Rule of Rose starts out with what has to be the best cinema sequence I've seen all year. It's a five minute short that does a quick overview of the many elements of this adventure game. It has sadistic children, bright flowers, a dog, a mysterious flying fish and a whole lot of suspense. This five-minutes-long sequence was enough to make me want to sit down and see what this game was all about; it was just weird enough to suck me in. All this before even the main menu had come up.
Unfortunately the rest of Rule of Rose is not nearly as intriguing as the cinema; it's really more of a flawed survival horror game with a few good ideas and very few real scares. You play Jennifer, an unlucky girl that has recently suffered through the loss of her mother and father. Early into the game she's shipped off to a new home, but gets side tracked by a kid and his story book. Before long young Jennifer is knocked out, buried alive and then held against her will on some sort of giant flying machine. There in her new surroundings our hero must do what it takes to survive, while secretly going up against the mysterious Aristocrats of the Red Crayon.
In this Lord of the Flies-style governance you learn that you will have to appease the "Prince" by finding various items scattered around the air ship. Much of the game has you tracking down clues that will aid you on your quest to find whatever it is the Prince is requiring of you. If you fail to live up to your forced agreement then something evil would happen to you … something worse than being buried alive and turned into a beggar on a creepy air ship, that is.
When you're not running around locating gifts for the Prince, you will be helping out other children, most of which come directly from The Shining school of horror acting. There's something not quite right about the way everybody acts, the entire cast is full of mysteries and darkness. A lot of the game's creepy atmosphere comes from the performances of the children; it's easy to get spooked by some of the evil things that they do throughout the story. These kids are ruthless and sadistic; they are the type of children that would make Rockstar Games' Bully want to transfer to the rich kid school.
Before too long Jennifer will be paired up with a loyal friend, a dog she decides to call Brown. Brown is used to solve most of the puzzles in the game and helps set Rule of Rose apart from the rest of the PS2 horror/adventures. The dog has three controls, all of which are mapped to a specific face button. You can tell Brown to stay, to come back to Jennifer, or you can give it something to smell and have him lead the way.
The latter option is what you will be doing the most in Rule of Rose. A lot of the game's missions and puzzles require little more than following Brown as he picks up the scent of your clues. The puzzles don't really change over the course of the game, they pretty much all involve you finding a clue, having Brown sniff out the second piece of the clue, which leads to a third clue, and so on so forth. You may occasionally have to dodge an enemy or two, but for almost all of this game you are doing little more but following your canine companion.
I won't say the enemies in Rule of Rose are bad, but they are certainly underwhelming. Instead of fighting the children, most of the enemies are midget-like creatures with masks on. From time to time you will run into enemies with large goat heads on, or a chicken head, or whatever creepy farm animal they could think of. They aren't as cool as Resident Evil's zombies or Eternal Darkness' cult members, but these doll-like enemies are actually pretty creepy.
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