Rule of Rose First Look

This Japanese survival horror game is set to arrive in the UK in October, and we get a first look at its chilling storyline.

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Rule of Rose may be a survival horror game, but it's a particularly brutal take on the genre. It has an oppressive atmosphere and a haunting soundtrack, and like the best horror, it subtly creeps into your consciousness and refuses to leave. The game also displays unflinching cruelty toward its female protagonist, and while it's never particularly explicit, the undertones of malice and eroticism are sure to earn the game mature age ratings upon release.

The CGI interludes are effective, both technically and artistically.
The CGI interludes are effective, both technically and artistically.

The game itself, which was released in Japan at the beginning of 2006, has been a coproduction between two acclaimed development teams. The main part of the game has been handled by Punch Line, the developers of Chulip, which is also yet to be released in the West. The 50 minutes of CGI have been produced by Shirogumi, a team that also handled movie duties on Onimusha and Genji. The whole project was wrapped up under Sony's internal development banner and then published by the company in Japan.

Perhaps it's due to the difference between Eastern and Western cultures, but Sony has opted not to publish Rule of Rose in the US and Europe, with 505 Games and Atlus picking it up for the respective territories. The game contains elements that are not usually seen in Western games, such as the erotic lesbian undertones that are featured in the game's introduction sequence. It offers mild titillation, with two girls about to indulge in a passionate embrace, before the encounter is artistically covered up with red roses.

We were taken through some sections of the game by the developers, and the more we saw, the weirder it became. Moving from American Beauty-style eroticism to Saw-like terror, the game puts you in control of a woman named Jennifer, who is tied up in a dank basement. Another woman addresses Jennifer over a speaker, informing her that she must find a selection of impressive gifts or else she will die. The tormentor is English, and despite sounding exactly like Keira Knightley, the maniacal laughter and feeling of confusion is scary.

At this point, the overall story has not been explained, but the woman's English accent gives some clue to your location in the game. It seems like a strange choice for a Japanese survival horror game, but Rule of Rose is set in 1930s England and features locations as diverse as a zeppelin and an orphanage. The premise of the game is that Jennifer, who has suffered a traumatic childhood that she has subsequently tried to regress, must uncover and face the events from her past.

However, such a simple description does a disservice to the level of mystery that surrounds Rule of Rose. The developers wanted to create a game where you have little idea of where you are and why anything is happening, at least until you start to uncover the secrets in the game. These secrets are revealed by finding 10 presents for your tormentor, which in turn will bring you to find the mysterious Red Crayon Aristocrats Club.

After being cut down and released from the basement, Jennifer is free to explore the underground labyrinth that starts the game. However, with no idea of what is happening and no means to protect herself, Jennifer needs assistance. This soon arrives in the form of a dog, who becomes an unlikely companion for Jennifer through the game. The dog can sniff out clues and bark to ward off threats, which is important for Jennifer, as she spends a lot of the game unarmed. As a result, you are encouraged to run away from enemies as opposed to taking them on, and this creates more tension than a straight-out action game.

The first example we see of the enemy threat is when Jennifer uncovers the first present, which is a blue butterfly that has dropped to the ground. After picking it up, a group of small boys appear, and the dog is able to ward them off by making noise and running at them. However, both Jennifer and the dog are incapable of attack at this stage, and she is forced to flee to survive. Jennifer then finds the entrance to the Red Crayon Aristocrats, and with a present in hand, she is able to enter. Cutting to another beautiful but disturbing CGI sequence, the children in the club laugh at the offering, and in a bizarre twist, a rat on a stick is poked in Jennifer's face.

The mysterious storyline involves gaining acceptance into the Red Crayon Aristocrats.
The mysterious storyline involves gaining acceptance into the Red Crayon Aristocrats.

In abiding by the rules of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, the game plays out over 10 months, with Jennifer collecting a new gift every month. You are able to approach the search in different ways, either by collecting and analysing information in Jennifer's picture book or using the dog to follow scents and hunt down clues. A mysterious tool called the 'light of the bucket' will also have greater relevance as the game progresses, giving you hints to some of the puzzles and letting you save the game.

Rule of Rose certainly has a vicious streak at its heart, and while the preview we saw wasn't graphic, it was disturbing. The game features impressive art direction, and the soundtrack of piercing string instruments and haunting piano melodies is beautifully composed. There are some very obvious differences between Eastern and Western cultures, but the uncompromising darkness of the game is pioneering. The team's cinematic influences, particularly from The City of Lost Children, should also resonate with horror fans. Standby for a full review shortly.

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