something with evil intent does drop from the ceiling or pop out from around the corner, Jennifer can either run for her life or fight back with found objects like a dessert fork, ice pick, or a meat cleaver.
The game can be completed in a couple of hours. However, to really enjoy and understand the detailed plotline, players need to take their time and explore the many rooms and spaces of their environment. Rule of Rose isn't like most survival horror titles because you are able to take it easy and get a good look around without worrying about a time limit or constant swarms of monsters in every room. Each month builds, and as Jennifer gets closer to finding her offering for the month, the more dangers will pop out of the woodwork. So when you start a new month, usually you can wander around worry-free until you're ready to start hunting for clues.
Players will also be able to have Brown go on little treasure hunts for found objects like candy, marbles, clothespins, and dirty socks. They may seem like junk items, but most of these things can equal a bonus if given as an offering, or could be a stepping stone to Brown finding an even better item. There are also benefits for completing the game a certain way, two different obtainable endings, and secret costumes to unlock.
The controls are simple to understand, and even so the game provides a helpful tutorial for each new feature so you aren't left in the dark. With challenging puzzles and tasks to complete, you really don't want to stress yourself out with knowing how to attack and move. If you happen to get stuck figuring something out, a visit to the Bucket Knight (who also happens to be your save point) will drop you clues. The Rubbish bin also acts as a convenient storage bin for your items, which you'll find very useful with the abundance of objects and weapons obtainable in the game.
It's a game worthy of being called perfect, but it does lack in some technical areas. The illegible writing works for items in the game's environment, but not when used in game menus. The subtitles are also somewhat difficult to read at times due to a small, somewhat illegible font. The sound can also be unbalanced during cinemas. If it weren't for the subtitles, it would be difficult to make out what the characters are saying most of the time. There are also areas in certain rooms where Brown's sprite can get stuck, which can be a slight annoyance if you're on the hunt for a certain item.
For those of you asking, 'Will it scare the pants off me?'...Well, if you're asking that, it probably won't. I think the game is more geared into giving you an eerie, creepy, frustrated feeling than making you scream in terror. It does have suspense, some thrills, and it will probably gross you out if you're sensitive to things like maggot-covered rotting carcasses, insects, torture, and blood. And remember...this is all being done by young kids, not adults.
Even if it doesn't scare you, it deserves to be played, and if anything it'll make you think a little. I think the only gamers who won't enjoy this title are those who are extra-sensitive to horror (which doesn't make you any less of a gamer, mind you!), or aren't into figuring out puzzles. So definitely give this one a try, and as with many Atlus games, you'll want to grab this one up soon or you might miss your chance to play it at all.