Set in 1930 England, the plot revolves around a nineteen-year-old girl named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in a world ruled by young girls who have established a class hierarchy called the Red Crayon Aristocrats.The game has been compared to survival horror games Silent Hill and Haunting Ground, due to the psychological horror used throughout and because the main character is accompanied by a canine companion.
Rule of Rose garnered mixed reviews from many publications upon its release; reaction to the story and horror elements was almost universally positive, while the gameplay was panned. The game was also the subject of a moderate amount of controversy due to its use of violence and implied sexuality amongst some of its underage, female characters.
For most of the game, the player explores the environments and searches for items, furthering the plot by accomplishing tasks and experiencing cut-scenes, as well as encountering random enemy battles and a few boss battles. The gameplay was most notable fail of the game with frustrating battle system, slow loading screens, too many enemies were put on screen and the boss battles were too dificult.
Early in the game, the player encounters Brown, who accompanies Jennifer throughout the game and will respond to commands; such as tracking items by scent, being commanded to 'stay' and being called to Jennifer's side. Brown cannot attack enemies, but can growl, which distracts some Imps and bosses, allowing Jennifer to retreat or land a few blows without fear of retaliation. He can be injured to the point of collapsing, causing him to stop distracting enemies or tracking an item.
Brown's ability to locate items is an important part of the game and is used in every chapter of Rule of Rose to progress further in game and plot. The same system allows the player to find health restoratives and other items which, while not essential to complete the game, can help the player and unlock hidden items.
Finding items is very much like a treasure trial: the players selects an item from the inventory for Brown to locate another, which is then connected to the 'find' command until changed or removed. When tracking items this way, Brown will lead the player through the environments, scratching at doors in his way for the player to open. Most items are hidden and must be uncovered by Brown, though the player can choose to avoid searching for these items in order to progress quickly.
Combat is almost exclusively melee in Rule of Rose, with a variety of improvised weapons available, such as kitchen knives and pipes. Since Jennifer is a timid character, her melee attacks are neither powerful nor very long-ranged. Due to this, Jennifer needs to be close to attack enemies and may become seriously injured, especially against a large group of Imps.
The only "real weapon" in the game is the Revolver and Gregory's Gun: a simple handgun which isn't achieved until the final battle against Stray Dog. The pistol gives the player a longer-range and no real need to get close to the boss unless needed.
Restorative items are snack foods in the game, such as candy and scones, which each heal varying amounts of health. Animal Bones and meat can be used to restore Brown's health if he becomes injured. Other items - such as marbles and ribbons - have no immediate use, but may be traded with the Aristocrats in order to obtain food, unlockable items and weapons.
Similarities with other stories
Lord of the Flies
Although the developers said it was not an influence, both stories include British children governing themselves with no adults present, ending with disastrous results. Both stories contain aircraft crashes. The stories contain similar themes of childhood, peer pressure, friendship and society.
A Little Princess
The setting for the two stories is exactly the same: England, early 1900's (excluding the 1995 version of the movie, which took place in New York). For another, both the main character's predicaments are similar, as Jennifer and Sara were both orphaned and were sent away to places where they were shunned from the other children. The game is also similar to the theme of A Little Princess; "all girls are princesses," in how the children of Rule of Rose are depicted as either a Prince or Princess. In this case, Jennifer can be compared to Sara, Diana to Lavinia, Wendy to Becky, Mr. Hoffman to Miss Minchin, Martha to the cook, Olivia to Lottie, and so on.
Alice in Wonderland
The game has a "lost in a Wonderland" feel to it, as Jennifer is taken to a strange world. It is revealed that the entire game was a essentially a dream conjured by Jennifer. Inanimate objects sometimes speak and give clues to the protagonist. One part of the game also includes chasing a "white rabbit".