I’m not often surprised when I play video games, but when I saw a small child use a noose made out of thorns to hang herself within my first hour of A Rose in the Twilight, I was absolutely shocked. I had watched the girl, named Rose, get crushed by boulders, fall onto spikes, and die in various ways beforehand, but this was different, as it was an unprovoked moment. I had no control as the player, and could only watch as blood trickled out of her now lifeless body. It was a haunting moment.
These moments of self-harm get more outrageous as the game continues, and I ended up looking away from my Vita when I saw an iron maiden on-screen. Shock value is undoubtedly an intended side effect of these tragic scenes, but they also serve to move the story forward. Each sacrifice is used to remove seals within the castle that Rose finds herself, and she magically finds herself fine after putting up with such torture.
These haunting visuals are only one small part of Nippon Ichi Software’s latest PlayStation Vita offering, but they also serve as a decent summary of the experience as a whole. A Rose in the Twilight is an absolutely gorgeous experience, filled with dark themes, that’s unfortunately not enjoyable to play. This isn’t due to any subject matter brought up within the game, although I could see how that’d be an issue for potential players, but due to some poor design that continually holds back the experience.
The puzzle platformer starts off interestingly enough, as it begins to introduce the special power that Rose has. The fragile child is able to absorb blood from any red object in the environment, and is then able to transfer that blood to objects lacking life. What contains blood doesn’t always make logical sense, as I regularly came across bookshelves, rocks, and other inanimate objects that held the vital fluid, but thankfully the game does a fantastic job of conveying these aspects to the player. The majority of A Rose in the Twilight is presented in grayscale, so objects filled with blood stick out due to them being one of the few vibrant colors in an otherwise dull world. Likewise, lifeless objects that are able to be interacted with are white, so there’s never any guessing as to what can be used to solve the mysteries of the castle.
Being able to transfer blood between objects isn’t the most complicated of mechanics, but the game builds on the idea in a few smart ways. Early puzzles taught me that objects that are in motion stop without blood, so I was able to remove blood from objects in order to cross bottomless pits. The same goes for mechanical devices such as levers, as I often had to imbue them with blood in order for them to work as intended. It’s a fresh mechanic that stands out above some rather boring puzzles that start the adventure.
After venturing past a few rooms inside the castle, Rose eventually stumbles upon a broken mechanical golem. After bringing it back to life, the girl now has a powerful compadre in her journey. This opens up new abilities for the player, as the giant can carry Rose across areas that would normally kill her, and toss her to higher areas. Switching between the two characters can be a bit troublesome, as both have very slow walking speeds, but it gives the developer a lot more freedom to create more interesting puzzles.
Additional mechanics are introduced as the game progresses, such as a watering can that Rose can use to grow plants or a very simplistic stealth mechanic, but there’s always one major flaw present in A Rose in the Twilight: the puzzles just aren’t fun to solve. Most of the stages are rather simple to figure out, as Rose will have to either grab a key to unlock a door (with some help from the golem), or the player has to use blood to make a path. The problem is that for a lot of the puzzles, the solution is figured out immediately, and then everything else feels like a ton of busy work for the player until they can progress.
Even a simple puzzle can become a laborious 20-step process due to how the game works. For example, in an relatively early puzzle I had to use a catapult in order to allow Rose to grab a key on a higher area. That sounds easy enough, but first I had to move the golem onto the catapult so he could move a piece of wood in the way, then get him back to the ground, switch to Rose in order to suck the blood out of the wood, then place her on the catapult, switch to the Golem to trigger it, then finally grab the key. Most of the puzzles aren’t a test of wit, but rather a test of the player’s resolve,as they have to do a series of monotonous tasks repeatedly.
Other issues only serve to turn boring puzzles into unenjoyable ones. As mentioned previously, Rose is extremely fragile in the game (she apparently has no balance as she always lands face first on the ground, even when dropping just a few feet) and a single hit by an enemy or falling object results in a game over. This is compounding by the game often selecting the wrong objec Checkpointing is rather hit or miss, which results in the player replaying the same segments repeatedly despite the game not being overly challenging. Throw in an annoying progression system that requires the player to replay puzzles they’ve already solved in order to look for blood stains (that at least offer up story details), and I found myself going over the same motions multiple times.
A Rose Is Still a Rose
A Rose in the Twilight has some interesting ideas, but poor execution turns it into a massive disappointment. Players won’t find brilliant puzzles to solve like in Inside or Hue, and instead are stuck playing a game that only has a strong atmosphere to offer up. That might be enough for some players, and the game is certainly gorgeous, but when the genre is filled with brilliant games, there’s little value in such a flawed one.
Review code for A Rose in the Twilight provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.