Insert Disk collects Rule Of Rose for the PlayStation 2 (PS2).
Today’s retro game review is Rule Of Rose for the PlayStation 2 (PS2). This retro gaming classic is a survival horror game with a history of controversy. Rule Of Rose is now both one of the rarest and most expensive PS2 games in any region. The story follows the orphan Jennifer who finds herself under the rule of the Red Aristocrat Society. The game combines elements of horror, story-telling and mystery to create a unique and at times unsettling experience. Now mostly talked about due to its violent content and accusations of mature themes with children, many overlook that the game actually offers the gamer a lot more than the media outcry would have you believe.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. There’s many things that define a collectable game. Maybe the game is controversial, rare, expensive or just memorable. Today’s game encompasses all of these things. Today we are looking at Rule of Rose for the PS2. Before we start I’ll just say that there will be some minor spoilers in this episode as its difficult to give you a rounded view of the game without doing so. It’s also worth saying that this is an episode that I had planned a very long time ago. With the current YouTube content policy rules its quite challenging to review a game like Rule of Rose without breaking a rule or offending someone. But hey, let’s go for it anyway as I know a lot of collectors that are looking for some information on this game.
Rule of Rose is a 2006 survival horror game. Around this time dozens of studios were pumping out survival horror games, spurred on by the success of Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Due to this trend the mid-2000’s were awash with second rate horror games. One game above all though has become more collectable than any other. Rule of Rose for the PlayStation 2 has become one of those games that were overlooked at the time yet have since gained a wave of notoriety. Horror fans, game collectors and re-sellers have all jumped on the bandwagon to get this one in their collection.
So, what’s so special about this game? Well, in short, not a lot. As it stands the game is a fairly standard survival horror game and received mixed reviews by critics upon launch. The collectability of the game arose from it’s troubled release that practically buried it at the time. Only later to be dug up by survival horror fans. Right from the off I’ll need to set the scene on the versions of Rule of Rose. There were three major regional releases of the game. The Asian market, North America and Europe. However, there was also a fourth region, the UK PAL edition. So, for those of you watching from outside Europe here’s a little background on how the regions work. Largely the UK is referred to as a PAL territory as opposed to the NTSC regions of Japan and North America. PAL and NTSC can essentially be thought of as viewing or output formats. PAL stands for: Phase Alternation Line NTSC stands for: National Television System Committee There are some small differences including the “aspect ratio” or image size. And also the Frame Rate of Frames per second.
Within regions there are similar subsets such as NTSC-J in Japan. These essentially all work the same but allow game to effectively be region locked to the local hardware. In the case of PAL vs NTSC games traditionally run at 50mhz and 60mhz speeds to display at the correct speeds on the local TV hardware. I mention all this as the region system causes lots of confusion online with this game. There are vast differences in price between the Asia release, North American release, European and UK release. The good news is that as long as your hardware is correct you can use the correct software. Whilst the Asia, North America and European releases are limited in quantity, these are far more common than the UK PAL release. The reason being? Well, the UK never officially got it’s mass release, it was shelved before the go to market production run was completed leaving an unknown but low amount of true UK copies. What I have here is the standard European release by 505 game street. The disc plays perfectly on UK hardware and the game is in English. You will notice French is used on the cover and manual. Essentially Europe got the release and the full English version is contained within it. It just failed to launch in the UK.
So, what happened? The Times national newspaper from November 2006 was quick to lead with a front page headline “Violent Children’s game investigated by Europe”. The game clearly has a 16+ rating so the title was quite misleading. Accusations of depictions of child and animal torture as well as sexual themes involving underage girls were levelled at the game. The story was picked up across UK and European media and the media fear machine did its work. To cut a long story short the game was published in Europe by 505 games. However, Sony dropped the title in the UK. There were however a few copies from an initial run made available for media review. These included full English text on the cover and game manual. The key take away here is that this game was never banned in the UK, this is a myth or simply assumed. It was just simply never released on the system in fear that there would be further backlash against Sony. With front page headlines with the words “torture” and underage sexual themes this would have been a difficult call to pull the title, even if the game had in some ways been misrepresented. So Here is the European release. Overall a rather standard PS2 case with rather iconic front cover art. The childlike drawings add both a sense of innocence but with some reasonably dark undertones. The rear shows stills from the game and a synopsis. On first appearances you wouldn’t expect this game to be controversial from the box artwork. I have to say that I think the design works really well. The game manual is well produced in French language and covers the basics of the game and inventory system. Overall, exactly what you would expect from the release. As you can see this is in contrast to the US NTSC region release by Atlus. Overall though the in game content is exactly the same.
So, what’s this game actually like? The general media would have you believe that this game should have been banned outright and that it’s just a game of excessive violence towards children and animals. Well, this is partially correct. Set in 1930’s England our protagonist orphaned Jennifer becomes trapped by a group of sinister girls called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. Along with her canine companion Jennifer must escape the group and escape to freedom. The gameplay is perhaps best likened to Silent Hill 2, it’s that classic mix of anticipation, inventory puzzles and occasional combat. Overall it’s not as impactful as Silent Hill 2 but not a failure by any means.
Graphically the game is very sound. The cut scenes are excellent and the in game voices are also excellent. The general navigation of the game will feel very familiar for most gamers. Collect items, unlock new areas and solve puzzles to progress. The backdrop to the game is dark and sinister, the locations are reasonably depressing and the player is really left with the feeling of a solid experience. Initially you’ll have to rescue your dog Brown from the girls. The scenes are some of the most iconic in the game. The girls hold a funeral ceremony for Brown and bury him alive. All things considered it really is quite disturbing. After the buried alive scenes Jennifer finds herself on a floating airship controlled by the girls. She’s bound and made very aware that she is the one that will be taking orders. Early on in the game Jennifer finds herself having to fulfil quests for the Aristocrat club. A group of orphaned girls with a seemingly fixed hierarchy. Jennifer must appease them with different offerings to become socially accepted. This is where your dog companion comes in to play. Show him the item that you are looking for and he will do his best to track down the item. It’s a handy mechanic and somewhat reminiscent of the game Haunting ground.
Between stages the action is broken up by narration accompanied by creepy narration and altogether paints a very sad picture. There’s nothing quite like a creepy British accent to bring out the horror in a situation. Here’s a fun fact for you: Jo Wyatt who plays Jennifer also plays Tweak in the children’s TV show Octonauts and Teresa Gallagher who voices (Wendy / Joshua) plays Dashi in the Octonauts. Something to think about next time you watch TV with your kids. In the music department the game is exceptional. The music is fully orchestrated and a real high point of the game. Top marks from me on this one as I don’t think they designers could have done anymore to create a sinister vibe. The game does fall down in a few areas though. The game does suffer quite a bit from its large number of walking and fetch quests. Much of your time will be spent slowly making your way around the level looking for items to complete a puzzle. This sounds standard for the genre, here it feels like a bit of a chore at times though.
The second real issue is the combat. There’s something very awkward about the way Jennifer uses weapons and it’s far too easy to be over-run by the enemy. On top of this additional health is very rare so saving frequently is a must. Overall I found Jennifer a likable character but a little timid at times. There’s moments where you’ll just want to go head on and attack but her character is positioned in such a way that she is beaten down by the world. Generally speaking the attack mechanism is deeply flawed. Jennifer’s character is very weak and the attacking motions are very slow and clunky. I’d even go as far as saying the hit detection is a little dubious in places. Overall the combat system really needs a bit of a rework. Combat aside the game is certainly great looking and sounding. If you’re in to the sound of oboes and string instruments you’re in for a treat.
So, is it as controversial as the critics claim? Well, as you might expect the accusations are a little over cooked in my opinion. The claim of underage sexualisation? Well, not really in my opinion. I think that people see what they want to see in this one. There’s certainly no explicit sex scenes in the game at all. There’s also only very mild suggestion of anything sexual and you have to infer that yourself as the player. To balance this accusation up I do agree though there are some scenes that could certainly be interpreted this way even if it wasn’t the original intention.
How about violence towards children? Again, not really. There’s certainly scenes of implied menace but again, no explicit torture of children. In fact it is the children themselves that for the most part are the aggressors. There are scenes of Jennifer being bullied by the children that certainly are very powerful. For this reason I can imagine these scenes would really hit home for some viewers. They have impact and there’s certainly a sense of power and threatening behaviour towards Jennifer. Without sounding too sensitive, you will genuinely feel sorry for Jennifer in the scenes where she’s being berated by the Red Crayon Aristocrats. The game does a really good job of making you feel like the outsider.
How about the notion of violence against women and animals? Well, I think that this one has to stand. There are clear scenes of Jennifer being humiliated and buried alive. It’s quite a powerful scene and I can see why complaints were raised. The game carries a Mature certificate in the US and a 16+ in Europe though so I’m still not 100% certain why this was an issue. As for the violence against animals? Well, yes. This has to stand too. There are scenes of Jennifer’s companion in distress at the hands of the girls and the scenes are definitely uncomfortable to watch if you are an animal lover like myself. Of all the accusations thrown at Rule of Rose its definitely the violence towards Jennifer’s dog that gamers seem to find most distressing.
What we have here then is a game that does deliver in a few areas.
The gameplay is at least average as a survival horror. Not broken but could have been made more interesting by removing the long walking sections. Taking in to account the combination of the mature themes we’ve spoken about already Rule of Rose does deliver a unique experience in terms of survival horror. Most of the cast are young girls and here’s where the focus of criticism really revolved around. The issue is if we see Jill Valentine stab a zombie to death it’s fair game. If we see a teenage girl bully another there’s just something that triggers the audience. It goes without saying that in real life violence and bullying should not be tolerated. The issue here is that Resident Evil is the special ops STAR team vs the undead and clearly for a want of a better word, fantasy.
Rule of Rose on the other hand isn’t all zombies and horror. The young girls seem much more real in their world and the game does manage to blur the lines between a simple video game and what sadly probably does go in in the real world. I feel that you’ll need to play the game to pick up on all of this but I will say that there’s a really strong undertone to the game of jealousy, bullying, exclusion and menace. Gameplay aside Rule of Rose has a very strong and impactful storyline. The story telling techniques used and symbolism in combination with harsh darker truths of life make this one of a handful of games that I went away thinking more about what it all meant. The plot is quite different to Silent Hill 2 but it’s that same deeper sense of meaning to the characters you’ll walk away with.
So on to the pricing. Here’s where things get interesting.
The Japanese release SCPS-15093 will set you back anywhere from £50-£100 (up to $85)
The European release SLES-54218 anywhere from £80-£100 (up to 190 EUR)
The US release SLUS-21448 $150-$200 (£186)
The UK release £700-£1000
Due to the incredibly limited UK print run this is perhaps the most expensive PS2 game in the UK region. As you might imagine, at these prices the game has attracted numerous counterfeiters looking to make a quick dollar. If you are looking to buy online insist on seeing actual photos of the product that you are buying. Any reputable seller should be happy to provide close ups of the disc to show the official holograms and disc serial numbers. It’s not fool proof but one more step you can take as a buyer to protect yourself from the frauds. So perhaps the most controversial element of Rule of Rose is the pricing. Generally speaking you’re not going to be able to pick this game up cheaply. This is a shame as the game has a lot to offer. The controversy in combination with short production runs will have pushed this one of reach for many casual gamers.
Originally I paid £45 for my CIB copy of the game some years ago now. Since the price has only gone up in all regions. Rule of Rose is certainly a collectable in all regions. However, should it be part of your collection? Personally I do enjoy this game. It has some sinister undertones, average game play but an interesting backstory. If price were not an issue I would recommend this game for anyone interested in survival horror ad creepy British accents. The prices though are a real issue and this is going to come down to your own personal collecting goals. At £45 this was an achievable collectable, at £80 though I’d have to think very hard had I not already purchased this a few years ago. Rule of Rose is likely to hold it’s value though as the price trend has already crept up year after year. If you are a survival horror completionist then this is a great title and it’s worth hunting down. For the more casual collector it’s a game that will out-price most, if not now then in the years to come.
There’s a lot to talk about in regards to Rule of Rose and I really hope more gamers get to play this one. It’s perhaps not quite the game people think it is but in some ways I feel that’s it was much better than my original expectations. There’s a really story in here and some of the story threads really do hit home and make you think. There’s as much going on off screen as there is on it and that’s something very few movies or games manage to achieve. The game offers a unique blend of themes including, fear, intimidation, chaos, self-worth and at times disturbing imagery. It’s not always obvious where the story is taking you and some of the metaphors are open for personal interpretation. I can honestly say that I’ve not seen any other game pull this off quite so well.
The music is wonderful, the creepy British accents and sinister children’s drawings are a triumph. Had the combat system and level designs been reworked a little this may have been a legendary release for the Play Station 2. Instead the games true meaning is sadly overshadowed by the easy to sell media hype of controversy. I’d urge you play Rule of Rose and look deeper that the headlines.