Jennifer, the dirty, filthy, unlucky girl at the heart of Rule Of Rose, has as much freedom as a puppet on a string. She's threatened by hostile dreams and memories, taunted by a hierarchical gang of nasty orphans, and battered by imps and demons. There's a mystery afoot, which Jennifer slowly unravels, but every time she takes a step forward, she's helpless again—subjected to quasi-erotic humiliations; bound, gagged, and doused with liquids; buried alive; and tossed in the Filth Room, which is where she thinks she belongs.
Rule Of Rose tells its story in two equally eerie environments—a shuttered orphanage, and a ghostly airship—and through crudely drawn children's books and animal motifs. Fish swim down the hall, rabbits run through solid doors, and a glowing blue butterfly multiplies in midair. But when it's time for Jennifer to take action, the game gets in her way by mistakenly sending her down the wrong path, or forcing her into fights that are as stiff and unbelievable as kids battling with finger puppets. Not that she puts up much of a fight: Passive and self-loathing, she lacks the spunk that you'd expect from an English fairytale heroine, most of whom wouldn't react so blankly if someone threw them in the dreaded "onion bag" and dropped insects on their heads. Then again, the appeal in solving the mystery is to set Jennifer free from her guilts and horrors—and to see whether a heroine will come out on the other side.
Beyond the game: Rule Of Rose won notoriety over its hints of adolescent (and pre-adolescent) sexuality. But aside from a few deep curtsies and an unlockable gothic Lolita costume, the characters are more sinister than sexualized.
Worth playing for: The atmosphere makes the game, and the sound design makes the atmosphere with its mix of spare, creaking noises and nerve-wracking chamber music.
Frustration sets in when: The twitchy controls, lack of polish, and deadly load-times between rooms regularly break the mood.
Final judgment: Distractingly frustrating to play, but the mystery will lure you to the end.