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Rule of Rose was a horror game that dealt with the unfortunate truth of child abuse

10/2/12 9:00am
tl;dr

Today, we will be taking a look at a game that seems to have offended everyone who ever had the "pleasure" of playing it, Rule of Rose.

Now before we get started, let me just get some stuff out of the way:

  • I will be presenting several arguments which are both in favor and against the game, its developers and the controversies surrounding it. The final word however will be up to you.
  • I apologize in advance for any grammar errors you may find, English is not my first language but none the less I will try to keep them at a minimum for better comprehension and for your enjoyment of corse.
  • These are only my opinions. I ask that you be respectful as I will respect any opinions you may have, let’s keep it civil people.
  • If you think I made some big mistake or that I forgot to mention something, please let me know in the comments so that I can make better blogs for you in the future and so I can learn to improve myself as well.

Now that the boring part is out of the way, lets take a look at Punchline's, Rule of Rose.

What is Rule of Rose anyway?

The box art of the game.

In 2006, Japanese company Punchline, backed up by Atlus (of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona fame), decided to release their seconnd (and to date, their last) game, with hopes that it would elevate their company higher in the industry. What they came up with, was something that might have not been the best way to accomplish their goal.

Rule of Rose is a survival horror game that draws many comparisons to the Silent Hill series, as well as the Clock Tower series and the game Haunting Grounds. Set in 1930’s England, we follow the exploits of Jennifer, a teenage girl who finds herself forced to cater to the whims of a group of orphan girls who call themselves the Red Crayon Aristocrat Club.

Jennifer grew up an orphan at the Rose Garden Orphanage. She has recently recovered her memories of the events that took place as she was growing up as well as the people she met during her stay there. Trough a mysterious chain of events, she finds herself drawn to the orphanage again and that’s when our game begins.

The start of the plot shows really nothing wrong so far, perhaps a bit too cliché yes, but it doesn’t present us with anything terrible, after all, many are the games that have our protagonists being drawn to somewhere which was part of their past trough mysterious circumstances that they can’t explain. It can be directly compared to James Sunderland’s story in Silent Hill 2, but like I said, nothing original by any means but not offensive either.

Gameplay?

 

Screenshot of a battle.

If you ever played a survival horror game like the ones I mentioned before, then Rule of Rose should be no stranger to you. You’ll be exploring your surroundings to find items, advancing the plot by completing tasks, watching a cutscene here and there and fight the occasional random encounters and bosses. 

Fighting in the game is almost always done in melee, as you’ll be using improvised weapons like knifes and pipes. Jennifer, being a somewhat meek and timid girl, her attacks are fairly weak and short ranged, so being close to an enemy is always a gambit. There is however a revolver later on the game, so at least there’s that. Health can be recovered by eating scones and candy. Items like marbles and ribbons can be traded with the Red Canyon Aristocrat Club in order to get food, weapons and various goodies.

Now where the game’s system becomes more extensive, is when you obtain Brown, a golden retriever that becomes Jennifer’s pet and companion while she tries to fight for survival in the orphanage. This is where the obvious comparisons to Haunting Grounds come into play. Brown can be given simple commands like “stay” and being called to Jennifer’s side but he can also track down items by scent, which comes in handy when you’re in desperate need of a scone. However, Brown CANNOT attack enemies, unlike Hewie from Haunting Grounds who would attack any enemy who would dare attack Fiona. Brown can however, growl at the enemies, which will distract them long enough for Jennifer to strike them, but careful, Brown can be injured and even succumb to said injuries if one doesn’t treat him right or heal him with items.

Keeping Brown alive is very important, as every chapter of the game has you utilizing his ability to find items to keep the story to progress. Finding items is pretty simple and easy, one just selects the item they want Brown to locate in the item menu and then Brown leads Jennifer trough the environment to the items location. Simple, straight forward, easy.

 

What are the themes?

 

Jennifer with Brown.

Here’s where things get…Controversial, to say the least. Let’s start with the biggest and most prevailing theme, the difference between a child’s mentality and an adult’s mentality. Throughout the game, Jennifer is constantly put in situations that if one is to take a logical approach, are disturbing or heartbreaking, but the children she meets in these situations are unaffected by them .

If we want to take this in the simplest meaning possible, it’s just so that the children can be branded as creepy or messed up, but I’m willing to bet that there’s a more subtle meaning that Punchline was trying to show but unfortunately got shot down by Joe Gramer and his one track minded friends.

Children are more impulsive, they do not understand the concept of right and wrong if not shown directly by their parents. In Fiji, a man spent his whole childhood locked in a chicken coop and as such, believed he was in fact a chicken. When he was released the damage was already done and he firmly believed to be a chicken, not knowing how to act in proper society he had to be tied to a bed for 20 years before he was able to finally learn how to act.

This bit of trivia goes to show that without a parent, a child can grow up to believe that anything is perfectly acceptable, because these are the values that said child was taught to perceive as “good” or “normal”. Children need structure, something the children in the Rose Garden Orphanage lack. The children there actually believe that, for instance, murder is perfectly fine and reasonable because that’s how they were taught, with no adults to counterpoint this madness.

Now an adult is a much more complex individual because of the events that make that person, who he or she is. Adults value logic and reason. While an adult may ask “Why?” a child is more prone to ask “Why not?” Adults need to find logic in what they see and hear so that they can’t understand why it exists, that’s why when presented with something like murder, they will be shocked as murder is not something that a normal person would do or something that is acceptable. This of corse, if the adult’s values passed down by their own parents, told them that murder is “bad”.

The adults in Rule of Rose are perceived as weak and useless. They are portrayed as creatures of simple minds and simple beliefs, like a child would be. They are helpless, which is another big theme in the game, the adults throughout the story can’t do anything against the children, they obey to their orders regardless of what they may be, like Jennifer, who is unable to say no to the requests of the Red Crayon Aristocrat club, even if they may be monstrous to them… Something I will take on later on.

The Red Crayon Aristocrat Club's altar.

Now let’s analyze the club itself. The Red Crayon Aristocrat Club (or just the Aristocracy) is a group composed by children of the Red Rose Orphanage. Each member carries around a red crayon (hence the namesake) and have a title, referring them as princes or princesses.

The members of the club are completely unruly and don’t follow structures like normal society does.  For example, their methods and punishments the club enforces on members who betrays them are often cruel and inhumane, involving animal abuse and torture to name a few.

These children are almost complete savages, following their own code of conduct, yet they have a hierarchical structure. There is a leader and there is a pecking order, this is as close to normal society as they get and perhaps a bit impressive to behold children so young following such strict rules and respecting them, seeing as they respect nothing else.

The rules go as following:

  1. Anyone who disobeyed any of the Rules of the Rose was to suffer dire consequences and terrible penalties. Most of these punishments are invented and performed by the Baroness.
  2. The Aristocracy must always follow the instructions of the Prince and Princess of the Rose, and all rules, regulations, and information from the Prince and Princess of Rose was to be read by the Baroness.
  3. The Duchess is allowed to command anyone below her.

  4. The Prince and Princess want a gift every month, those who do not give them a gift are to be punished by the Baroness' choosing.

  5. If anyone of the Aristocracy disobeys the Prince or the Princess of the Rose, they will be punished by Stray Dog.

You may be asking "who is Stray Dog?" Well, Stray Dog began as a rumour the orphan members would pass around, that stated that Stray Dog would lure the children out of the orphanage with candy and would end up eating them. It is here that the club actually resembles like "normal" children, creating a story about a boogeyman that would come and take them away and becoming scared of such an entity. This is the only time in the game were the mentality of a child is actually presented and the members of the club drop their superior status, being scared only of this monster and nothing else.

As for the punishments, they are only 2 shown in the actual game. Each month, the low ranking members of the organization have to find a gift to the prince and princess within one month’s time. Should a member fail, they can either be demoted, or they can be tortured. One of these tortures is called the onion bag, where the members of the club accuse Jennifer of breaking one of their rules, as such, they shove her in a bag while the members of the club line up and pour live insects into an opening in the bag and then leave her to her fate.

I won't spoil this torture...But i'll say that, that dead rat is going somewhere it shouldn't go.

The club shows to have without a doubt very organized methods of operation, more so then normal children would have, but they also believe that punishment is completely acceptable regardless of how violent it is. This is an interesting duology, to see how civilized they can be but also monstrous and uncivilized.  It can be explained due to the fact these children have no moral compass; they can’t see what’s wrong or right.

Alright, now let’s deal with something less depressive or morbid and see why the game is called Rule of Rose. The game gets its namesake from a promise in it. The Rule of the Rose is said to be a promise by 2 of the girls in the club to never be apart from each other, the vow can only be made however when someone wants love above anything else. So ok, that’s sweet, just little girls promising to forever be friends and always cherish each other right?

Well, that would be the case, but it’s something completely different. One of the biggest themes of the game, is Roses, they can be seen everywhere and even the main setting is named after the flowers. Now roses have a lot of meanings, red roses in particular can symbolize passion, love, respect, courage and several other things. However there’s another meaning, one that speaks particularly to the story and the girls’ personalities and motivations. Blooming roses are usually utilized for a symbol of awakening as well as revealing a certain part of the flower which is often compared to the female production system. In other words, the blooming rose is often utilized as a simple of a relationship between a woman and another woman…Yes, the girls in this game are all lesbians.

Enjoy it will you can cause iIm about to make this really creepy for you.

It is at this point that I would like to remind you that girls in this game are all underage, barely reaching pre-teen numbers. But what is the point in having such little girls being lesbians? Is it just a scheme to get the male demographic to buy the game? And for that matter why is there a Prince title, when all the members of the club are female? That can be answer quite simply. It is not just a scheme to please the male gamers who purchased the game. In the game, there exists a character named Clara, who is raped by an older man and told to keep quiet about it, another character, a member of the club called Diana, is implied to have received the same treatment.

Now why do I point this out? It could be that once the two find out that the both have been put through the same kind of hell, they take comfort in each other and seeing as their experience was enforced by a man, they believe that all men can in fact be like him, but girls like themselves would never do something as monstrous and as such, develop feelings of longing and admiration that can be easily be turned into love. As for the prince title it can be explained by their need to find someone that could protect them, a prince. However trough the experience they have gone trough (the rape) the believe that such a thing is dead since they think all men are the same and would make them suffer again. Because of the role of the man in a relationship, that is the role of someone protective who could save them, they believe that no man can actually do this since they are thought of as monstrous and would hurt them rather than protect, thus ending the idea of a prince charming that fairy tales and childhood dreams offer. As such they look upon to other girls to keep them safe, so they can have a “normal” relationship where both can provide comfort to one another while standing on mutual grounds, thus the prince is born in the form of a girl.

I know that was alot of analysis, but at least now you are educated a bit more.

 

A tipical scene between the girls, please note the roses in the background.

Reception and Controversy

Upon release Rule of Rose was received with mixed reactions, it was generally agreed that the game’s plot was interesting and deep and was praised for having the characters be more intriguing than sexualized. The gameplay on the other hand was criticized for being broken, archaic and unrewarding. The media has unanimously praised the game’s story but panned the gameplay, feeling that it’s too distracting for anyone to enjoy the game’s plot.

Despite all of this, it has become somewhat infamous and to this day, fans defend it highly claiming it to be one of the most unique, intriguing, underrated, and beautiful games of all time.

The game is also famous for the number of controversies it rose up upon release. In Poland, the game’s content was questioned about its suitability for minors because of the themes of child violence and sexuality. More infamously, the European Union justice minister Franco Frattini, attacked the game claiming that it contained "obscene cruelty and brutality", he then claimed the game contained scenes of sadomasochism and said that one of the missions involved Jennifer to bury a little girl alive to continue the story (even though these are lies and so such scenes actually happen in the game) and critized the PEGI rating system and demanded that alterations were made to properly rate games like this, who in Europe received only a 16+ rating. Due to said controversy, the game was never released in the UK. The Video Standards Council, the UK 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."

These accusations almost made it so that the game was never released in America, but Punchline assured Sony that the sexual undertones the game exhibited were only a very minor part of the game, thus making it possible to release the game.

The future for the series is now uncertain. Due to the lukewarm reception the game endured, the controversy that surrounds it and the questionable state of the game's developing company, a sequel is highly unlikely to ever see the light of day. Fans however, cry out that the game’s story is severely underappreciated and neglected and demand that a book and movie be made based on the game.

 

Playing Devil's Advocate

I do believe that the game got unfairly slapped with labels that stopped it from being turned into something big. It had a great story, great themes and it was more interesting than most games of its genre. If the game had a bit more time, the fighting system could have perfected and it could have been one less struggle it had to fight.

I love how the game actually tries and succeeds to impose all these themes and complex characters that have layers and layers of depth. They bring so much personality and enjoyment even if they are at their core, monsters.  It’s certainly a breath of fresh air it brings even if the clichés it brings along with it are somewhat tedious.

With that said however, I cannot allow things like child abuse, both physical and psychological to get praise. It is an unforgivable crime and it has no defense. However I also don’t like to pretend it’s not a very real part of life, if anything the game portrays said topics with grace and poise and doesn’t just exploit it cause “rape is bad, m’kay?”

The game presents a very good portrayal of these unfortunate truths trough the point of view of children and adults, maybe too well. This could be why it was so controversial. People play games to escape their problems, its escapist fantasy. To see these dark topics in a game can upset them to a certain degree and rightfully so. But engaging in a crusade against it isn’t the answer.

 

With all of this said, what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I right? What do you think the right way to deal with games like these is? Let me know in the comments bellow and as always, thanks for reading.

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