Since 2014, Nippon Ichi Software has been releasing a series of games that combine action and puzzle elements with melancholy atmospheres. It all began with htoL#NiQ, led to Yomawari: Night Alone and has now brought us to A Rose in the Twilight. Each one is designed to make us think as we attempt to aid nearly helpless women through unsettling scenarios. With A Rose in the Twilight, we get a game that gets us thinking about mortality and the passage of time in a way that’s nonthreatening and never too grotesque or uncomfortable.
The “rose” in A Rose in the Twilight refers to a cursed young woman trapped in a castle. The Curse of Thorns means a rose is eternally growing from her back, with its thorns wrapped around here and near her heart. With its power, she can absorb blood and transfer it to colorless, lifeless things to give it the ability to act. Why is she in this castle? We don’t know. What led to this curse? That’s a mystery as well. It’s only by playing that we can learn the truth. Fortunately, she isn’t going through it all alone. A peaceful giant accompanies her, silently aiding her in her quest.
The basic goal in each level of A Rose in the Twilight is this: Rose and her giant companion need to both make it to the exit on the other side of the area.
The basic goal in each level of A Rose in the Twilight is this: Rose and her giant companion need to both make it to the exit on the other side of the area. An array of enemies, hazards, puzzles and traps are scattered along the way. The strong giant can use its durability and strength to survive dangerous situations, pick up and toss Rose or items to new areas and act as a barrier. Rose is frail, but she can transfer blood between bloodied and blank objects has slightly more mobility, since she can jump a bit higher, and can sacrifice herself to return to save points. You constantly need to switch between the two to proceed, sometimes frequently in a short span to deal with aggressive and hostile forces.
A Rose in the Twilight feels like it is constantly presenting you with new ways to use its blood transferring mechanic. While it is about making things stop and go, there are always new ways where this is implemented. You can use the bloody ability to shift the appearance of a painting to make a new image that will allow you to advance. The bloody monsters’ threat can be nullified by absorbing the blood, but you may need to risk the danger to reach new areas. There are switches to enable, living obstacles to feed, sacrifices that must be made, and even bosses to defeat. You have to think about motion, action and inaction, and the consequences of allowing things to have the ability to act. It encourages trial and error, with the giant acting as something of a control to explore and investigate and Rose often being a catalyst for everything that could happen.
My main complaint with A Rose in the Twilight is that there are times when it can feel a bit cheap. There are quite a few puzzles that rely on timing more than actual thought. This is quite a shame, since many of the challenges here excel at making you think in unconventional ways. But every once in a while, you’ll come across a roadblock where you need to have Rose use her ability at the right moment to pause or unpause something. This typically isn’t too troublesome, especially since time slows when she uses this blood transferring skill, but it can become quite a nuisance when you have to get the positioning or timing just right.
The real nuisance is when A Rose in the Twilight relies too heavily on trial and error. There are many, many situations where you’ll come across an area, send Rose into a place that seems relatively safe and then be forced to watch her die. It’s frustrating when the game degrades into these treacherous expeditions where you see what kills Rose, then attempt to avoid that. Especially since later instances of this can force you to watch repeated failed attempts as you try to get things right.
When A Rose in the Twilight isn’t succumbing to these pitfalls, the puzzles can be rather great.
When A Rose in the Twilight isn’t succumbing to these pitfalls, the puzzles can be rather great. As can the atmosphere. The stark color scheme works well here and shows how black and white death can be. The horror of the situation has long worn off. We’re desensitized to the danger, since Rose is so easily resurrected. The monochromatic portrayal with red highlights conveys the intensity and maturity, but keeps us removed from what’s going on. While we may grow to care about Rose and her plight, the sights we’re seeing don’t come across as incredibly graphic or horrifying. It’s more an unsettling moment we know will pass, as we have the tools to deal with and overcome our predicaments.
This makes the brief hints at A Rose in the Twilight’s story and lore feel more effective too. It’s there, but isn’t the primary focus. If you want to search for these extra stories, earned by collecting blood from the castle’s victims, you can. You can watch the final moments of their lives play out. You can go through the tutorial scrolls to see Rose’s thoughts on her past and current predicament. Seeing things through her eyes offers that same detachment. It affects us, but the design decisions keep things from being as depressing or thrilling as these graphic scenes and sometimes heart-wrenching thoughts would be otherwise. In so doing, we can focus on what’s important – Rose and the puzzles.
A Rose in the Twilight is a charming, challenging game that relies heavily on its atmosphere. It sets a tone and sticks with it, presenting things in a very stylish and distinctive way. Yet, it does so in a detached manner that keeps these elements from distracting us from the things that really matter. It’s a game where you might die often, but hopefully won’t feel too discouraged when that happens. Even if it does get frustrating, it’s usually worth your effort and time.