|Rule of Rose|
Atlus (North America)
505 Games (Europe, excluding United Kingdom)
|Release date||January 19, 2006 (Japan)|
September 12, 2006 (North America)
November 3, 2006 (Europe, excluding United Kingdom)
Rule of Rose is a psychological survival horror video game for the PlayStation 2. It was developed by Punchline and published by Sony on January 19, 2006 in Japan, by Atlus on September 12, 2006 in North America and by 505 Games on November 3, 2006 in Europe (excluding the United Kingdom).
Despite that the story of Rule of Rose is set in the United Kingdom, the game was banned in the United Kingdom due to controversy and misinformation - some officials claimed that the purpose of the game is to "rape, beat up and kill a little girl", which is untrue, but the controversy was enough to ban it. It was still released in the rest of Europe with a PEGI rating of 16+, a year lower than the ESRB "mature" rating of 17+.
- For the full plot of the game, see Rule of Rose (plot).
Rule of Rose is set in 1930 in the rural Cardington, Bedfordshire, England, a few years before World War II broke out. The game tells the story of a 19-year-old young woman named Jennifer, whose parents were killed in a tragic airship accident.
During a bus ride along a moonlit road, Jennifer is awakened by a mysterious boy who presents her with a storybook. The storybook is blank and the boy runs away off the bus. Jennifer follows him to the Rose Garden Orphanage, located in a remote portion of the countryside. Jennifer discovers the orphanage to be a dilapidated building with no adults around and a ragtag mob of orphaned children who call themselves the Red Crayon Aristocrat Club.
The demented residents of Rose Garden kidnap Jennifer and take her into an impossibly large zeppelin filled with monstrous creatures called Imps, on a meandering course for a distant land. Jennifer ends up being forced into the Aristocracy as part of their "lower class". On the airship, Jennifer saves a dog who was bound by rope by the Aristocracy and names him Brown. With the help of her new canine companion, Jennifer must find valuable gifts for the Aristocracy in order to survive, or suffer death for her insolence.
Throughout the game, Jennifer recovers the forgotten memories of her childhood and remembers the people she knew at the orphanage. Because the plot is based on Jennifer's fragmented memories alone, what really happened is not always obvious to the player due to the fact that Jennifer's memory can alter or distort events and dates. The fact that the plot is only based on Jennifer's perspective also stops the player from seeing all sides of the story as well. A lot of what happened before, during and after the events of the game is not revealed, although many hints are given. The player must "connect the dots" and infer the story through dialogue, memos, notes, visual cues, etc.
Rule of Rose has two possible endings, but it is unknown which one of them is canon. There is only one factor which decides the ending: whether or not Jennifer kills Stray Dog through giving him a revolver (leading to the Good Ending), or killing Stray Dog through regular combat means.
|“|| If you play the game to completion, even if parents do, I’m sure they’ll see that this game has value, and is very much from the heart. The main theme is really about trust and fealty... It's about intimate relationships between all people, not just children, not just girls. There will be people who don’t understand it, but others will.
Rule of Rose is a game very much carried by its themes, many of which can be seen as distressing and taboo for video games at the time of the game's release in 2006. Being a horror game, it is designed to make the player feel uncomfortable. Rule of Rose touches upon topics such as human indifference towards animal suffering, animal cruelty, traumatic childhood memories, bullying and peer pressure, mental disorders and psychology, rankism and societal inequality, death, addiction (alcoholism and smoking), gun violence, murder, suicide, death, grief and coping with loss, and implied cannibalism. There are also some minor sexual themes and implied rape, but nothing explicit is seen.
Due to the heavy psychological themes which feature children, the game focuses on how children grow up, what sort of experiences they may have, and how this can factor into their development. This involves what activities children do to cope with boredom, how children behave and influence other children, how children differentiate between "friend" "enemy" "role model", trauma, maturity, the development of sociopathy and psychopathy, as well as how empathy can either grow or become repressed, whether it be towards other people or animals. One of the dynamics in the game also revolves around how children learn they have the ability to create and destroy, and what consequences may occur. One of the characters in the game, Thomas, is also implied to have some sort of neurological disorder such as autism, and he is portrayed as a lonely child in a somewhat sympathetic way.
Rule of Rose is a dark and twisted coming-of-age story, in this case, Jennifer's. The game is centered on Jennifer's point as view, coming to terms with her forgotten past and childhood traumas. The morals of the story, in regards to Jennifer, include the importance of keeping promises, as well as questioning authority and the dangers of being passive. The game occurred because Jennifer ignored her bullies as a child, instead of seeking more proactive ways to deal with it, such as finding help from adults.
One theme 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 unable to prevent Jennifer from being bullied by orphaned children who lack parental restraint.
One theme is how people, especially children and girls, can be two-faced and hide under the guise of innocence. The children portrayed in Rule of Rose are extremely sadistic, savage and cruel, and wear innocent facades when adults are around. This certainly applies to Wendy. Vice-versa, the adults in Rule of Rose also have their own facades around children.
|“|| We wanted to depict the darker side of children. Not really dark, per se, but if you really think about kids, they aren’t really afraid of the same things that adults are, and often aren’t aware of the consequences. Something that may seem benign to them may seem wrong or frightening to adults, but it’s really just a form of innocence. We sort of wanted to show not only how scary adults can be from a child’s perspective, because that’s been touched on many times, but also how scary children can be from an adult’s perspective. We want to see that contrast.
There is a noticeable gender slant in the game as most of the cast are girls. This is because the developers wanted an unpredictability in the world based on the mysterious nature of girls, as they felt that boys are more simplistic in relationships, while girls tend to hold onto grudges longer, be more into psychological bullying than physical bullying, etc. Xavier and Nicholas are often seen swordfighting, adding a contrast to the differences in rivalry between how the boys and girls in the game are portrayed.
Despite the game's darker themes, one of the major themes of Rule of Rose is the concept of love and the exploration of love. Apart from the love between couples, the game also includes the love between parent and child (i.e. Gregory and Joshua), and even the love that comes with friendship; in the "Once Upon a Time" chapter, Jennifer remembers a lot of her childhood memories and the camaraderie with the other children she had at the orphanage. There are some LGBT themes, as there is implied lesbianism between Diana and Meg, and Jennifer and Wendy, and the aforementioned implications of sexuality. A theme is how attachment to one thing can bring out the worst in people. This certainly applies to the theme of unhealthy love and the concept of unhealthy obsessive infatuation.
|“|| This is rather delicate, but the theme is supposed to be one of intimate familiarity. If we look at it through the eyes of adults, when girls play with each other in this way it may be considered somewhat erotic, but with kids, I…really don’t think they’d see it that way. It’s more genuine, not lustful. It may appear so because these are things kids actually do, but we don’t want to see. Yes, it’s children being children without the filter of guilt or sin. ...The erotic aspect isn’t supposed to be the main theme. There are definitely erotic parts to it, and some things that might make people uncomfortable, but it’s not the focus.
One facet of the game's story is the recurring theme of bondage and constraint. The game makes heavy use of rope symbolism, with Jennifer and Brown being tied up several times throughout the story. Additionally every single enemy in the game besides two (three excluding promotional material) feature rope in their design, as does every single boss in the game. This is probably symbolic that the characters are figuratively constrained and tied down by something major. As the player progresses through the game, the environments become more and more covered in rope. This is likely representative of how the story treats the orphanage like a prison for its residents, "tying" everybody together against their will.
The goal of the game was to make it so that depending on the player's personality, they will walk way with different feelings. However, the developers really wanted the player to think about not just the game, but to take the ideas from the game into their everyday life. The developers wanted the player to think while playing, emphasizing Rule of Rose isn't designed to be mindless entertainment. Although the game may appear similar to other games in the survival horror genre at first glance, the developers insist it's not.
Rule of Rose plays like a typical survival horror game. Jennifer explores the environments and searches for items around the airship, furthering the plot by accomplishing tasks, solving puzzles, as well as encountering random enemy battles and a few bosses. The player, as Jennifer, is forced to find the monthly gift of the chapter to appease the Aristocracy and donate it to the Gift Box, or die.
Jennifer's health is displayed as a red line in the inventory screen, and after every chapter, her health bar will automatically replenish. In order to survive her hellish predicament, Jennifer must locate health items, such as lollipops, candy and scones, which heal varying amounts of health.
After every chapter, the player must drop unneeded items in the inventory to make space for more as there are only 12 slots.
If the player becomes lost during the game and doesn't know what to do next, they can ask a Bucket Knight for clues which also act as save points.
Jennifer does not have access to weapons like grenade launchers and machine guns because it does not make sense from a tonal and narrative perspective, and the developers wanted the player to feel as helpless and weak as Jennifer. As such, combat is almost exclusively melee with a variety of improvised makeshift weapons available such as a dessert fork, a knife and a pipe.
Since Jennifer is scared and timid, even to the point where she covers her face in fear while attacking, her melee attacks are neither powerful nor very long-ranged. Due to this, Jennifer needs to be close to attack enemies and may become seriously injured, especially against large groups of Imps. Jennifer is also very vulnerable and can easily die after a few hits, especially after being stunned by hoards. As such, it is recommended to ignore enemies when possible, although there are times (such as Jennifer being locked in a room, or during boss battles) where Jennifer must fight.
The only ranged weapons are the Revolver and Gregory's Gun: a simple handgun which isn't achieved until the final battle against Stray Dog. The pistol gives Jennifer a longer-range and no real need to get close to the boss unless needed.
Brown and item hunting
Early in the game, Jennifer encounters her dog Brown, who accompanies her and will respond to commands such as tracking items by scent, being commanded to 'stay' and being called to Jennifer's side. Brown cannot attack enemies (except for Hoffman's boss fight in which he can bite his leg three times), but can growl, which distracts some Imps and bosses, allowing Jennifer to retreat or attack without retaliation. He can be injured to the point of collapsing, causing him to stop distracting enemies or tracking an item.
Brown's ability to locate items is an important part of the game. The same system allows Jennifer to find health restoratives and other items which, while not essential to complete the game, can help Jennifer and unlock hidden items. Animal Bones and meat 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 the Gift Box to obtain food, unlockable items and weapons.
Finding items is very much like a treasure hunt: the player selects an item from the inventory for Brown to locate another, which is then connected to the 'find' command until changed or removed. Brown will lead Jennifer through the environments, scratching at doors in his way for Jennifer to open. Most items are hidden and must be uncovered by Brown, though the player can choose to avoid searching for these items in order to progress quickly.
- Main article: Rule of Rose Original Soundtrack
The musical score was composed by Yutaka Minobe, who also composed the music of Skies of Arcadia and some tracks from the Panzer Dragoon Orta soundtrack. The entire score was created without electronic instruments - most of the music was produced by musicians, the Hiroshi Murayama Trio, using pianos and string instruments such as violins and cellos. According to the game's developers, the music was intended to bring a human element to the atmosphere in the game.
The theme song is A Love Suicide, performed by The Hiroshi Murayama Trio with Hiroshi Murayama on piano and vocals by Murayama's wife, Kaori Kondo.
A 6-track promotional soundtrack CD produced by Atlus was issued to customers from certain retailers when Rule of Rose was pre-ordered. However, it lacks much of the music from the game.
A digital re-release was created, now featuring 18 pieces. This version is superior as it has everything from the original release, plus all the main music from the game.
Originally, the game's protagonist was a boy who is kidnapped by a "big man" and becomes a victim. The boy becomes chased by boy ghosts who are are really the ghosts of the boys kidnapped by the man. The idea was refused by producers for unknown reasons. Some aspects of this idea are still in the final game, as the kidnapped "boy" could be thought of as Jennifer as Joshua, and the "big man" could be Gregory.
When designing Rule of Rose, the developers decided to focus on an adult's view of "the theme of darkness within children." They drew on the "mysterious and misunderstood" nature of girls and the cruelty from fairy tales. The story formed through trial and error as the developers figured out how to create fear. They added the children's secret society to the story to give it the sense of fear that they wanted.
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.
Originally not in the game, Brown was added to balance Jennifer's "helpless and unhappy" personality.
Because of budget and time constraints, the combat system was left a little rough, including collision and hit detection.
Upon its release, initial reaction to Rule of Rose was lukewarm with mixed reviews. The game has also obtained a Metacritic score of 59/100 and a GameRankings average ratio of 61%. Soon after the game's release, IGN gave it a "bad rating" with a 4.9/10. However, its Metacritic user rating is 8.6/10.
Despite the average reception that the game received, it has become rather infamous in the survival horror genre for being a polarizing and decisive game. However, many fans of Rule of Rose revere it as misunderstood, overlooked and underrated, and consider it as one of the most tragic, depressing and beautifully dark video games ever created, with an intelligently written storyline, gaining Rule of Rose a cult classic status, with many calling it "art".
On the positive side, it is generally agreed that the game has an interesting, deep, emotional and meaningful story which touches on some serious themes. Some fans feel it is a game worth playing for the story alone, and that those interested in mature and emotional stories should not pass it. The CGI cutscenes were praised for their ambitious style which tries to be photorealistic; with even a mere scene 3 second scene of Jennifer's clothed being wet showing an incredible amount of effort put into it. Many enjoyed the game's moody atmosphere, and that the music was well-done and added to the somber and surreal world of Rule of Rose. Kotaku featured a retrospective, commenting that Rule of Rose is still savagely twisted, inviting gamers to admire its macabre charm.
A common criticism of Rule of Rose is that some players found the gameplay to be clumsy, archaic, boring, and unrewarding. This is often associated with combat (see below). Reviewers were generally divided upon how much the gameplay detracts from one's ability to enjoy the story itself. It has been suggested that Rule of Rose might have been better if it was an animated CGI movie series, instead of a video game - or at the very least, should have been a more polished game.
A mainly negative 2 out of 5 review by X-Play claimed the game lacked the "survival" in "survival horror", despite that the game can be hard and Jennifer can die a lot. They expressed annoyance at Jennifer's slow walking speed and the loading times between rooms were criticized, comparing it to a video game full of endless loading screens. The game contains hundreds of rooms, and loading times can be 5-15 seconds on a PlayStation 2. When the game is played via emulator, the loading times are reduced to around 2-5 seconds. X-Play did, however, praise the CGI cutscenes.
Criticized elements include:
- The inventory only contains 12 slots, meaning the player must constantly drop items to free up space. This is even made more complicated because the game does not always identify which items are no longer necessary.
- The endless item hunting and fetching with Brown can be tiresome for some players. Many important items are invisible and unpickable until found by Brown. There is a lot of backtracking and many parts can be boring, repetitive, and have slow pacing. A lot of the game involves following Brown through the airship to find an item. This is made worse by Jennifer's slow walking speed.
- The combat has odd hit-detection where Jennifer can attack an enemy and it deals no damage. Enemies also have animation cycles where they are inexplicably invincible, leading players to constantly hit enemies in hopes that their attack will connect.
- Rule of Rose is notorious for having some strong difficulty spikes (made ever harder if the player neglects finding health items), mainly surrounding the Hoffman and Mermaid Princess bosses, to the point where some players quit playing. The game lacks a difficulty setting, and if a player uses up all their health items on a certain chapter, it may become impossible to continue the game without restarting from the beginning.
- Brown's dog mechanics are extremely basic and follows orders exactly, with some feeling he doesn't act like a real dog. Some have considered it a step down from Hewie of Haunting Ground, who has a more realistic and randomized attitude.
- The story can be extremely vague and confusing for some players, and many aspects are told through piecing together information through notes and connecting the dots. To this day, there are many mysteries (not necessarily plot holes) surrounding the plot and characters.
- Some of the game's "unlockables" are questionable and useless. For example, once the player beats the game, they are given Master weapons (Master Racket, Master Wrench, etc) which are extremely overpowered and make completing the game on a second playthrough a breeze. The player is given the option of finding the revolver, which many players find to be a terrible weapon, and a Knight Rapier which is negligible compared to the Master weapons. The unlockable Stick of Justice is also a weak weapon. There is also a Films sidequest which is completely useless in the era of viewing the game's cutscenes on YouTube (although in the game's defense, YouTube was just invented).
Controversy and banning
Rule of Rose raised controversies in Poland, where the Ministry of Education raised questions concerning the game's suitability for minors because of the themes of child violence and sexuality - the game was rated 16+ in Europe and 17+ in North America.
In November 2006, three French deputies introduced a bill asking for the game to be banned for sale, arguing that the goal of the game was "to violate a little girl in the most horrible conditions, then torturing her before killing her in the worst of sufferances." They argued that if nothing was done, video games could become an "uncontrollable factor of decadent violence in our society."
The European Union justice minister Franco Frattini attacked the game, saying that it contained "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.
According to news site The Register, Frattini received a letter from European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, who criticized Frattini's actions: "It is...very unfortunate that my services were not pre-consulted before your letter to the Ministers of Interior was sent out." Reding reminded him of the commission backed self-regulating ratings system called PEGI that has operated across the EU 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 MEPs 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's publisher for Europe, 505 Games, chose to cancel the release of the game in the United Kingdom in response to the complaints by Frattini and other European officials, and "largely misleading" commentary from the press. It was released in the rest of Europe. Review copies of the title had already shipped to United Kingdom journalists when this was announced. The Video Standards Council, the United Kingdom rating body which had granted the title its 16+ PEGI rating, 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.||”|
In Australia and New Zealand
In November 2006, 505 Games' Australian and New Zealand distributor, Red Ant Enterprises, confirmed that the release of the game had been canceled in both territories. Red Ant stated that the game had not been submitted to the Australian Classification Board for approval, without which the game cannot be sold in Australia. Rule of Rose had a Australian release in February 2007.
In the United States
At E3 2006, Atlus announced that they would be releasing Rule of Rose in the United States, following Sony's decision to pass on a US release. Sony's decision was on the grounds of the game's erotic undertones involving a cast of female minors. Punchline disagreed with this, saying that the sexual themes are only a small part of the game.
Future and possible HD remaster
Fans have requested an HD remaster of the game, possibly with improved controls and graphics. This is ultimately up to Sony and Atlus, and potentially Sega since Sega acquired Atlus.
Due to the lukewarm reception and enormous controversy that the game received, along with the questionable state of the game's developing company Punchline, chances for an HD remaster or a sequel are slim.
Physical copies of Rule of Rose tend to be expensive, due to the limited copies, turning Rule of Rose into a rare collector's item. Copies are usually often around $150 USD to even upwards of $500 USD on sites like eBay. Rule of Rose is not on the PlayStation Store for PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4, or any digital distribution sites, leading many interested in the game to pirate it and play it on an emulator.
The closest thing to an HD edition of the game is the latest version of the PCSX2 emulator, along with a widescreen patch for it.
Some PCSX2 users may experience an FMV issue in which they do not work in hardware mode as it will result in a black screen - the system can be switched to software mode whenever a cutscene appears with the F9 keyboard button. This issue seems to have been entirely fixed in newer PCSX2 builds.
It is recommend to decrease the Noir Filter for a clearer picture, or use a code to disable it entirely which is included in the widescreen archive.
Deleted and unused content
Rule of Rose contains various deleted and unused content not seen in the final release.
- Master Wrench — A weapon that can only be accessed through cheat devices. The name suggests that there was going to be another costume for Jennifer such as a worker's outfit.
- Torture Stick — A weapon that can only be used through cheat devices.
- Video of many unused weapons
- Stray Dog's Story — Unused audio
- Gregory behind the Gingerbread House cutscene — An unused cutscene found in the game's files, apparently in the Japanese version. It suggests a possible game over, or another way of ending the chapter if Jennifer goes back to Gregory instead of escaping with Wendy. The cutscene also implies that Jennifer hasn't moved on from Gregory's massacre and deep down, still fears him. The cutscene could be a discarded plot-twist on the narrative as Gregory could be burying Joshua's body.
- Brown's Game Over cutscene — An unused cutscene showing that a game over could be achieved through Brown dying.
- J's Diary
- Unused audio
- Unused storybooks
- On the game's cover is a motif of a girl in a dress, presumably Jennifer. She is surrounded by a butterfly (a motif to the butterflies in the game), a bird (likely Eleanor's Bird), a rabbit (likely Peter) and a dog (likely Brown) tied with some sort of rope or vine, something which occurs in the game.
- Extracted data reveals that Rule of Rose seemed to have Easy/Normal/Hard difficulty modes. It was probably cut from the final game because the developers admitted they were rushed. As mentioned previously, some players ragequit because the game is too hard, so an easy mode would have been preferable for many. However, if it gets to that point, players may use an infinite health cheat using Action Replay Max/GameShark (on a real console) or a .pnach file (on an emulator like PCSX2).
- Rule of Rose uses motion capture.
- Rule of Rose has many similarities with another PlayStation 2 exclusive game, Haunting Ground. Both protagonists are English female blonde orphans (Fiona, Jennifer) in their late teens and also have a demure personality. The protagonists rescue a dog (Hewie, Brown) that will help them during the rest of the game, which assists them by finding hidden objects, barking at enemies and also attacking the enemies.
- Rule of Rose is also compared to the Silent Hill series, due to the amount of Freudian-level psychology in the game, as well as elements of symbolism, abstractness, mysteries, etc. Rule of Rose has been dissected by fans for years, leading to much fan speculation, analysis and theories. Some fans have called Rule of Rose "The closest thing to Silent Hill in the video game medium without actually being Silent Hill."
- The way the camera shifts behind Jennifer and fades to black whenever she enters a room, and then the name of the room is shown near the bottom of a black screen, seems very much inspired by the Resident Evil Outbreak series (or Obscure, although it lacks room names). Unlike these games, Rule of Rose uses the idea for a jump scare, as a child may slam the door shut, spooking Jennifer.
- A Spanish fan novelization of Rule of Rose called "La memoria de las rosas" was released in 2018 by an amateur writer. It depicts the game's storyline in chronological order, with a more realistic approach in its narration. Backstories for almost all characters are also provided. However, since the author has apparently never been granted any rights or permission from Rule of Rose creators to write such a novel, its content must be considered non-canon.
- The game contains some similarities with other stories:
- A Little Princess: The setting for the two stories is exactly the same: England, early 1900's (excluding the 1995 version of the movie, which took place in New York). For another, both the main character's predicaments are similar, as Jennifer and Sara were both orphaned and were sent away to places where they were shunned from the other children. The game is also similar to the theme of A Little Princess; "all girls are princesses," in how the children of Rule of Rose are depicted as either a Prince or Princess. In this case, Jennifer can be compared to Sara, Diana to Lavinia, Wendy to Becky, Mr. Hoffman to Miss Minchin, Martha to the cook, Olivia to Lottie, and so on.
- Alice in Wonderland: The game has a "lost in a Wonderland" feel to it, as Jennifer is taken to a strange and surreal world. It is revealed that the entire game was a essentially a dream conjured by Jennifer. Inanimate objects sometimes speak and give clues to the protagonist. One part of the game also includes chasing a "white rabbit". Jo Wyatt, Jennifer's voice actor, also voiced Alice for an audiobook.
- Lord of the Flies: Both stories include British children governing themselves with no adults present, ending with disastrous results. Both stories contain aircraft crashes. The stories contain similar themes of childhood, peer pressure, friendship and society. This has led many to call Rule of Rose the "Lord of the Flies" of gaming, or call it Lord of the Flies with girls instead of boys. However, the developers said it was not an influence.