(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
Following on in the same vein as 2013’s HTOL#NIQ: The Firefly Diary, ‘A Rose in the Twilight‘ is a similarly designed 2D puzzle platformer with a stylized visual design. Although the game makes a number of improvements over its spiritual predecessor through new, interesting mechanics, they create their own set of problems that leave the package with a number of issues – although there is definitely still fun to be had here, the experience is pulled down by some of the more glaring oversights.
Placing you in control of the titular Rose who awakens in a cursed castle, you’ll navigate the various rooms in this prison in order to find a way out and along the way will uncover the tale of how she became trapped here in the first place.
Here lies the game’s first issue – storytelling. Rose opts for an incredibly minimalistic plot told through flashbacks uncovered when she encounters a bloodstain in the castle. The issue is that sometimes things are just too minimal for their own good – i did understand the overall story in the end but there were plenty of times I was shown a scene with no idea of why I was being given this information until much later on. This is exacerbated by a number of the bloodstains being hidden away and therefore optional to progression – unlike games like Teslagrad where the story scenes were always part of the main quest. It creates a confusing, disjointed tale at times; although the animated scenes that are used to tell the story are enjoyable to watch.
Still, the castle itself creates a daunting area to explore and that itself assists with the world development. It’s a winding labyrinth that plays somewhat like a Metroidvania – you’ll be given a map of each room and there’s plenty of backtracking through areas you’ve seen. Sound is used well throughout as it’s often just the noise of the character’s footsteps and the soundtrack is actually pretty good, although overused as the same themes play repeatedly in each area. In exploring the castle, you’ll notice that the developers chose a monochrome palette with the only other colour really used is red, but this ties to the game’s central puzzle mechanic – the manipulation of blood. Rose can absorb the colour out of red objects in the environment, then imbue other objects with it – which is used to progress throughout the castle.
The title does a good job of teaching you the uses and limitations of this power early on. Rose can only store one charge at a time – shown visually by the white rose on her clothing turning red – and so finding ways to get rid of this charge so you can store another comes into play. By imbuing objects with blood they become subject to the laws of physics, while absorbing the blood from them stops them in their tracks – useful for creating platforms and ledges. Initially, it all comes together pretty well and you’ll have a fun time experimenting with different possibilities.
Problems start appearing once the game stops following its own ruleset. For example, objects which you could absorb the blood from in previous areas are suddenly window dressing in later ones, unable to be interacted with. A particular frustration is that A Rose in the Twilight does a good job of not requiring you to bring any items between puzzles, yet just as you get into this mindset it will throw in a puzzle for some optional blood that requires you to bring something from a now-gated-off area. I accept that this isn’t mandatory content, but it still created some un-necessarily annoying backtracking.
Of course, as the promotional art hints, the game isn’t simply the adventures of the titular character and she very quickly uncovers a stone golem who comes to life and assists her journey. This creates the title’s second puzzle-solving mechanic – character switching, as the golem is immune to the thorns infesting the castle which are otherwise fatal to Rose.
This means plenty of areas where you’ll have one character stand on a switch so another can pass through a door and vice versa, although things do get more tricky than this as time progresses. The issue with the puzzles is that they’re all conceptually fairly simple, its just actually doing them which is frustrating. Many rely on environmental objects which aren’t always obvious due to the graphical design, leading to a lot of fumbling around with the backgrounds to uncover what you can interact with and what you can’t. In addition, both Rose and the golem walk excruciatingly slowly and many of the puzzles have you running back and forth between different areas, which makes progressing a pain while you’re trying to figure out exactly what to do. As such, I found myself encouraged not to explore as much because I knew it would be a long trip back to where I was heading.
Thankfully, variety is one of the game’s strong points – ideas never seem to overstay their welcome. For example, about halfway through the game Rose will discover a watering can which can store blood which is then used in a series of puzzles involving height and growing flowers. Once you’re done with this section, the mechanic doesn’t return – meaning it simply added a nice bit of variety to the puzzle-solving before the title moved on to other types of design. Other examples of this are scattered throughout the game – an area involving hiding in barrels; an ascending lift scene that requires rapid manipulation of both characters etc., all of which provide brief respite from the core mechanics yet are fun in themselves.
Speaking of core mechanics, one idea that repeatedly pops up throughout a playthrough is executions – and indeed, dying is a central theme that will happen a lot (there are even trophies tied to this). Aside from clumsily stumbling into thorns or falling into the abyss, the game occasionally requires requires Rose to sacrifice herself at various alters to open doors to the next area. These scenes are both brutal and moving – it’s something else seeing this young girl hang herself on a noose made of thorns until her lifeless body swings from the rafters, despite the fact that in both story and gameplay terms she’ll be reborn. They serve to highlight the bleak, dark story that A Rose in the Twilight is telling and I found them very effective due to their striking nature.
To complete the story, you’re probably looking at one to two sittings – it’s not a very long title, although your mileage will depend on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. Thankfully replayability is encouraged through a number of ways – collecting missed bloodstains will allow you to progress to an optional abyss dungeon, while trophies encourage speedrunning through the areas you’ve already visited. Thankfully, a quick-travel option allows you to rapidly move around after completion to pick up anything you’d missed out on.
Overall, then, A Rose in the Twilight is a bizarre mix of good and bad design choices – it tells an interesting tale, but not in the best manner; it features some fun, varied puzzles but hides them behind some plodding backtracking and exploration. If you’ve at all been interested in 2D puzzle-platformers before then I’d still say this is one worth checking out, but be warned that a few unpolished edges mar the experience.
A Rose in the Twilight has plenty of good ideas, but they’re buried under slow gameplay; a scattered plot and some frustrating design. Despite all this there’s a solid puzzle-platformer with some touching moments buried underneath and although it’s not one I can recommend wholeheartedly, it’s fun enough for the price that it’s worth checking out.