Nippon Ichi Software, or NIS, is not done creating dark and bloody universes. After an outstanding Yomawari, the niche publisher seeks the same success with A Rose in the Twilight. Can this one avoid the drawbacks of the very frustrating Firefly Diary?
You play as Rose, a young girl whose past is unknown, in a 2D puzzle game much like The Firefly Diary. She awakes alone in an abandoned castle and finds herself victim or the Thorn Curse, which in return gives her special powers. Several notes you can pick up on your way tells the history of this curse as the previous cursed person lived it. The story is thoughtfully dark and pessimistic, which prepares the player for the horrific atmosphere.
Rose can thus do two things : stop time for one object by sucking blood, or make time flow again by granting it. In actual terms, that means stopping a falling rock, make a key fall, etc. Also, she can stop an enemy’s movements and have it move again when useful. She can bear only one «stock» in the rose on her back, so you need to think well about where to release it. In case you’re stuck (which inevitably happens), Rose can simply commit suicide so as to respawn at the last checkpoint. Yes, that’s the kind of atmosphere…
While wandering in the castle, Rose will meet a Titan. But this one won’t attack and even offers to help the child to get out of the place. That’s where you get to see the true gameplay of Rose and the Castle of Twilight, because Rose and the giant are essential to each other. It will be able to carry Rose to help her go through traps unscathed, or throw (!) her towards higher ground. It can also carry heavy objects in order to take them out of the path, or place them to create it. Unlike Rose who’ll die at the first contact with an enemy or a hazard, the giant is invincible and can go far deep in the level to bring back stuff or push switches. To make it more complicated, Rose and her big pal must be together to exit a zone.
A Rose in the Twilight features a large array of puzzles, varied and of increasing complexity. There’s nothing obvious and you’ll often have to consider the problem from different angles. In short, think out of the box. The game never feels repetitive because it constantly adds new elements to think about : the watering can make plants grow and stimulates insects, the canon clears the path, barrels can be either a weapon or a hiding place… You’ll also be challenged in filling paintings according to various rules, or placing books in order following some far fetched narrative.
Fortunately, the gameplay is lot more precise than The Firefly Diary : the unbearable inertia is gone, and the fact that you control both characters independently (you switch simply by pressing R) prevents any frustration. Yet it’s not perfect since the controls have some issues. Square is used for almost everything, which brings confusion. For example, the giant pick up Rose with square, but the same button is used to throw her whereas it is circle to just put her on the ground. In those conditions, the player is likely to throw her when not wanted, and sometimes a bit too far… This problem applies to objects : I’ve already sent a bench in her face by accident! Another small problem lies in the “moving” sequences (while sliding or on moving platforms) because the jump command is not always very comfortable to use. Still, the general gameplay is definitely a huge improvement compared to the previous game.
This game is sinister. It is even darker than Yomawari. A Rose in the Twilight revolves around themes like death, suffering, exclusion… It’s actually an experience of constant death, Rose being trapped by the curse in the life & death cycle. This focus on dark themes makes NIS’s new game an truly unique but wicked experience, without being negative. The progression also has the suspense and the fear of the unknown which was so terrific in Yomawari. The discreet music lets hear the sound of your steps in a quite eerie manner. The design, as usual with NIS, is astonishing by the contrast between bright red and grey. The interface is one more very well designed, the environments have something hooking into them, the rendering on OLED is perfect (quite superior to the previous games) and the animation is lively.
As much as it’s dark, A Rose in the Twilight keeps an emotional touch just like Yomawari. There are those flashbacks that tell you the background of the story, some being very sad or disturbing. For that you’ll have to find pools of blood hidden in the stages, sort of long sidequest throughout the game. The ending part was truly remarkable, as it as two possible conclusions, one of which being downright cruel. Consequently, the road to the good ending was absolutely thrilling.
After Yomawari, Nippon Ichi Software is still at its best in A Rose in the Twilight. The design still unique, the atmosphere still great, the emotions still lively… It’s again outstanding art, but also an excellent (although short) puzzle game.