The words “Trust No One” bleat through my mind, or what’s left of it, like a herd of panicked sheep.
If you’ll allow me to hop on the Drama Bus for a stop or two, play A Rose in The Twilight , and you may end up feeling like me: as though I drank poison to save my best friend’s life, only to find out, as I lie quivering and dying on the cold, hard floor, that they, too, have already ingested the poison, and that my sacrifice didn’t even matter.
A Rose in The Twilight by NIS America, Inc., and Nippon Ichi Software, Inc. – the creators of Disgaea, Yomawari Night Alone and The Firefly Diary (which is very similar in tone to A Rose in The Twilight ) – is a 2D puzzle platformer that will haunt you with the plight of its adorable characters, Rose and the Stone Giant. A Rose in The Twilight’s eerie setting, beautiful artwork, and dark, gory storyline are full of puzzles that, at times, frustrate you so much that you may feel your brain begin to melt, while simultaneously disturbing you on levels at which you have (hopefully) never been disturbed before. With the full gamut of curses, demons, bloodsuckers, and torture, you will find plenty of things to feed your nightmares.
The game begins like a bucket of cold water dumped over your head.
With no introduction or frilly opening scenes, you are cast into gameplay immediately. You quickly discover that this ridiculously cute lil' thang, with a thorny rose growing from her back, is going to die. She’s going to die a lot. The ruined castle in which you play is full of pitfalls, and beginning in the dungeon is not very safe, as you can imagine -- and how did this sweet little creature end up in a dungeon?!
Rose begins her quest in shades of black and gray. She must watch out for falling rocks, pits, and thorns for fear of death. A redemption point to all the death and maiming? You are allowed to be reborn time and again from a creepy bud that spits you out onto the ground like a toxic dewdrop. As you progress through the dungeon (which is essentially the same scenery with few variables), you and Rose will come across splashes of red, wherein the real puzzle element lies. With the cursed thorn growing from Rose, she can absorb the “blood” from any red object, and transfer it to other objects. Her ability to absorb blood allows her to maneuver items like ladders and bridges, and to remove rubble from her path. Her stiff-legged gait is incredibly endearing, and it’s very easy to begin to care about this little, forlorn being.
Shortly into the game, Rose meets a stone giant. With his swirly face, long arms, and tangled vines, he is a beautiful character. With his ability to lift and throw anything that is red (including Rose), he and Rose become a dynamic, puzzle-solving duo. The two characters work together for the rest of the game, with the Giant acting as protector to Rose, though there are circumstances where even his stalwart loyalty can’t save the ill-fortuned waif. As you work your way through room after room of puzzles, Rose will discover puddles of blood, with their unfortunate victim’s bodies lying (sometimes hovering) nearby. Rose must absorb these blood memories to find her purpose, which culminate in some sorrowful and macabre flashbacks.
I love games that tell a story to which I can emotionally attach. To be very honest, it was hard to do that with A Rose in The Twilight.
Though the visuals are enough to throw you for a loop and feel like the aforementioned Drama Bus poison victim, I felt that the storyline was shallow at times, and I struggled to stay interested. I am, admittedly, not the biggest puzzle fan in the world and think this issue may not be as relevant for those that sincerely love puzzles. My interest in dark, tragic environments kept me moving through this labyrinth of pain, but barely. About halfway through the platformer, the scenery finally changes, and the puzzles become more involved and more fun. The beginning was drawn out -- longer than it needed to be -- to add enough content to make the game as long as it was: an incredible amount of buildup, not quite enough climax.
A vital part of connecting with this story lies in the “Collection” tab, which is found in the menu. It might have been much easier to feel a connection to the story if I had discovered the existence of the material in this section earlier. Seeing the word “Collection,” I initially blew it off, assuming it was the landing place for trophies, and replays of the Blood Memories. Halfway through, when I found myself stuck in a particularly annoying puzzle, I began to dig through the Collection and discovered the journals. Read them! They explain so much of the story and give a voice to the otherwise silent characters. However, I was disappointed with the style in which the journals are written. I made the assumption that the journal entries were from Rose before she died, however, if they were, the voice wasn’t convincing as that of a little girl. The journals instead sounded very practical and disinterested, with no emotional connection to what she was saying, instead only interested in giving necessary facts. This disconnection upset me, as that account was the only chance left for me to feel the depth of emotion with the story that I sought. I was so drawn to the concept of this release and had an instant love for the artwork and graphics. The stark and emotionless writing in the journals seemed contradictory to the extent of the art and the desolate, minimalistic beauty found throughout the visual part of the release. Additionally, much like the prose, there was a major disconnect between my eyes and my ears when I was following the artwork along with the musical score.
A Rose in The Twilight is excellent for die-hard fans of Nippon Ichi and NIS. It is even good for fans of puzzle platformers. The gameplay itself is engaging in the way that you have to use both Rose and the Stone Giant alternately during each puzzle to progress. When the Stone Giant carries Rose, it’s quite endearing. When Rose falls flat on her face (which happens often) she falls exactly like my daughter used to fall when she was little, and it made me want to cheer for her. It’s a shorter piece, but it’s full of challenging puzzles. There are two major tragedies in this title. One is obvious; the storyline itself is tragic enough to rival Shakespeare. The second tragedy is that with the eerie whimsicalness of the visuals, reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, A Rose in The Twilight had the potential to blow away this genre. If the script and gameplay had reached the pinnacle that the art and characters had achieved, I would have returned to Rose and her giant, even considering my dislike of puzzle-heavy titles. As it is, this failing in the story made the game fall short for me. Though I will not likely play it again, I didn’t waste my time playing it the first time around. If you want a visually stunning yet simplistic game, love puzzles, or want a dark title to add to your collection – go for it! Proceed with caution if you tend to judge a book by its cover as I do; my excitement to play this was inflated due to the grim imagery found on the NIS website, but the title felt unfulfilling, comparatively.