From my past self to my current self:
What did you leave behind as you walked to the present?
And the answers will come to you
Lots of game reviews lately! It's mostly because of the way I plan writing reviews (with games often coming in last in the queue). There's like three, four months between me playing today's game and Net High for example...
Glass Rose (Garasu no Bara) was the first game by CiNG, a Japanese game developer which specialized in adventure games. CiNG is best known for their innovative works for the Nintendo DS/Wii, such as Another Code/Another Code R and Hotel Dusk/Last Window, which are often praised for their deep stories, believable characters and music. The Fukuoka-based company sadly enough had to file for bankruptcy in 2010, which is still something I remember quite well: I was living in Fukuoka at the time, and had just bought their latest game, only to read the same week that Last Window would actually be their very last game. Anyway, I was long overdue to playing this game.
Glass Rose is a simple point and click adventure at the core, with an emphasis on dialogue-based puzzles. You control Takashi in his investigation into the Kinema Mansion Serial Murders by questioning the varous inhabitants about the murders and occasionally picking up physical clues. There are also three gameplay systems that help give this game its own feel. First is the conversation system. While speaking with the suspects, you can ask about select key words from the conversation partner's utterances. This "Free Word System" allows you to steer the conversation the direction you want and is sometimes used in clever conversation puzzles, where you need to go into several conversation 'branches' before you can proceed with your main line of investigation. A second characteristic of this game is the use of Takashi's psychometric powers. Takashi is able to vaguely read the minds of other people, as well as the 'memory' of objects and naturally, this skill is handy when investigating a murder. Most of the time, Takashi psychometric powers manifest in flashes of objects or locations, which serve as a clue as to where Takashi has to go to next. These segments occur automatically, but during conversations, Takashi can also opt to read the mind of his conversation partner to get a vital clue to proceed (for example, when a person knows something, but wants to keep it a secret from Takashi). This skill is not 'free to use' though, so you must choose to use the skill at the right time. Another characteristic of this game is that the story is divided in distinct time-periods of one hour. Each hour, there are certain actions you have to complete within that time limit in order to move to the next hour (if you fail, you're sent back to the beginning of the hour; fail too often and it's game over). It's a system CiNG has also used in later games like Hotel Dusk and Last Window.
To be absolutely honest, Glass Rose has its share of problems as an adventure game. While the conversation and psychometric power system are interesting, the time limit can be rather troublesome, because the game seldom tells you what you're exactly supposed to do in each hour. As a result, you're often just wandering around the (giganteous!) Kinema Mansion, in search of people and other hotspots to check out. Because of that, the game often feels empty and dragging, as you're just looking for the correct flag to proceed to the next event. Each hour, everything 'resets' in the Kinema Mansion, with people appearing and disappearing from rooms, giving it a very artificial feeling (you usually don't come across people unless it's necessary to talk with them). There are also optional documents to be found within the mansion, which help expand on the backstory, but these too are incredibly tedious to find (especially considering the time limit you have each hour), so overall, I think Glass Rose is a bit disappointing as a game.
As for the mystery story, it can be both great, and disappointing. Disappointing is the identity of the person behind the Kinema Mansion Serial Murders, as well as the path that leads to this conclusion. In the early parts of the game, it's not possible to make a substantiated guess to who the murderer is, while in the latter half of the story, the game basically tells you who it is by suddenly given you information it had been keeping away from you for no reason, leading to a very anti-climatic ending. The fact that the suspects keep appearing and disppearing (as mentioned above) also has a bad influence on the story, as you never really get to feel the fear that should be within the Kinema Mansion, considering people keep getting killed off in a mere three days.
I might sound very negative about this game, but I think that's mostly because I also loved how this game was set-up as a classic Japanese mystery story. A beautifully designed Western-style mansion in late 1920s Japan? Invokes the yakata-mono genre, as seen in Kokushikan Satsujin Jiken and Ayatsuji Yukito's work. The complex family relations and the various, suspicious-looking members who all have something to hide? It was like reading a Yokomizo Seishi novel. The background setting of 1920s filmmaking in Japan, about the decline of silent films and benshi (silent film narrators) and New World Cinema's upcoming talkie remake of their hit silent film Dolls? I absolutely loved this part! While figuring out the main murderer of the Kinema Manson Serial Murders turns out to be not that much fun, slowly taking away the veils that cover up the many, many dirty secrets of the Yoshinodou family and New World Cinema was actually great! The game oozes atmosphere in the early parts of the game, when you're still finding out the backstories of each and every suspect. When the story actually needs to pay attention to the main storyline (the Kinema Mansion Serial Murders), the game becomes less enjoyable and satisfying.
Oh, and for Japanese music fans: Takashi was modeled after TOKIO's Matsuoka Masahiro, who also provided Takashi's voice in the Japanese version, as well as modeling for motion capture. Now I think about it, Capcom (the publisher of Glass Rose) really liked these kind of tie-ups in the PS2 era. Remember the Onimusha series which had protagonists like Kaneshiro Takeshi, Matsuda Yuusaku and even Jean Reno?
So is Glass Rose a bad mystery game? No, I wouldn't go that far. Besides some strange game design choices, it's mostly the conclusion to the Kinema Mansion Serial Murders I find very unsatisfying. But this game has fantastic atmosphere especially in the first half of the story, making use of a model that can be recognized as distinctly Japanese, which should satisfy readers of writers like Yokomizo and Ayatsuji. Glass Rose is not CiNG's best effort (and because Again exists, it's not their worst effort either) and the game can feel a bit too quirky at times, but in terms of atmosphere, I'd say that this is an exceptionally good effort. The first half in particular is really fun, it just didn't manage to keep up that standard all the way to the end.
Original Japanese title(s): 『玻璃ノ薔薇』