The PS2 being a beacon of survival horror gems is something that’s never quite made sense to me. Nothing against the hardware, I just didn’t see any trends at the time that would lead me to believe that games like Haunting Ground, Rule of Rose, Siren, Fatal Frame, Clock Tower 3 and a few Silent Hills would all end up together on one not-particularly-horror-oriented console. But I’m grateful for this unexplained miracle, because that selection includes some of my favourite horror games; in fact, if you threw in Eternal Darkness and Outlast, you’d have the lot.
This is also a match-up that I’m particularly happy with. Sometimes I worry I might be trying to force some kind of rivalry between two completely dissimilar games, but today we’re looking at survival horror games released exclusively on the PS2 featuring young female protagonists who wake up in unfamiliar surroundings and, for the most part, the players have to put the story together themselves by connecting the dots from their surroundings and also from a surprisingly sparse amount of cutscenes. Both woman don’t have to face these trials alone though; they each have a lovable canine companion who can be commanded to help them to search for items, or even assist in the minimal combat.
Now, both games also do have some pretty notable differences Fiona, the main character in Haunting Ground, is 18 years old, whereas Jennifer, the poor unlucky girl in Rule of Rose, is a whopping 19 years old. Also, Hewie, Fiona’s canine companion, is a White Shepherd, in stark contrast with Brown, Jennifer’s doggy delegate, a Labrador Retriever. Also, Fiona is blonde, while Jennifer is… well, according to the guide I found on the internet, she is also blonde, but the darker ambience of the game made it look brunette. Clearly there are no two more dissimilar games in existence.
I kid, but honestly there are plenty of notable differences between games. Haunting Ground began as a Clock Tower title, with a heavy focus on avoiding enemies while exploring large, scary locations. Rule of Rose keeps the exploration, but adds an unnerving combat experience with ‘imps’, small, noisy, mindfucky creatures. The story is Haunting Ground is a tad hard to follow, but relatively straightforward, whereas Rule of Rose is unashamedly a mind screw from beginning to end. But they do have one more thing in common – I would highly recommend both of these games to fans of survival horror, fans of the PS2, and fans of video games in general.
Let’s take a closer look at each game.
Developed by a minor Japanese developer you may have heard of named ‘Capcom’, a game entitled ‘Demento’ was first shown to the world at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show, after a teaser had been released two days prior. In spring 2005, the game was released worldwide under the name ‘Haunting Ground’. Haunting Ground was originally intended to be the fifth game in the Clock Tower series – an oddity since numerically, that series only goes up to ‘3’ – but whether they felt it strayed too far from its roots or they just couldn’t figure out how it would fit in to the Clock Tower timeline, it was eventually decided that Haunting Ground would be its own game. Outside of a cameo in Tatsunoko VS Capcom (specifically in the ending of ‘Joe the Condor’,) Haunting Ground has not been followed up, and no plans are currently in the works to change this.
The game opens with Fiona Belli, an 18 year old college student (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jill Valentine’s redesign in Resident Evil 5,) waking up in a cage in the filthy cellar of an unknown castle. Undressed, unaware, and uncomfortable, there is at least one silver lining; whoever put her in the cage forgot to lock the door, and there’s a silk sheet nearby to cover herself with. Finding a dog’s collar inscribed with the name ‘Hewie’, she nervously makes her way out of the cellar and into the courtyard of the gigantic castle, hoping to find answers, but more importantly, a safe way out.
While it was no Silent Hill, Haunting Ground was most-definitely received positively. Unfortunately, it never really came to that much attention, in part due to the timing of the release; Resident Evil 4 came out barely a month beforehand, although in a bizarre and often unrecognized cameo, Hewie, the dog in Haunting Ground, makes a cameo in that game as the dog Leon rescues from a bear trap (and later helps Leon by distracting El Gigante during the game’s second boss fight.) Unfortunately, while Haunting Ground was received well – it’s highest honour being named ‘Game of the Month’ of May 2005 by IGN – it hasn’t gained a particularly strong cult following. Nonetheless, its memorable characters, original gameplay, and incredibly unnerving atmosphere have made it a classic in the eyes of many fans of the horror genre.
Released in North America and Europe in the autumn of 2006, Rule of Rose was mainly developed by the Japanese studio ‘Punchline’, a studio that had previously made only a single game; ‘Chulip’ in which you play the role of a cartoon man has to run errands and kiss all of the villagers in a small town in order to recover stolen fragments of a torn love letter. As of June 2006, the entire company was comprised of around 25 people. However, they did have some help from the Japanese production and development arm of Sony, who themselves had experience in developing horror games as they were responsible for creating ‘Siren’, which, for all its faults, flaws, failings and foibles, is an absolutely terrifying game with a brilliantly unnerving atmosphere. This branch of Sony also developed ‘Loco Roco’, a wonderful game that’s carefree, upbeat, goofy, colourful and happy – more or less the exact opposite of Rule of Rose.
Rule of Rose opens with a young women named Jennifer, waking up on a bus that shortly delivers herself and an unnamed much younger boy to a hardly-trodden path on a country lane in the middle of the night. The giggling boy runs up the path, and Jennifer cautiously follows behind him until they’ve both reached an orphanage that you would be forgiven for assuming is abandoned. Following him into the attic, and then a courtyard, Jennifer eventually stumbles on something she shouldn’t, and faints. Later, she awakens on a mysterious airship, populated by the many children of the orphanage, all named as princes or princesses. But Jennifer isn’t a princess; she’s simply a poor, unlucky girl at the mercy of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, a social hierarchy comprised of the most popular – and powerful – girls in the orphanage.
The most notorious attention the game ever got was when it ended up banned from a number of countries due to misinformed rumours about the content of the game. When accusations such as ‘the goal of the game is to “rape, beat up and kill a little girl”,’ are made (in French,) it’s easy to overreact, but while the game is incredibly creepy – and part of this creepiness is due to nearly all of the characters being young girls – accusations like that are also completely unfounded. I couldn’t find a verified source, but rumour has it that the reason these claims were made was because the developers hired a publicist to actively hype up the game by exaggerating the amount of controversial content. If true, this tactic may have backfired, since Sony refused to publish the game in America (Atlus published it instead) and the game was never released in the UK. It was also never released in Australia, but, let’s face it, banning the release of video games is kind of a national hobby over there.
Nevertheless, while I was lucky enough to find a copy on eBay and thus didn’t have to import one, it’s no surprise to me that the cover and manual are in Italian. Which is a real shame, because the game doesn’t deserve to be remembered for a stirred up controversy, but for being the single most uncomfortable and unnerving game I’ve ever played, which in every genre except horror would be a horrible misstep. Rule of Rose is almost a reversed ‘Among The Sleep’; instead of playing as a child, seeing horrific adult situations and not understanding what they mean, Rule of Rose portrays a ‘Lord of the Flies’ situation in which through Jennifer’s eyes, you witness what children are truly capable of.
Now that we’ve introduced both of the games, let’s jump straight into the comparisons.
While neither one of these games is going to challenge ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ when it comes to pushing the boundaries of the PS2, they both feature very impressive graphics, albeit in very different ways. I don’t know how the design of Haunting Ground was structured, but for whatever reason, the game very rarely needs to load anything, so the action doesn’t slow down when you’re fleeing from garden to castle to great hall and back again in barely under a minute; all visually impressive locations. Rule of Rose isn’t as advanced, but fully utilizes its graphics to the desired effect; to portray the game as a twisted children’s book.
The locations in Haunting Ground are great. Several areas are very large, and being able to run from place to place without having to pause really helps keep the gameplay tense and thrilling. Even if you weren’t being pursued, the areas you explore in the game are very detailed and intriguing. The opening area, a castle, has a layout that actually resembles a castle, with bedrooms, bathrooms, dining rooms and a large kitchen. But don’t think there isn’t variety; from a forest to an indoor merry-go-round that inexplicably becomes covered in blood, and even a room with a woolly mammoth that I’m relatively certain is dead (but then how do you explain how the eyes follow you?) there is so much to see in Haunting Ground, and it’s so highly-detailed that if you ever manage to catch your breath from being chased down the stairs by the psychopathic man-child who wants to rip your limbs off, you’re sure to be impressed by the architecture.
Rule of Rose is much less traditionally impressive, but there’s still a lot to see that clearly took a lot of effort, especially for a team of no more than 25 people. The presentation has more in common with psychological horror games like Silent Hill, with graphics that intentionally make the game look like it’s being played on an older TV. Given that the game takes place in the 1930s, it’s quite a nice effect. The semi-frequent cutscenes make it clear that Rule of Rose could’ve just as easily looked as nice as Haunting Ground, but it prioritizes setting the atmosphere above using traditionally impressive graphics. It’s not bad, and I would even say that the atmosphere in Rule of Rose is even more uneasy than the competition, but while the capabilities are there, the game just isn’t as visually appealing. It doesn’t help that the majority of the game takes place in dark rooms and dark corridors with dark undertones.
Back to Haunting Ground, the environments are great, but how do the characters look? Well, Fiona and Hewie both look great – due to some unexpected behind-the-scenes footage I wandered across, I can confirm that they actually designed Hewie’s movements by using motion-capture technology on an actual dog – and I like that while Fiona is a blonde 18 year old girl who begins the game with nothing more than a silk sheet to cover herself, it’s actually more unsettling than you’d expect, given the circumstances. The other characters look great too, and since there are only 4 different pursuers for the entire game, each one is original and memorable. The camera is good too, it’s reminiscent of those old Resident Evil games, only instead of camera angles that rapidly change and can sometimes confuse you, you tend to have either one or two views of an entire room with the camera moving to follow you.
The characters in Rule of Rose also look great, but unfortunately, the higher cast of characters means that overall, the quality suffers. While I can remember all of the main characters in the orphanage, there’s a supporting cast of more young children who honestly aren’t very memorable at all. The design of each of the main characters is exquisite though, and after just a few seconds of interacting with any of them, you’ll immediately have an idea of their personality. But the supporting cast is bland and forgettable, and while their design is certainly more realistic than the more fantastical (I love how that’s a real word) Haunting Ground, I feel that there wasn’t much point in including them, although looking back I suppose it would seem like a rather empty orphanage if only main characters in the storyline were ever seen.
Overall, this is a pretty straightforward decision. I respect the art direction of Rule of Rose and the way it works to portray the uneasy setting Jennifer finds herself in, but Haunting Ground just looks better on every level. The architecture is malevolent, brilliant, and occasionally representative of an M.C. Escher painting. The characters are well-defined and each very memorable. And there’s just more variety and colour, which is a pleasant surprise for a rather dark horror game. Haunting Ground takes the point on graphics.
Graphics might make the sandwich look delicious, but it can’t taste good without a nice juicy filling of gameplay. I should probably not be allowed to write metaphors while I’m hungry, but the point remains; the most important element of any game is how well it plays. Luckily, Haunting Ground and Rule of Rose are both entertaining to experience, but the gameplay in each is vastly different.
Despite Haunting Ground being more focussed on hiding from enemies and sneaking your way through locations in order to advance, it features a small combat system that mainly revolves around Hewie. Fiona herself can manage a weak kick that doesn’t do any lasting damage to… well, anything really, but being a horror game, the palpable tension in the air when you have to hide under a sofa and watch from Fiona’s eyes as a pursuer with intent to kill rushes through the room is the main force behind the game’s accepted status as ‘Really friggin’ scary.’ Advancing in any scenario usually requires you to collect an item with the help of Hewie, or solve a mysterious (aka confusing) puzzle. There are boss encounters, but they’re usually resolved through trickery, not directly through combat.
The gameplay in Rule of Rose replaces the chaser-chasee dynamic with actual combat, which could possibly be a bit ironic because in Haunting Ground, nearly all of the rare combat is handled by Hewie, yet in Rule of Rose, in which combat is frequently thrust upon you, your faithful dog, Brown, is little to no help, preferring to just bark at enemies while you ineffectively try to hit them with whatever you can find – a lead pipe or an old hatchet will do – and hope they stay down. While the combat in Rule of Rose is regarded as one of the weaker aspects of the game due to Jennifer’s clear inexperience using any weapon, I actually think it adds to the horror of the game. Of course Jennifer isn’t going to channel Gordon Freeman and successfully bash everyone’s head in with a crowbar; she’s a terrified 19 year old girl for God’s sake. It adds to the game’s horror and realism at the same time. Plus, the combat is clunky, but not unwieldy. The game has boss fights where rather than finding out how to use the arena to your advantage, you actually have to legitimately beat the boss.
Back over in Haunting Ground, the game makes it no secret that Fiona, and by extension you, are mostly dependent on Hewie to make it through the game. There are six main commands you can give to Hewie; Come Here, Go, Stay, Attack, Good Dog, Bad Dog. Hewie behaves like a semi-realistic dog, so when you give him his first few commands, it might take a few tries for him to listen, but the more time you spend with him, the more loyal he becomes, especially when you reward his obedience with kind words and maybe a quick rub behind the ears. When you come across a hole in a wall or a pile of scrappy dirt you can’t climb, you can count on Hewie to help you out. But be careful – not only is he your primary source of offense to your enemies, but he also has his own health bar, and while he can’t die (as long as you’re not on hard mode,) if he gets too weak and you haven’t found anything to perk him up, you may as well be on your own. Regardless of the difficulties, Fiona and Hewie share a common dependency that’s almost reminiscent of Ico.
You’re equally dependent on Brown in Rule of Rose, but for a different reason. As Jennifer can take care of herself (well, barely) against enemies, Brown’s main purpose is to lead you to items. If you have a biscuit in your pocket, you can let him catch the scent and he’ll lead you to all the biscuit-related items you could dream of. Unfortunately, he doesn’t assist in combat aside from the occasional angry bark – and he’ll sometimes grab hold of a boss for a few seconds so that you can land some extra hits – but at least once a chapter you’ll be relying on him to track down a plot-crucial item, and the sufficiently maze-like environment will mean that you need Brown more than he needs you. Luckily for you, the other children hold Jennifer and Brown in equal contempt, so they quickly become friends.
All in all, I hate to give Haunting Ground an early lead, but I have to say it wins this category too. There’s a greater variety in the actions of Fiona and Hewie than Jennifer and Brown, and while both games rely on a few confusing puzzles to proceed, Haunting Ground’s polished and traditional gameplay trumps Rule of Rose’s experimental horror-enhancing mode of play. Once again, I certainly have a lot of respect for the path Rule of Rose takes, but when it comes down to objective quality, Haunting Ground’s gameplay is more accessible, more tense, and more fun.
Normally I would compare the music first, but I feel like the plot of this game has a much bigger impact. Both games have a sombre, minimalist soundtrack, whereas the plots drive both of the games forwards. Haunting Ground features a few fantasy elements, namely due to the twisted nature of Fiona’s pursuers, but it’s also much easier to understand, whereas Rule of Rose is actually more realistic but with a greater emphasis on psychological horror that may leave you far more confused, despite no supernatural elements whatsoever.
The main brunt of Haunting Ground’s plot is ‘There are a bunch of people chasing Fiona’ and over the course of the game, you find out why. However, the strength of the game comes from the fascinating characters who do the chasing. The game’s first villain is ‘Debilitas’, and if you’ve played Outlast, he’s basically Chris Walker’s mentally-challenged son. He’s huge, strong, has the face of a baby, and a mind to match. He legitimately doesn’t have any serious ill will towards Fiona, he just sees her as a larger version of one of the many raggedy old dolls he plays with. And unfortunately for Fiona, he plays a little too hard.
There’s barely anything I can reveal about Rule of Rose that doesn’t spoil some kind of reveal, so I’ll go with one that reveals a little more about the context of the game without ruining any outcomes for you; you don’t play the game as Jennifer living through a series of unfortunate events, but Jennifer replaying her memories and trying to understand what happened. It’s not quite the same thing as Desmond Miles hopping into the Animus to relive some assassinations, but it does explain why Jennifer is 19 year old in the game, yet she’s in an orphanage surrounded by prepubescent girls. There’s a moment near the end where, upon a twist in the story, cutscene-Jennifer is replaced by 10 year old Jennifer, just in order to make it clearer that Jennifer has been stumbling through previous moments of her poor, unlucky life.
The actual overall storyline of Haunting Ground loses my interest because the longer it goes on, the more it delves into magic. Part of this problem is that while the characters remain interesting, every character introduced after the second pursuer is wildly inferior. It’s time to talk about Daniella. Daniella may well be my favourite villain from any video game. Without ruining everything about her, she may well be bipolar, as she can be found peacefully cleaning things around the castle and will calmly – albeit in creepy monotone – address you if you speak to her. This doesn’t stop her from occasionally chasing you around with a glass shard or fire poker with the intent of stabbing you through the chest and stealing your organs. See, for reasons best not discussed, Daniella feels… incomplete. And she hates herself for being incomplete, and Fiona for not being incomplete. She hates the sight of herself so much that you can occasionally distract her from chasing you by uncovering a nearby mirror, at which point she will abandon the chase to stare and scream at her own reflection.
I should probably be heading back to Rule of Rose but I really can’t overstate how much Daniella makes an awesome villain. She’s thorough, meaning it’s much, much more difficult to hide from her than it is from silly old Debilitas. She never raises her voice, except when she’s overcome by hideously piercing and unnatural giggles. And when she catches you… well, if Fiona dies to any of her pursuers, you don’t just die. You also hear what happens in roughly the next 20 seconds following your death. Debilitas accidentally rips Fiona apart. One of the pursuers does… something I don’t think I can mention. And as for Daniella? Well, she’s so jealous of Fiona for being wholesome and complete that from the sound of it, Daniella actually rips out Fiona’s reproductive system, or at least tries to, all while laughing like an absolute loon. Just thank God you don’t actually see any of it, although that arguably makes it even worse. But since we’re talking about – again – someone’s reproductive system being ripped out of their body, maybe not.
Moira Quirk did the voice of Daniella, and frankly she deserves the reputation of Tara Strong just from that performance alone. She’s also Karliah in Skyrim, although to my disappointment, this role does not include ripping out anyone’s reproductive organs.
Finally back to Rule of Rose, while the plot is confusing, one of the primary strengths is that there are almost no villainous character who don’t have redeeming qualities, or at the very least, understandable motivation. To quote the ‘Tear Jerker’ on TVTropes, ‘You shouldn’t be able to feel so sorry for the person responsible for almost everything bad that happened during the game.’ The story is confusing and difficult to understand, but it’s also incredibly memorable, and let’s face it, being difficult to understand is almost mandatory in stories that place high value on psychological. The setting and the characters are equally unsettling, but what makes them unsettling is that they never go so far that seem unrealistic. A story of a girl in an orphanage run by thoroughly creepy children with little-to-no adult interference is creepier than the alternative when the alternative is clearly impossible and Rule of Rose isn’t.
Despite my love of Daniella, this has to go to Rule of Rose. It’s the kind of game people can get lost in the history of. It’s the kind of game that a multitude of people can play and then all try and work as a group to piece together the whole story. It’s not so confusing that an explanation would be mandatory, but I was interested enough in the game that even though I understood what had happened, I still wanted to explore online and find out everything I could. It’s a great story, and while it could’ve been explained in less time than it takes the game, it definitely beats Haunting Ground.
While music isn’t widely regarded as one of the most important parts of a horror game, it’s definitely necessary to ramp up the tension in the air and build up the atmosphere, even in games where the music is sparse. Outlast and Amnesia: The Dark Descent wouldn’t be nearly as scary with Yakety Sax playing in the background. Still, this isn’t really an even match; half of the official ‘tracks’ in Haunting Ground are just ambient noises, and while they’re still very atmospheric, it’s nothing special.
One of the few regular tracks in Haunting Ground is the theme of Hewie, which plays upon meeting Hewie, and several times afterwards, usually just after Fiona and Hewie have narrowly escaped horrible circumstances. While it won’t be rivalling DuckTales’ Moon Theme anytime soon, I find it perfect for the setting. A weak, delicate tune that perfectly represents brief glimpses of hope and victory in an otherwise grief-filled marathon of traumatic despair. Just hearing it is enough to conjure the image of a girl somewhat numbly stroking the fur of a dog in disbelief after the two of them just barely escape a horrific situation, almost collapsing with relief at the prospect of getting a respite of more than ten seconds in which nobody will try to murder to them.
Hang around for too long on the menu of Rule of Rose and you’re greeted with a six minute long intro featuring mind screw after mind screw with this rather lovely tune playing in the background. While Haunting Ground’s music is definitely more suited to a traditional horror game, the music of Rule of Rose is far better suited to a psychological horror game. Giving us this intro song about love sung with a lovely voice, the game is spelling out for you, as clear as can be, ‘You know we’re going to take these innocent-looking kids, this smooth ballad, and juxtapose the hell out of it with horrific events, right?’ Even in its own, the lyrics include calmly-spoken – maybe even romantically-spoken – lyrics like ‘I will do you harm. I’m a victim of your charm’, and ‘I would like to shame you. I would like to blame you. Just because of my love for you.’ It’s very creepy and possessive, which fits into the story so well that to go into any more detail would reveal critical spoilers.
Each stalker (I’m switching to that now because I feel like I can’t use ‘pursuer’ any more) in Haunting Ground has their own theme, and each stalker also has a boss theme, which is a more energetic revamp of their regular theme. I chose Daniella’s chase theme (‘Lacking Something’) and boss theme (‘Last Daniella’) because they were the most memorable to me, but neither is really a great piece of music. ‘Lacking Something’ definitely fits the mood perfectly, and one thing not made clear by listening is that the music is played differently depending on where the stalker is in relation to you. If they’re right next to you, the music plays at full speed, and if you manage to put some distance between you and them, the music slows down as they transition from chasing to searching.
The boss music is much better to the point where it’s something I would consider listening to outside of the game, but for once, being traditional isn’t a huge plus in this area. It’s more frantic and exciting, and the player will likely be frantic and excited if given the chance to finally be rid of these godawful pests, but it doesn’t fit in too well in a suspenseful horror game. The stalker themes are perfect for uncomfortable horror, but too clunky and awkward to be enjoyable as music, and the boss themes make for much better music, but it goes against that uncomfortable horror. The music in Haunting Ground is still good, it’s just… well, the socks I’m wearing are ‘good’ and I’m not tripping over myself to congratulate the makers of those.
Since Haunting Ground just got two entries for the price of one, I’ll cover two more Rule of Rose tracks, the first of which is entitled ‘The Attic’, because when the game’s introduction is finished, it’s where Jennifer wakes up. Despite containing much more combat than Haunting Ground, a large amount of the game is spent wandering around like a poor, unlucky, lost girl. And Rule of Rose’s nose knows cellos, strings and bows are the best at setting a depressing mood without going too far. This tune is brilliant for going just far enough for you to be certain that something is wrong, but no further, and while you may hear it quite a bit, as soon as it vanishes and is replaced by more tense music, you’ll wish it was still there.
Speaking of more tense music, Rule of Rose sticks with string instruments through and through, and the payoff is great. The creatively-named ‘Track 16’ is a standout when it comes to a moment of confrontation in a horror game. Sharp, shrill, almost-desperate, much like poor Jennifer’s mental state when she’s stuck ineffectively swinging a hockey stick at demonic imps, the music does a great job of selling you the panic and fear of the situation without over-selling it. I think it would feel at home in just about any survival game ever made – I can picture myself running away from psychotic variants in Outlast to this, or watching in disbelief as corpses rise in Eternal Darkness. It’s a very applicable piece of music.
Haunting Ground definitely has some great music, but Rule of Rose’s is more consistently appropriate while also being awesome to listen to. We have a tie going into the final comparison.
As strange as it feels to be trying to put into words how much each game made me want to stop playing and hide under my duvet – stranger still that whichever game is more successful in this regard will win – both of these games excel at creeping me out, and both deserve to be congratulated for it. The atmosphere in each is top-notch, and they both manage to be scary by placing you in awkward situations you’re not prepared for, rather than just peppering you with jump-scares until the quota has been met.
Remember when I mentioned that Haunting Ground is peppered with creaks, groans and general ambience? Well, this may well be my favourite little touch ever found in a single video game, but there’s a musical spoiler when enemies are nearby. See, the stalkers in the game never stop looking for you, and due to whatever magic the game is programmed with, they are constantly moving through rooms just the same as you. But Capcom must’ve thought it would be a little bit unfair for you to just walk into an adjacent corridor and run straight into a deranged lunatic, so they give you a tiny hint. The background noise stops completely. It’s possibly the best idea I’ve ever heard in a video game. You’ll just be exploring a room, looking for clues, and suddenly you’ll realise ‘Hey, the music just stopped.’ Then you have maybe 9 seconds to run for your life or find a place to hide because whether you do or not, someone’s coming through that door.
Rule of Rose on the other hand is the kind of game that still doesn’t really do jump-scares, but it has no problem at all showing you horrible, horrible things. One of the few adult characters in the game is Martha, an old housekeeper and cook who, if you bother to talk to her, mainly just complains about all the young whippersnappers, Jennifer included. Likewise, the children spread rumours that she’s a witch! Oh, typical child-like behaviour… until a group of imps is seen abducting her, beating her to death and stuffing her lifeless body under the bed. Oh, to be a child again. And then, in a later chapter, you need to get an item from Martha’s room, and she’s right there! There’s a bloodstained potato sack on her head and she’s tied up beyond recognition, but her legs are still moving.
Her legs are still moving.
Back to Haunting Ground, and quite similarly, the game doesn’t shy away from showing you awful things, it just doesn’t do them in a sudden fashion. Fiona struggles to maintain her composure when you make her examine some of the more awful things she stumbles across – if you make her open a curtain in a certain bathroom, it becomes apparently that an entire section of the labyrinthine castle is underwater – but by far one of the creepiest occurrences, barring the dead woolly mammoth that stares at you – just gonna throw that out there with no additional context – is simply a very decayed corpse lying slumped on a sofa. That’s scary enough by itself, but much later in the game, you find a roll of film which contains footage of one of your pursuers entering a secret code to proceed through a locked door. The footage also creepily contains several clips of Fiona progressing through the castle, starting with the moment Debilitas carries an unconscious Fiona to the cage she starts the game in. One of these clips is of Fiona walking down the same corridor that contains the corpse. In fact, it’s almost like the camera’s POV is from the corpse.
Someone put a camera in a corpse and was using it to spy on your progress.
Back to Rule of Rose again in this bizarre scare-off. One of the few completely likable characters is Clara, who at 16 is the youngest adult figure in the orphanage. Despite being younger than the character you’re playing as, Clara was an orphan who eventually grew old enough to become a helper. She’s very shy and quiet and to be honest always look rather afraid and miserable, which is weird, because the middle-aged owner of the orphanage, Hoffman, seems to take a special interest in… wait, they’re not going to go there are they?
Well, judge for yourself. Clara ends up being a boss fight named ‘The Mermaid Princess’, named so because her legs have been tied together, and she’s suspended from the ceiling, screaming, laughing and crying while attacking you with bouts of vomit reminiscent of morning sickness, and there’s also a dodgy scar near her abdomen as if she recently had an unprofessional surgical procedure. There’s not really anything I can say about this situation that would make it more awkward. But the reason why Rule of Rose is so effective at keeping these things in your mind is that the unclear structure of the story means that the specifics are left to your imagination. So… was Clara pregnant? Was it Hoffman’s? Was it someone else’s? Did she have… y’know, that procedure? Did Hoffman know? Did Hoffman force her? Did she do it herself? Hoffman mentions in his diary that he wants to leave the orphanage, and he thinks Clara will do a fine job of taking care of it. Is this why he left? If he didn’t know, would he have stayed if he did know? If he’s gone, and Martha’s gone, and Clara’s… in no state to take care of the children, does this mean that the entire orphanage is just a building full of creepy prepubescent children doing whatever they want?
Rule of Rose gives you almost unlimited explanations for the horrible things going on, then laughs in your face because it knows full well that every single explanation it has given you is absolutely horrible.
It’s difficult to say which of these games is better when it comes to scares. Haunting Ground’s amazing stalkers mean that you nearly never have a moment to yourself, and you are in constant danger, but Rule of Rose manages to find that rare gap just in between ‘straightforward and unambiguous’ and ‘too confusing to be scary’. Honestly though, Haunting Ground dedicates its graphics, plot, and music to being creepy. Rule of Rose dedicates everything to being creepy. There is nothing in the game that isn’t designed to freak you out. There is no step taken that isn’t intended to mess with your head.
Even the clunky aspects of the gameplay just make Rule of Rose more scary. It’s a rare horror game that can turn the negative aspects into positives if they successfully make the game scarier.
This is a very close contest for me, probably the closest Game War since the very first, Chrono Trigger VS Earthbound. Once again, I would say there is a game I wholeheartedly prefer, but I respect both of them so much that it’s difficult for me to objectively say which I think is better.
And by all means, please don’t think I’ve told you everything there is to know about both of these games. Haunting Ground has an alchemy system I didn’t even mention because I very rarely used it, and the hierarchy in Rule of Rose gets much more attention in each of the chapters of that game, along with the ‘Brothers Grimm’-esque fairy-tale books told in crudely-drawn crayon animations at the beginning of each chapter. Both games have much more to offer than I’ve made clear.
But at the end of… blog, there can only be one winner.
Haunting Ground VS Rule of Rose.
The winner is…
I’ll be the first to say; I think Rule of Rose is a more complete horror experience. Everything in the game is tailored to scare you. But this isn’t ‘Experience Wars’, it’s Game Wars. And Haunting Ground is every bit the better game.
I appreciate the more experimental nature of Rule of Rose, and for a game designed by barely 25 people, it deserves to be much more well-known and appreciated than it is. But Haunting Ground is polished and refined in ways Rule of Rose can’t really hope to match. Fiona and Hewie’s journey through the castle and beyond is painful, dangerous, and terrifying, and reliving Jennifer’s awkward memories just doesn’t compete when it comes down to the most important thing of all; gameplay. I would highly recommend both games, but for me, Haunting Ground is the better choice.
So that’s it for this edition of Game Wars. Join me next time as I decide which of two NES launch titles can stay on track and avoid getting two-tyred. It’s… it’s Mach Rider VS Excitebike is what I’m saying.
Thanks for reading!