A Rose in the Twilight is a dejected and atmospheric fairy tale surrounding the unlikely pairing of a cursed girl and her stone giant companion, as they attempt to flee the castle in which she’s held captive. Its unique aesthetic and gameplay hook pair nicely with the game’s portrayal of blood as a life force, ultimately presenting a memorably gloomy tale that fans of the Brothers Grimm should no doubt enjoy.
At its core, A Rose in the Twilight is a 2D puzzle platformer that shares Limbo’s (mostly) monochromatic environments, use of violence, and overall feel, along with the character swapping, teamwork reliance of something like Lost Vikings.
As Rose, the aptly named prisoner, you’ll make use of her “curse of thorns” to withdraw and infuse blood into objects in the environment that are otherwise frozen in time. Anything infused with blood appears in a vibrant shade of red, acting as a clear indicator of which objects can be interacted with by the player.
With blood symbolizing life here, things like elevators, switches, and even monsters need to be “alive” in order to function properly. This game-defining rule works both ways as well, as moving platforms and depressed floor switches can be strategically drained of their life force to become frozen in place.
Rose is defined by her curse and limited by her overall frailty. She’s too weak to lift objects and will likely die if she falls beyond a short distance or comes in contact with the deadly thorns that have overtaken the castle’s interior. Early on in the game, she’s met with a mysterious stone giant that offsets her shortcomings and the two can be switched between with a quick press of a shoulder button. Unlike Rose, her giant can lift and throw blood-infused objects, pass through thorns, and is unaffected by fall damage.
The castle itself is broken down into multiple puzzle-filled rooms that center on the tandem use of both characters in order to manipulate objects — having Rose infuse slabs of stone with blood so her giant can then move them to create stairs, for instance. At other times the two must separate, instead solitarily navigating different areas of a puzzle room with the goal of rendezvousing later on.
Since the game presents death as part of Rose’s curse (and you will, in fact, die quite often), certain portions of the castle remain locked until the young prisoner offers her own blood as a sacrifice. Watching Rose commit suicide by hesitantly placing her head into the shackles of a guillotine, or wrapping her neck in a thorn-riddled noose before leaping to her death was definitely shocking. However, the core gameplay experience revolves around solving environmental riddles while these cinematic death scenes exist to shock the player and move the disconcerting plot along.
Many of the game’s puzzles are well balanced but mostly use the same formula throughout the 5-hour journey. The concept of manipulating blood never overstayed its welcome, however, and was often used in surprising ways (i.e. as paint for a giant canvas). Blood stains are also how A Rose in the Twilight presents the lion’s share of the game’s story.
Aside from offering glimpses into the world’s history via found documentation, absorbing the blood of the fallen treats the player to a brief silent film that portrays the history of Rose, the castle, and the goings on leading up to her capture. These bloodstains are hidden throughout the fifty-or-so rooms in somewhat tricky locations, but I always felt inclined to hunt them down to get a better grasp on the story. I’ll admit that I did resort to using a video guide near the end, but I was immensely interested in the narrative and didn’t want to miss out on anything.
Another aspect of A Rose in the Twilight that I adored was the art style. The hand-drawn aesthetic, the monochromatic color work, and the character designs of Rose and her giant worked incredibly well with the game’s somber fairy tale setting and method of storytelling. Crumbling walls gave way to Nippon Ichi’s seldom use of important reds, while the massive library and clock tower still managed to retain the game’s sense of isolation and loneliness through its display of shadow and musical cues.
In terms of performance, unsurprisingly, the game doesn’t run as well on the Vita as it does on PC. Sure, that should be a given, but that’s not to say it performs poorly. The framerate just takes a noticeable dip and gives the character’s movements an almost marionette-like quality that inadvertently added to the child-like atmosphere. Had I not watched the aforementioned video guide while collecting bloodstains (which was recorded using the PC version) I’d have never assumed differently, so I highly doubt it’ll get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment. It certainly didn’t get in the way of mine.
A Rose in the Twilight is a memorable, disturbing adventure disguised as a simple puzzle platformer. Not only does the narrative play out in an interesting fashion, it remains intriguing throughout and greatly rewards deviating from the beaten path. Everything from the character and world designs to the unique aesthetic and haunting composition just feels right, and it’s all piled atop an already solid foundation of puzzle solving, teamwork, and character growth across a brief, yet unforgettable experience.
This could easily be one of the sleeper gems of 2017.
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation Vita copy of A Rose in the Twilight provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.