A Rose in the Twilight - PS Vita Review

Is there a way to lift this curse?

  • System: Steam, Vita
  • Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
  • Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
  • Release Date: April 11th, 2017

Who it Caters to

A Rose in the Twilight is a brand new puzzle/platformer from NIS. While, technically, A Rose in the Twilight is a stand-alone title, fans of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diaries may recognize a similar art style and brooding, oppressive atmosphere as that particular game. Seeing how it’s from the same developer, you could say A Rose in the Twilight is a spiritual sequel of sorts. But while htoL#NiQ had a sci-fi theme and didn’t give you direct control over its protagonist, A Rose in the Twilight has a more gothic fantasy bend and plays closer to something like LIMBO or Inside.

A Rose in the Twilight launch trailer:

What to Expect

You’ll control two characters with two separate skill sets. The main character, Rose, is a very young girl who awakens in a castle that’s frozen in time. There are certain objects that haven’t quite been frozen yet and still act as though time were moving, and Rose has the ability to drain the blood from these and put it into other objects, freezing the former and restarting the latter. However, being a child, Rose is very frail and will die from touching the thorns that invaded this castle. That’s where the second character, referred to solely as “The Giant”, comes in. Giant has the ability to lift and throw heavy objects, fall from great heights, and carry Rose around. You’ll alternate control between the two characters in order to progress through the castle in hopes of escaping.
Right from the get go, it’s pretty easy to tell A Rose in the Twilight is a game that offers very little hope. There’s a real bleakness to the world, and this is only partly due to its monochrome color scheming. The main reason is due to its very grim depiction of the very violent ways in which Rose can die. Whether it’s from getting crushed under a wall, having her face eaten by an oversized caterpillar, or even from biting her own tongue. A Rose in the Twilight seems cruel to its central character, and gets away with it due to a story excuse that Rose cannot actually die and will revive shortly afterwards. It’s not a game for people with weak stomachs. However, this is done in service of its story, as watching these events makes you want to protect Rose.

Story

It’d be tempting to compare A Rose in the Twilight to a dark fairy tale, but that would be a disservice for what the game is attempting to achieve. It’s more akin to a gothic 1800s-era piece of romance poetry. There’s definitely a narrative that plays out, but it never feels like you’re getting the full story since there’s very little speech or dialogue in the game. You probably wouldn’t even realize the main character is named Rose unless you looked over the marketing materials.
Instead, A Rose in the Twilight uses hard imagery to convey the actions of its characters, and leaves you to interpret motivations and their place in the game’s history. These bits of story are acquired by finding blood throughout the game’s world and absorbing it, giving you a brief animation of different characters in silhouettes interacting with one another. Since you won’t know what they’re saying, you’ll instead have to derive what might be going on based on facial expressions or the context of the situation. It has a very Metroid Prime feel where you get rewarded for your efforts to explore by piecing together the story.

Gameplay

The dynamic of switching between Rose and The Giant seems pretty simple, but the designers get a lot of mileage out of both of their limited movesets. They manage find a lot of unique and creative ways to have the two interact with one another and mix up the levels by introducing new mechanics into the environments without changing how the core game is fundamentally played. For example, while early on you have demons that will chase down Rose if she gets in their line of sight, later in the game you’ll have bugs that do the same. While it first it seems like a simple change in art, you’ll quickly learn that Rose can actually ride these giant caterpillars and that the Giant can throw them. Figuring out how to work with this new knowledge makes completing puzzles in A Rose in the Twilight very satisfying.

Also, for the completionists out there, there are several rooms that have hidden blood memories in them, which provide the aforementioned vignettes of story mentioned earlier. Acquiring these can sometimes just be a matter of tracking them down and figuring out how to get them. Doing so will sometimes make you rethink how to approach the level. Since Rose can only carry one “unit” of blood (as it were) at a time, occasionally you’ll have to figure out how to get through a level without actually using Rose’s time-freeze/restarting abilities, or at least so that she’s free to absorb the blood memory. Other times you’ll have to figure out how to bring certain items with you. It makes it so that replaying these levels just to get the blood memories feels fresh rather than just busy work.

However, sometimes this can lead to some frustrating trial-and-error gameplay. Since Rose only dies in one hit, you’ll sometimes be caught off guard by a surprise enemy out of nowhere, or you’ll lock yourself out of progressing and have to restart from the last checkpoint. Sometimes this can be used creatively, as checkpoints can be activated by either Rose or The Giant, so you can use The Giant to activate it and then have Rose die to reset her position to the checkpoint. However, more often than not you’ll end up locking yourself out of progressing due to forgetting to hit a switch somewhere along the way or forgetting to bring one of the characters with you, forcing you to restart. Since there’s no penalty for death, it’s not a huge issue, but what can be frustrating about this is that it can be unclear if you locked yourself out of the solution. If you get stuck at a point, you may become uncertain that you missed something and end up restarting the level. It could stand to make it a bit clearer if you locked yourself out of progression.

Also, while the art looks great for the most part, due to its exclusive usage of only greys and reds, it can make it a bit unclear as to what’s dangerous and what’s not. Touching thorns is a sure way to kill Rose, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell if they’re on the playing field or in the foreground or background. You’ll sometimes avoid walking through a patch a thorns only to find out that was the way to go, and others walk along innocently only to die suddenly because apparently that path was infested. This is only compounded by some wonky hit detection, which can make it unclear where is safe. For example, as mentioned above, you’ll need to have Rose ride some bugs every now and then. Generally standing on their backs is safe, but if you edge just a bit too close to their face, they’ll suddenly eat you. It’s not really clear where the safe part of their body is, especially since their back ends have spikes protruding from their backs, which definitely looks unsafe. It can be frustrating to ride them for a bit and then, when they go up a slope, have Rose fall back a bit and then when you try and correct her positioning and have her face get eaten suddenly.

Finally, A Rose in the Twilight does not outstay its welcome. The total game length will probably run the average player around 8-10 hours, without much replayability beyond collecting all the blood memories. There is a time attack mode and achievements linked to special hidden areas in the game, so if you don’t feel like you got enough from completing the story, there is a bit to do afterwards. However, chances are you’ll be done after you complete the main story with all the blood memories.

Honey's Gameplay Consensus:

Since a lot of the fun in the game comes from solving puzzles over precision platforming, A Rose in the Twilight makes a good “day off with nothing to do” game. Unless you get really involved with the story and desperately want to relive the game over and over again, it’s going to be a onetime experience for most. People who are simultaneously into gothic fantasy and puzzle-platformers will get the most from A Rose in the Twilight. However, if you’re interested in one of those subjects and want to get more into either, A Rose in the Twilight is not a bad first option. It lacks a bit of polish, but the strength of the puzzle and level design, mixed with the intriguing story, make it at least worth looking into.

Honey's Pros:

  • Rich and satisfying puzzle-based level design
  • Interesting method of storytelling that leaves interpretation up to the player
  • Macabre art-style that draws you into its world
  • Simple to understand mechanics that grow as you play
  • Solid length for its genre that gets to the meat of the game immediately

Honey's Cons:

  • Occasionally unclear art that intrudes on the gameplay
  • Lack of replayability might deter you if you’re looking for more for your money
  • Trial-and-error gameplay mechanics that can get frustrating, especially during the final boss

Honey's Final Verdict:

A Rose in the Twilight may not be everyone’s favorite game, but it’s also hard to imagine someone outright disliking it unless they absolutely detest puzzle-based gameplay or are put off by the subject matter. It can be frustrating at times, but there’s quite a bit to like about A Rose in the Twilight. If what you see here looks appealing, it’s worth a look.
Matt Knodle

Writer

Author: Matt Knodle

I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.

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