Rule of Rose (2006)
Rule of Rose is one of the rarest PS2 titles with only 15,000 copies ever printed. I took a gamble and bought it off eBay knowing that if I hated it I could always sell it back. It’s definitely not worth its high price, but it’s unique and definitely unsettling. It’s a survival-horror game set in an English orphanage in the 1930’s, the protagonist is a 19-year old girl named Jennifer and her loyal dog Brown. This game has an effective horror atmosphere, the score is tense and unnerving and child whispers and laughter are echoed into background as you explore. The combat is really wonky, but the game’s focus is on finding clues and unraveling its surreal plot. The story has a fractured narrative that’s experienced through disjointed memories, with each chapter being a new month with a different “storybook” to solve. The stories that Jennifer finds are morbid twists on classic fairy tales, with the grim outcomes reflecting her own situation. There’s only two adult characters, everyone else is a demonic child, either literally or metaphorically. Enemies include children with pig heads, goat heads, rat heads, fish heads, rabbit heads, and a vomiting mermaid boss.
The story has a cool, Revolutionary Girl Utena-like twist near its end that elevates the whole experience beyond it being just creepy. If I played the game again I could appreciate all its enigmas and how it ties together, but instead I’m looking forward to playing Haunting Ground next which I heard has better gameplay. Hopefully this game will become available through digital options so more people can experience its story, because it’s delightfully bizarre and deals with uncommon themes for video games, namely vomiting mermaids.