Too much novel, not enough game

Visual novels are fairly new in this country, but thanks to the popularity of the iPad and other tablets, they’re quickly gaining ground. A crossover between graphic novels and games, they emphasize story and give players the power to alter it to varying degrees. Blue Rose, the new visual novel from White Cat, has everything an A-list visual novel needs: nice graphics, pleasant music, and player choice—but it also boasts a collection of bothersome flaws that prevent it from rising to that same level of greatness.

Blue Rose makes a good first impression with 2D graphics that are clearly indebted to Japanese anime. Men and women are attractively androgynous and have the typical anime googly-eyed, tiny-nosed, heart-shaped faces. Blue Rose is indebted to anime in other ways as well, such as in its melodramatic approach to storytelling. Anime stories are characterized by save-the-world plot lines filled with noblemen, magic, reluctant heroes, love triangles, and corny humor. Blue Rose has it all.

Blue Rose

In this scenario, you’re Lena, a young Templar. Your story kicks off with an action-filled scene on the edge of a cliff. You and a cohort of Templar veterans are battling a dragon, desperately trying to protect a noblewoman called Lady Adale. Two kingdoms are at war, and it’s hoped that the Lady can perform some critical fence-mending. During the battle, however, you’re knocked unconscious and awake in a strange room. The owner of it is a handsome but defensive young hunter who seems to want to get rid of you. To his chagrin, you discover his village which is hidden in a mountain area believed to be inhabitable. Who is this surly young man? How has a village full of people kept itself a secret? After battling a dragon, why are you even alive?

Blue Rose sets us up to solve these and many other interesting mysteries. It also serves up the promise of romance. Despite his hostility, the young hunter’s obviously your first suitor. The antagonism between the two of you goes into typical Taming of the Shrew territory as it’s clear the guy’s being a jerk because he likes you. If he isn’t to your taste though, you’ve got other hunky options. If you’re not into the hunter, then why not the sly, wise-cracking rogue, or the stern-but-sexy Templar officer?

Along with these three possible love connections, you also make friends with an over-enthusiastic bar maid, her less squirrely sister, and a mysteriously elusive nature spirit. Of course, as a Templar you’ve got bigger fish to fry than expanding your social circle; there’s a war on, after all. So many choices, so many decisions to make. Then again, maybe not.

Blue Rose

With so much going on, Blue Rose should be chock-full of fun, pivotal forks in the road, places for you to send the story in one direction or another; sadly, that’s not the case. The majority of the tale is completely out of your hands, and the only opportunity you have to interact with it is when you click to advance the on-screen text. When you finally do get to make a choice, your options are too similar to and don’t set up any real either/or situations. Many of your choices consist of choosing a location on a map of the village, and while choosing one location does seem to eliminate the possibility of subsequently choosing any other, there’s not enough information about any of the locations to know what choosing any of them means. This could be solved by some kind of rewind feature, but since Blue Rose doesn’t have one, the only way to sample alternate paths is to reload a previous save.

In addition to the rarity of meaningful choice and lack of rewind feature, Blue Rose‘smain issues are messy text and an unsatisfying ending. Overall, the text reads fairly well, but here and there it suffers from the bad grammar, weird word choice, and poor spelling of a mediocre translation. This interferes with the flow of the story and is fairly inexcusable in something calling itself a “novel.” Also, as mentioned before, many questions are raised and by the end of the tale, few of them are satisfactorily addressed.

Blue Rose

To be fair, some insight can be gained by replaying the story. Like most visual novels, Blue Rose reveals more if you go through it more than once; however, the less-than-compelling choices don’t entice you to do so. If you can manage it, additional information about the mysterious villagers is shared through a series of short “secret” stories. These little nuggets aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but they do augment Blue Rose‘s somewhat middling entertainment value.

Blue Rose starts strong but fails to deliver. It’s good-looking, good-sounding, and gives us the opportunity to play an interesting heroine. Unfortunately, it limits our interactive opportunities and by doing so, prevents us from either taking control of events or feeling our choices really matter. It also lets us down by not following through on its narrative promise. Still, White Cat obviously has the chops to make a first-rate visual novel, and if they iron out the issues raised by Blue Rose, there’s no doubt they will one day.