Friday, 11 April 2014

Cing Visual Novels Review: Glass Rose

Glass Rose is a point-and-click adventure/mystery game for the PlayStation 2, released in 2003. It was developed by Cing, and I desperately wanted to play it as soon as I learned of its existence.

You play Takashi Kagetani, a reporter investigating a series of unexplained murders that happened over seventy years ago. As you and your girlfriend, Emi Katagiri, visit the mansion where the murders took place, you are suddenly whisked into two separate time continuums--you, to a three-day span during the murders, and Emi to an unexplained time. You then proceed to investigate and interview everyone residing in the mansion, fitting in quite well as you apparently look identical to someone named Kazuya Nanase, the son of the first murder victim.

Playing Glass Rose is fairly straightforward. You move by clicking on points in the room which interest you, and on the edge of the screen to switch the view of your current room. There are dozens of rooms to explore in the mansion spanning three floors, along with some gardens on the grounds. The story is split up into chapters, which are further divided into hours. You have no hit points, but you do have Mind Points. When you come across people, you talk to them by clicking on them and highlighting words in their conversation that you'd like to know more about. You can, in a limited way, even read people's minds by highlighting their words and then performing Divine Judgement, which uses up your Mind Points. Walking around and looking at items moves time forward; however, when in a conversation or the menu, time stands still. If you fail to do all that is necessary within an hour, you restart it with fewer Mind Points. Finally, there are a few quick-time events (called Suspense Events) in the game, which when failed also reduce your Mind Points. Run out of Mind Points and it's Game Over. Optionally, you can collect sparkly things called Heart Fragments that are scattered throughout the rooms; after a certain number of them are gained, you can save Emi from the alternate time continuum she fell into.

The game has two difficulties: Easy and Standard. They play nigh-identically, except Easy provides a glowing light on plot-important items and phrases when you hover over them, and your Mind Points decrease less each time they're used. I do not recommend playing the game for the first time on Standard, as I did, as you're quite likely to become frustrated. However, a playthrough on each difficulty is required to unlock the bonuses on the main menu. These are a set of tangram puzzles to solve, and the ability to view the CG movies from the game.

Since the controls are solely point-and-click, being forced to use the analog stick or d-pad on the PS2 controller is very clunky. Precision is a nightmare. Sometimes the objects you need to click have needlessly small hitboxes, so if you're not playing on Easy, it becomes a task in trying slightly different pixels to get the result you want. A number of times I left a room, thinking I was done in there, only to have to trudge back in and click barely to the right or left of the object I was trying to investigate. The one good part of Standard is that, by not knowing what to click, you end up finding out a lot more background to the story. There are items that give surprisingly revealing descriptions of those who inhabited these rooms, and even hidden diaries written by the characters. It can be slightly confusing to remember where all the rooms are in relation to each other, but after some hours of playing I came to know my way around the mansion.

Where Glass Rose truly excels is in the story itself. Being plopped into a world he's only done base research for, Takashi naturally has many questions about those he meets in the mansion. The myriad issues he raises by asking probing questions of the people who think he is their mysterious, illegitimate half-brother, Kazuya, are all fascinating. Most are downright hostile to someone who they see as swooping in to usurp their father's earnings, despite your efforts to understand and be kind to them. You slowly unravel the tragedies that have befallen this family even as more members are falling before your eyes. The urgency you feel as trying to piece together who is attacking everyone--including you--is fantastic. There are so many likely motives and supernatural elements at play that you're not sure who to believe, nor can you be sure if there is just one murderer or many!

Unfortunately, while the plot holds up under scrutiny, the dialogue in this game suffers from some lazy translation. Many times when you ask someone a question, you merely parrot back the highlighted words to them, as though this would be enlightening. Also, the words that correctly move the conversation forward are rather random. During one conversation I selected the name of a character for more information, only to find I needed to grab the whole phrase "little miss (character's name)". Why is this so specific? Even worse, you select things letter-by-letter so if you accidentally highlight a space or a period, you're also out of luck and have to select all over again (your previous choice does not remain highlighted). Using the analog stick to select phrases is clumsy, and although the d-pad offers a higher level of precision, you have to tap it for each letter you want highlighted. When a cumbersome phrase such as "that time... three years ago" is required, you start to get fed up with tapping to highlight each letter, no matter how invested in the story you are. Selecting word by word would have been much better--there is never a time where you want to only highlight part of a word.

The small number of Suspense Events in the game are also a bit strange to control. The screen freezes, and some choices appear... which you have to direct your cursor over to and then click, which is hard to do on an analog stick in the limited amount of time given. I failed most of them the first time they happened. If quick-time events are going to implemented in the game at all, I think assigning a button to the prompt works much better if you don't have a mouse or stylus to quickly select the option you want.

The story has four different endings, which are all fairly similar. In three of the endings, you return to the present, either with or without your girlfriend, and you may or may not be cursed, depending on how many Heart Fragments you collected, dialogue choices in the last conversation, and what you did during one Suspense Event near the end. In the fourth, you fail to solve the mystery and become a victim yourself! I wish there had been more branching paths within the game, and that we'd been able to find out even more about the family. Playing through the entire game a second time so I could unlock one of the endings made me appreciate the foreshadowing and attention to detail; had there been more choices in earlier chapters, I would have liked to explore them. As it is, the game flat-out refuses to let you explore beyond the prescribed way: people will not appear in their rooms until you do a certain sequence of events, no matter how obtuse they may be. Much of the game has a natural flow, so this isn't too much of a problem, but it is irritating when you have a choice of two people to talk to and one says, "You should talk to him first!" Often, the conversations have no direct bearing on each other, so it seems pointless to force one before another.

While I enjoyed Glass Rose, it does have problems that simply can't be ignored. Simply using a touchscreen or a mouse would alleviate nearly all of the problems inherent to the game. With just a little more attention given to the translation and a renovation of the controls, the game could have been great. As it is, it's sitting somewhere between "not bad" and "good". If you can put up with clunky controls and love mystery novels or point-and-click games, I'd give this a try.

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