Exterior of a castle, the moon crescents over a dark courtyard as a small figure passes through, brushing all the grey and black flowers upon the path. A lone red rose brimming with color, lighting up the entire courtyard. The small figure reaches out to grasp the flower and is pricked by one of it’s thorns, causing a crimson red blood to flow onto the floor and the figure to fall as a result. A giant shadowy figure reveals itself only to pick up the small figure like a toy and progress through the garden of thorns. This is A Rose in the Twilight, a dark and twisted 2d puzzle platformer that will have questioning every dark moment and realization you have encountered in gaming up to this point.
A Rose in the Twilight is a grand puzzle surrounded by loss and rebirth. A tale about a little girl and her quest to find out what happened to her and why she is trapped in a castle misplaced in time. This is the western localization of the game Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight published by NIS for Vita. Thorns have taken a grip on the world in ways never seen before, taking the blood of everything living and not for unknown purposes. Conquer a litany of punishing puzzles to gain satisfaction unlike any game before it on the Vita.
The puzzles in this game are some that have never been seen in gaming. When you think of a puzzle game the first thought that crosses your mind is how much will this torture my brain? A Rose in the Twilight is a challenging and satisfying puzzle platformer that takes iconic puzzles and fuses them with the beautifully morose brain teasing styles found in the game. A Rose in the Twilight places you in control of two separate halves that make one puzzle solving character – those halves are Rose and the giant. You must be able to use both halves to successfully pass each challenge and collect the necessary resources to advance properly. Rose is a little girl with a rose (how on the noes?) on her back with the ability to suck the blood from red objects, and inject it into white objects allowing for the manipulation of the puzzle field. These actions by Rose will allow the giant to traverse the necessary path to reach areas Rose is unable to, in hopes that you will solve the puzzle. The giant is much more than just a character that can make movement more possible, it is also able to pick up heavy objects, throw Rose to greater heights and even travel through large amounts of thorns and other obstacles Rose is unable to pass through. This cohesive style of puzzle solving is not only what makes this puzzle game a great and brutal challenge, but also what makes it stand out amongst the rest of the “buddy system” games out there. Rose and the giant can work separately on their own to solve puzzles, or together in a manner that makes other attempts seem childish.
Challenge is something we all expect from puzzle games, but A Rose in the Twilight is one of the most difficult and brutal puzzle games I have ever had the pleasure of raging over. It will have you agonizing and quitting many times before you can come to grips with possibility that you are going about a certain puzzle in an entirely over thought way. These puzzles will not only spell trouble for some of you puzzle savants out there – even make your skills feel insignificant in the process. ART (A Rose in the Twilight) is not unbearably difficult because it is unfair, quite the opposite actually. The game presents you with the creative freedom to solve any puzzle in front of you, and the further you progress, the more this becomes apparent. Planning exactly how your going to tackle a puzzle is what makes this game great, there is no one specific formula to winning – even if it takes slightly breaking the physics of the game. The insanity does not stop there as there are two bosses that take what you have learned through these trials are really put to the test in some of the Vita’s most difficult boss battles. The punishing challenge of a game like ART does not come around often, but when it does it is most satisfying to take it down.
Beyond the gameplay and cruel test of the mind that comes with ART, there is a calming and at other time unsettling beauty that vies to be on the main stage of this game; the art. This game is so breathtakingly painted in shades of black and grey that truly accent the bright whites and deep crimson reds that lie not only within the environment, but also accent the gameplay. Thorns, platforms and roads are all presented in a darkness that really capture how dire Rose’s situation is, as she grapples with her amnesia she is only distracted by taking the almost velvet like blood from objects to change her perception in the world around her. The art direction of this game melds with it’s gameplay in so many way, not just with the interaction of objects but to give off lore and story bits as well. Constantly being surrounded in the grey and black will entice certain feelings upon finding red and white strewn about. The dark lolli nature of Rose’s character side by side with the grey and looming giant give an amazing sense of why this world is so beautiful. Certain aspects of the games art are not as apparent as others, not to spoil much of the game but there are certain styles hidden beneath the surface that make the game that much more impressive, especially by Vita standards. One moment that has stuck with me specifically being dark, emotional and almost tear jerking is the first time Rose must sacrifice herself in order to further not only narrative, but the style as well. Attempting to reach other areas in the game you must offer a plentiful sacrifice to destroy thorns and open doors, this is where Rose realizes she must sacrifice herself and hang up on a noose of thorns. She is respawned immediately after and this sparks and understanding that in order to move forward she must suffer…even through her own death. This entire action adds such shakespearian depth to the game and it causes a dramatic shift tonally when it happens.
This game knows no boundaries in any form, testing you with intense puzzles, broaching topics other games veer away from, and an art style that leads many people to question certain narrative decisions. One last aspect that ART champions is the lore and storytelling. It offers itself to you in the form of verbal and cryptic memories found throughout going off the beaten path. Again I find myself at a loss for words with how well crafted the story within the game is made, it implores you to find every last memory of fallen solders throughout the game in order to reach the final boss and ending. Leading you through a circus of dark and depressed areas to once again challenge yourself in ways you didn’t think possible to slowly piece together what exactly is happening here. While there are books, characters and verbal clues from Rose that deliver bits and pieces – reaching the end and having a full understanding of it would be impossible without venturing back in and torturing yourself with more nightmarish hellscape puzzles. No linearity to be found here, travel to any stage at a any time and attempt to collect all the memories in order to finally put all the pieces into place, and boy is it a fruitful endeavor.
All in all A Rose in the Twilight is THE Vita game to play the second it is released. The games brutal yet fair puzzles are not to be missed, possibly even cherished. The undeniable beauty of the art style bleeds into the story itself and vice versa creating an unmatched experience on the Vita right now.