Rule of Rose (PS2): what really happened?

To ask “what really happened?” after playing a fifteen hour game may seem strange. You might ask “what do you mean, what happened? Can’t you tell?”, but horror often relies on ambiguity to create tension and mystery, and Rule of Rose is no exception. Rule of Rose is all about the unreliability of memory and the differing perspectives one has as a child and as an adult. I decided to write this post because of an analysis I read which I didn’t find totally satisfying. In reading the plot of the game on the Rule of Rose Wikia, I realised that my interpretation of events was rather different…*heavy spoilers up ahead*

This post has a rather radical assertion to make about what really happened at the orphanage…

Jennifer is the one who convinces Gregory to kill the children.

This is different to the account on the Wikia page, which places the blame squarely on Jennifer’s best friend, Wendy. IMO, the Wikia’s account is overly literal – it does not take into account the fact that this game is told from Jennifer’s unreliable perspective. It also ignores that this is primarily a story about the fantasy world that is built between female friends. The writer of the Wikia page suggests that it is Wendy who is to blame for these events, but there are several holes in this story: why did Gregory kill Wendy and not Jennifer? And is it plausible that Wendy would be able to “train” a man to act like a dog?

Rule of Rose is structured through a set of storybooks which act as chapters, each one exploring a “princess”, one of the orphans who torment Jennifer. We discover at the end of the game that Gregory is the storybook maker, a man who has gone mad with grief over his dead son. He takes in Jennifer after her parents died in an accident, before Jennifer is admitted to the local orphanage. Though Gregory makes the storybooks, at the end of the game we learn Jennifer tells him the stories. And what are the subject matter of these stories? The bullying and abuse she faces at the hands of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, the little girls who live in the orphanage…

By telling him these stories, she motivates him to kill the children…

At the end of the game, she sets Gregory loose on the orphanage, where he kills Wendy along with the rest of the children and, finally, himself. The only survivor is Jennifer. It is also significant that Jennifer can kill Gregory herself (bad ending), or give him the gun to commit suicide (good ending). So, not only does Jennifer provide him motivation through the storybooks to commit the massacre, she also hands him the gun to kill himself. This definitely has an avenging angel vibe about it.

The Wikia places the blame on Wendy because the game shows Wendy to be the one who brings Gregory in on a leash. However, I read this symbolically – as a child, Jennifer placed the blame on Wendy for what happened. In fact, the game suggests that the massacre is caused by the hysteria created by the young inhabitants of the orphanage and in paticular, the intense friendship between Jennifer and Wendy, and the souring of this friendship. As I wrote in my last post, Rule of Rose is about the dark side of female friendship. They can be dangerously complicit relationships; girls can form intense bonds that border on infatuation and obsession.

It is often a world which relies on seeing others as irrelevant, a make-believe fantasy that centres on the girls’ apparently unique relationship. This is certainly the case between Wendy and Jennifer. Wendy, who is at the centre of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, has a paticular vendetta against Jennifer. This is because Wendy and Jennifer were best friends – until Jennifer finds a puppy (“Brown”) whom she forms a bond with and spends all her time with. This sends Wendy into a jealous rage; she makes a story up about a stray dog who kills children. With this lie, she convinces the children to kill Brown, beating him to death. This traumatises Jennifer. She slaps Wendy and runs out of the orphanage crying…

Towards the end of the game, Wendy brings in “Stray Dog”, Gregory, scarred and on all fours. The Wikia interprets this as showing Wendy’s responsibility for the massacre, however, I believe that this shows how child-Jennifer interpreted the events: Wendy provoked her so much that Jennifer felt it was as if she was the one who brought the massacre on herself. We should read it symbolically, rather than literally.

In the good ending, we see events from Jennifer’s adult perspective. She leaves the orphanage and finds Wendy playing outside, alone. They wordlessly embrace, and then Jennifer shuts her inside the gate and walks away. Then, Jennifer goes into a shed and finds Brown as a puppy. She ties him securely in the shed and shuts him in, and then walks away.

These acts are also symbolic. At the end of the game, we see the world through Jennifer’s eyes as someone who no longer feels she is trapped by either guilt and victimhood. As both the sole survivor the Zeppelin crash AND the massacre at the orphanage, Jennifer was wracked with survivor’s guilt. Her whole child’s perspective was informed by self-pity (“Unlucky girl”) and a sense that she both was and wasn’t to blame. When Jennifer wakes up, she has an adult’s persective: she can finally let go of the guilt, and accept that she and Wendy were children and, therefore, not to blame. She leaves Wendy in the orphanage, choosing to remember their friendship (their embrace), and to keep Brown alive in her memory (tying him safely).

All that said, the game’s ending lacks a solid sense of resolution – I had to work really hard to make these connections. And still this is an interpretation that leaves many loose ends, though it is very satisfying to think of poor, unlucky Jennifer as the perpetrator. Regardless, as I said in the last post I wrote, this is a game I’d only recommend to die hard horror fans, or those interested in weirder titles.

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5 comments

  1. Athena | AmbiGaming

    Interesting! Now you’ve got me wanting to see a playthrough of this to see if I can catch the symbolism and the Jennifer-vs-Wendy as catalyst. It’s fascinating to think back to childhood and wonder how the things that were so important and dramatic looked to the adults around you, and to look back *as* an adult, too.

    I also like that they took the tumultuous existence of a group of young girls as the subject matter. While I certainly had (and have) great friends who are women, people don’t always appreciate just how “joined” girl friends can become, and how quickly the intensity can rise when a friendship breaks.

    …I say “appreciate” like it’s a good thing. I think “realize” is probably better. Or maybe “are better of not knowing” is best haha. But seriously, I think this is a really great subject and opens a door to exploring a lot of personality and psychological concepts. Now I have to go find a let’s play of it… Thanks for posting! I’ve been looking forward to this one!

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks, Athena! I actually wrote the first draft for this three weeks ago, but I found it very difficult to express my ideas about RoR. The trouble is, RoR’s plotline is quite convoluted. Add to that my love of writing abstractly about the darkside of human nature, and ofc this post took forever to redraft -_- Basically, I’m convoluted. RoR is convoluted. And so here we are.

      I know what you mean about girlfriends. I feel like the lack of boundaries breeds a strange kind of passion, maybe even a kind of madness? Henry James’ Turn of the Screw does a similar thing as in RoR, where the horror is created somewhere between the two main women’s conversations and imaginations. Its a great subject for writers, film makers and developers! I had fun looking up films and books on the topic and found quite a few, but RoR is the only game I could find that explored the world of how cruel girls can be.

      In life, I have learned to be slow with friendships. Intense friendships should come with a warning label!

      • Athena | AmbiGaming

        They definitely should… haha

        Now that you mention it, that’s a really great parallel between RoR and The Turn of the Screw. I remember discussing it in school, how we should entertain both the idea that ghosts exists and that the governess is mad, in order to really understand the awful implications of both of those scenarios.

        Now I really do want to find a let’s play… hm… I’ll have to think about this some more… 🙂

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game. I do feel it was clever of the creators to create a story that can be interpreted in different ways and adds ambiguity to the ending. It also sounds very surreal and strange, with a terrifying hero.
    How is the narrator introduced as unreliable? How does Wendy appear at the end of the game despite being killed?

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks for your comment! The game is a series of memories, or distorted flashbacks, of the main character – all of the characters are dead except her. One of the main ways it is made clear she is unreliable is that she is an adult in her memories, but she acts frightened and timid, as if she is a child; she is reliving her experiences as a child in adulthood. She also talks to a Scarecrow (which acts as the savepoint).

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