Whisper of a Rose, released in April of 2010,is the first offering from new developer RosePortal Games. Despite taking three years to make, it’s a fairly standard entry into the RPG genre: heavily story-driven with plenty of dialogue and exposition, lots of colorful characters, a turn-based battle system, and experience rewards that let you level up you character and gain new abilities.
Before I begin the review proper, let me rant a bit. Characterization is hard. In real life, people have complex, ever-shifting personalities, and it takes a good creative mind to convey that in a fictional medium. The urge to blow up a dominant trait until it’s the focal point of your characterization is a strong one, but it causes your character to become a one-dimensional caricature of a person: incapable of growth or complex, realistic behavior and incredibly boring to read about. Upon realizing they have fallen into this trap, inexperienced writers will seek to rectify the situation, not by fixing the character, but by giving them a progressively more unbelievable past.
Characters should have interesting pasts; don’t get me wrong. They shouldn’t take the place of a solid personality. A boy of 18 can have spent his life studying jujitsu and be very good at it. He cannot be an expert at every martial art that exists and several that don’t, be twice at good at every type of weapon as men twice his age, be able to fluently speak multiple languages, be a master musician, and still get straight A’s in school. No one has that much time in a day.
You think I’m exaggerating that? Count yourself lucky.
Whisper of a Rose falls into this trap, only they do it with angst. If you’ve ever read Harry Potter or watched a movie on Lifetime, you probably know what I mean. Main character Melrose is a sweet, loving girl who just wants to be allowed to dream, but she exists in a world full of mean, hateful people who have made it their goal in life to make her as unhappy as possible. Her parents are abusive; her classmates are bullies; and the nice lady at the museum, in Melrose’s own, resentful words, “just wants to socialize” and is “so fake”.
Abuse is very real, and very tragic. If you’re going to have you main character be abused, please do it in a respectful way. Giving your main character an abusive past to force your audience to feel bad for the poor, sweet girl because everyone just hates her because they can’t stand how nice and sweet she is and can’t you just feel her pain as a single, glistening tear rolls down her cheek because she’s just been beaten mercilessly and locked in a basement by her father for a minor infraction of the rules? That’s not respectful. That’s ridiculous.
Their characterization of this girl is so poor, in fact, that they have to tell us who they intend for her to be. As her father drags her into the basement, he tells her not to bite him this time. She then spends several minutes crying and talking about how she really is a strong person, just not right at this moment. Show us these things, developers. Don’t tell us she’s bitten her father in the past; have her actively bite him right now. Don’t tell us she’s been strong in the past; have her be actively strong right now where we can see it. Strength isn’t hiding away in your imagination; it’s standing on your own two feet and getting things done.
Whisper of a Rose tells the story of Melrose, a tragic college-goer whom no one likes and who is regularly abused by a family that hates her and locks her in the basement. All she wants to do is escape to a world where she can dream forever, and the exhibition of a new iDream technology at the local history museum gives her a chance. Betraying the trust of the only person in the world who has ever been nice to her, she steals the iDream and runs from the guards, activating it on the fly without actually reading the instructions. Everything goes black, and she opens her eyes to find herself standing on a cloud in the middle of a star field. She discovers pretty quickly that her dreamworld isn’t the safest place to be as yellow jellyfish-looking things repeatedly attack her, and a kindly old woman is attacked and kidnapped while trying to give her some answers. She finishes the area by fighting a thing that she seems to recognize, but I’m not actually sure why, and gets dropped onto Candy Mountain. Cue the actual start of the game.
The storyline gets incredibly silly in places as the developers try to force us to sympathize with their poor, lamentable wretch. The whole world is just against her, don’t you know; even if it means behaving against all logic. There’s a scene towards the beginning of the game where Melrose hides in the men’s room because the women’s room is locked for some reason. Two boys walk in after her and, in true Sherlockian fashion, almost immediately deduce that there must be a girl in there because the door is closed and no one is making any noise behind it.
Let me repeat that: the door is closed and no one is making any noise behind it. It couldn’t possibly be out of order, or in use, or, heaven forbid, not even worth noticing. No, it’s obviously a girl, and after beating on the door and asking if there’s a boy in there who needs help for several seconds, they go get a janitor (who implies that he thinks “the boy” is masturbating in there) to open the door and give this girl the humiliation she so richly deserves. Now, while I am by no means an expert on the inner workings of the male mind, I have it on the solid and irrefutable authority of my boyfriend that this goes beyond unrealistic and into stupidity. A closed door is simply not that remarkable. If you’re a guy, and you disagree with this assessment, feel free to let me know. So I can tell you that you’re weird.
The graphics look like they came out of the 90s, and the characters are 32-bit sprites, but I can forgive that since this is a first game. They might have done it on purpose for the retro feel, but I suspect they just didn’t have the budget for anything more elaborate. The music, on the other hand…they are very proud of their music. The website describes it as “45 original and enchanting music tracks!” and even provides a free download link to the soundtrack. It is not that good. It’s not bad, mind you, and I wouldn’t even be harping on it if RosePortal wasn’t just so darn pleased with themselves. They have created an unrealistic expectation of how good their soundtrack is, and if I were less jaded, I might actually have been disappointed. As it happens, I was only mildly annoyed.
Combat is an issue. A major issue. At level 4, fighting enemies my own level, by myself, I was barely scraping by because I could not do any damage. Easily half of my attacks did, literally, 0 damage. The rest were a single point on average, interspersed with the odd 2. Even worse, occasionally more than a single enemy will pop up from out of nowhere, forcing you to fight more than one at a time. The result is that battles take a frustratingly long time to win, and eat up healing items faster than an SUV eats gas. Between that and the frequency with which they happen, the first part of the game just drags on. I found myself trying to avoid fighting as much as possible, and that isn’t a good idea this early in an RPG.
But all of this aside, the game isn’t too bad. I might be giving it a little more generosity than it deserves because its retro look is pushing all the right buttons for me, but I’ve rather enjoyed playing it. Like Evil Dead, CSI, or Paranormal State, it’s an enjoyable kind of badness. But still not worth the $20 price tag.
– Operating system: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista
– RAM: 256 MB