When presented with A Rose in the Twilight’s cutesy protagonist you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a gentle, playful affair. The peaceful music may solidify this perception, leading you to expect a tale of hope and wonder. How wrong you would be. A Rose in the Twilight presents a world full of violence and brutal despair. One in which the protagonist is destined to die over and over again, in horrifying and sacrificial ways. And after I was done with the game, after the credits rolled I honestly knew how she felt.
A Rose in the Twilight is a puzzle platformer about a girl named Rose who carries a cursed thorn on her back. Rose must make her way through a ruined castle devoid of time and colour. This is where her curse comes into play. You see Rose has the ability to transfer blood using her Rose into various static objects, giving them life. Boulders previously suspended in mid-air suddenly succumb to gravity and fall to the ground, or vise-versa. This ability to transfer colour from one object to the next is the game’s key mechanic, and it’s a unique one at that.
The game’s other main mechanic is the ability to control not just Rose but a mysterious golem referred to only as “the giant”. Rose is ridiculously fragile, dying from any contact with the many spikes littering the levels and splattering all over the ground from even the shortest of falls. The Giant on the other hand is indestructible, immune to falls and able to walk through thickets of thorns. It’s this duality which must be exploited in order to solve the game’s array of fiendishly difficult puzzles. And when I say difficult I mean difficult. In fact, it’s the game’s brutal difficulty which holds it back. It will immediately put off all but the most sadistic of players, which is a shame because there’s a lot here to love.
The visuals for example are absolutely stunning. The world is presented through a beautiful watercolour art-style. Muted greys and reds intelligently highlight the way in which Rose can interact with the world. The use of blood to show the transfer of power throughout the world is also a nice touch. There are several doors which require a blood sacrifice in order for Rose to pass through. It’s these sequences which perfectly show the way the game juxtaposes innocence with violence. Seeing Rose place her head under a guillotine, or into a noose is heartbreaking. Watching the blood drain from her body and activate the path ahead never stops being horrifying and visceral. Luckily, after death, Rose is reborn under one of the white flowers which populate the world.
The core gameplay is simple, but difficult. There are puzzles which require you to throw Rose across the level using the Giant’s brute strength. Problem is, the controls are finicky at best, and with a protagonist as breakable as Rose, the act of failing over and over again gets old very quickly. So many times I would know the solution to a puzzle but would be unable to control the characters with enough accuracy to progress. Some encounters are just downright unfair, hidden drops and traps lead to frustrating deaths, forcing you to play through the same sections over and over. I have no issue with a game being challenging, as long as it’s rewarding. Problem is, progressing through one of A Rose in the Twilight’s brutal levels is so rarely rewarding. Often times success is a result of sheer luck, rather than skill.
The story is told through various memories which Rose experiences by absorbing the blood of those whose lives have been claimed by the castle. These cutscenes are wonderfully presented, but do drag on a bit. I do commend the game’s ability to present an engaging story without using dialogue though.
A Rose in the Twilight is ultimately a very well-presented puzzle platformer with creative gameplay mechanics which are unfortunately buried by the game’s obnoxious difficulty. For fans of particularly brutal games, this may well be worth the effort and patience required to stick it out until the end. For everyone else though, I fear that the bulky controls and hit or miss puzzle mechanics will be too much to ignore.