Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PC
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 11th April 2017 (NA), 14th April 2017 (EU)
Review Key provided by NIS America
What happens if you combine a cute little girl, a stone giant and a mysterious castle with dozens of puzzles in a single game? An amazing puzzler with the surprisingly well fitting title, A Rose in the Twilight!
A Rose in the Twlight tells the story of Rose, a young girl who awakes in a castle, which lost both its time and colour and got corrupted by the mysterious thorns. Soon a mysterious stone giant will join Rose in her efforts to escape the castle. With the strength of the giant and Rose´s power to give static objects the essence of time back, their journey through the castle begins. Along the way the mysteries around the origin of the thorns, the giant and Rose itself will be unraveled.
To tell its Story A Rose in the Twilight makes use of three different techniques, notes, blood memories and animations. While the various notes and books you will find throughout the castle provide some information about the distant past, the various blood memories show you the story of Rose and the castle. These are essentially the memories of the people that once lived in the castle. Once absorbed they will present you little bits of Rose´s former life and how everything could end like this.
Despite the fact that you won´t hear even one word during the whole story A Rose in the Twilight manages to bind you to Rose and the giant. Since the game never assumes both are friends nor “good”, without words it can tell the development of a relationship between those two, simply by using animations. However, the most important part of the story is its believability, it understood that you can´t tell a happy or “good and bad” story in this setting. A Rose in the Twilight´s story is a tale about death and sadness, it could hook me and feel with the characters because its believable and honest, told in an unique and fitting way.
Yet the story won´t present itself to you, A Rose in the Twilight is a Puzzler after all. As said before you will have to puzzle through various rooms and areas, by using Rose´s ability to transfer the essence of time between various objects over blood in combination with the giant´s super strength. The game is divided into rooms, in which you have to find the exit and solve the puzzles on the way, to progress to the next room. Like “sucking” the blood out of a pillar and transfer it to a rock, which can then be thrown by the giant to build a way, for example. While that´s fairly simple and easy to execute, the game doesn´t take long to extend this basic formular, in order to create more challenging rooms.
To be honest, the amount of variation and creativity put into these new mechanics is sheer amazing. Every new area offers new unique things, like painting puzzles or a watering can, to let plants grow with your blood. They expand the simple base mechanics and give each area a new vibe and character, without repeating themselves. During its ~6-7 hours long story the game could always surprise me by showing new ways to use them. Sadly, these expansions are limited to the specific area. Since A Rose in the Twilight is not a very hard game, I was only “stuck” in ~3-5 puzzles. It would´ve been better if these different mechanics would add up, creating a more complex game, at least in my opinion.
Unfortunately it got two bigger problems. On one hand A Rose in the Twilight can become pretty annoying because of Rose´s fragility, you will pretty much die of anything. Especially at the beginning, this will be the cause for quite some deaths, which gets amplified by the fact that its a slow game, leading to some unnecessary stretching. On the other hand there are parts that just doesn´t feel like a “Puzzler”, instead of using your brain to progress you just have to react fast or restart. For example, to balance a table, so it builds up enough speed to jump over a gap, isn´t really a puzzle but more a skill question. “Puzzles” like these will occur more often the further you progress and especially the 2 bosses (keep playing after the credits) are just extremly annoying, due to the lack of save points and general bad design.
The last point I want to mention is the Blood Memory system. As stated before they tell the story of the castle´s past and are quite essential to understand the story. They´re mostly collectibles, which is fine since it´s a real reward for spending more time, even tho some are really hard to reach. However, the problem is, that all areas require a certain amount of them to open, resulting in some backtracking, if you didn´t collect them directly., stretching this slow game even more sometimes.
All these various things are packed in a visual presentation that´s just amazingely beautiful but smart at the same time.
A Rose in the Twilight could enchant me with its dark and colourless style, underlined perfectly by its soundtrack. It´s just a joy to look at and listen to it, I think it´s clear why, when you see the pictures. Additionally Rose´s animations and character design just perfectly resembles her helplessness, I mean, she faceplants if she falls, always has this innocent and scared look and is just simply adorable and cute.
And the game uses this emotional binding to her in such a cruel way, I somehow love it even more. Since everything revolves around blood in this castle, Rose has to sacrifice herself to open the doors to the areas, by getting brutaly killed. Such and more moments just hurt your heart and show you, how much you love and feel with her.
I´m just amazed by the way A Rose in the Twilight uses its cute style in contrast to its brutality.
Yet I have to loose some words about the Vita version, which tends to have some occasional frame drops. Especially in larger areas or more zoomed out environments. I had the feeling that it was sometimes running between 20-30 fps, even tho it doesn´t seem like a very hardware hungry game. Luckily these frame drops were never a big deal, due to the otherwise flawless experience. And I wouldn´t have wanted to give up on my 30-50 minutes A Rose in the Twilight before sleep. Despite the mediocre performance I still think that it works better on a Vita, due to the room structure and easy “drop-in drop-out” system.
A Rose in the Twilight has its little problems and annoying moments, due to bad design, like every game it´s not perfect. However they couldn´t change the fact that I enjoyed it, I loved it to be honest. Its story, characters, setting and the way it uses its beautiful visuals, to play with your expectations and emotions, made me fall in love with this game. Combined with a refreshing amount of creativity in its puzzle mechanics, which could always surprise and amaze me, make A Rose in the Twilight not only an amazing game but also one of the best Puzzlers I´ve played since a very long time.
If you own a Vita or like Puzzler there´s absolutely no excuse to not accompany Rose in her journey to escape the castle.