In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
For all the complaints about how gamers don't get some of the offbeat adventure titles from Japan, I suspect Capcom put this out in the UK just to show them that, just like Western developers, they don't produce gold out of binary data 100% of the time either.
I remember being pretty enamoured with Japan back in the day, but when I finally visited the place, I realised it was no different to Wales (or 'England' as I had to keep telling people, since Wales is country that's lost on a majority of the world's population). I felt happy and grateful to be there (a life long ambition), but I also became wise to the fact that it wasn't as exotic as the Western gaze made it out to be. I think the tipping point was watching a commuter break down into tears for no reason on a train platform; then watching a policeman poorly console her with handbook techniques straight out of Demolition Man. Anyway, the point is Glass Rose is like my first time in Japan. I got hyped up, got some culture shock and then I walked away feeling unsure if I liked it or not.
Glass Rose was an adventure game made way back in 2003 by the development company that would go on to make one of my all time favourites, Hotel Dusk. They even made Another Code 1&2. Win/win...but hey, nobody has a perfect run of anything. I don't know how this deal came about, but if Capcom were allowing Gregory Horror Show to be made, then maybe Glass Rose was also part of a big diversity plan. I'm guessing the plan failed, since Capcom didn't really attempt this kind of trend-bucking until they got the pitches for God Hand and Okami. Both were financial failures. They just can't win!
So what is Glass Rose? Well, if I stop interrupting myself, I'll tell you.
It's a story about a reporter, Takashi, played by some boy-band ejit with hair like Ian D'Sa and a penchant for stone wash denim. He's asked by a girl named Emi Katagiri to help investigate a case concerning some age-old murders in an infamous mansion. Turns out her grandfather helped out and kept a handy diary. The case was never solved and for the love of me, I'm not even sure why going to hack reporter (who obviously just writes the crappy 200-word blurbs scattered throughout the newspaper) is going to help or why it should matter to Emi, since her only connection was an outsider looking in...but hey, it's presented in some great FMV for its time, so I'll let it slide.
Once inside the abandoned mansion, J-pop Ian D'Sa/Takashi and Emi KATAGIRI (an important surname so hammered home, it loses all meaning by day one) are mysteriously transported back in time. Emi is lost in time, but Takashi ends up in the late 1920's version of the mansion...on the very day the murders start to take place. Spooky. What's even worse is that Takashi has done (or at least assumes he has) a Quantum Leap and keeps getting mistaken for a tearaway bastard child of the mansion's owner. You see, the mansion's owner, Denemon Yoshinodou, runs a famous cinema studio and he's asked all his relatives to show up for a mysterious reason...as you do. Anyway, it doesn't matter since he's dead within the first twenty minutes, so the majority of the story is about the family arguing over the contents of half-masked dad's will. Deadly motives and the occassional dodgy alibi are abound.
Things go pretty Agatha Cristie as more characters show up and get get bumped off at an alarming rate. Takashi is the prime suspect (he finds all the bodies), so he needs to figure out what made Denemon turn into a reclusive nutjob and who the murder is out of a cast of nearly twenty characters...oh and he needs to get the ghostly Emi back into the real world AAAAAND leap back to present day. Are all will readings like this? Sign me up!
Gameplay consists of you walking around a lavishly pre-rendered mansion and initiating a cutscene or two before the game's hourly time limit is up. That's pretty much it for what's supposed to be an interactive adventure. Every game hour, you get a clue where to go next, you go there, you talk to someone, you get another clue, you go there, you talk to someone, then there's a recap of the hour and you move on the next.
With the conversations, there's a little more going on and this is where the game becomes impossible at times. When you talk to the other characters, you have to highlight certain parts of their responsive text to open up another conversation branch. Its a unique idea and on paper, sounds like an innovative console attempt at PC interaction. Only it's painfully annoying and over-sensitive. I remember highlighting three words, something like 'so that was', only to find a character didn't understand me. In the end, it turned out I needed to highlight 'was' on its own. Sometimes the game cuts you a bit of slack and allows the extra word or two. Other times you need to highlight three words in a phrase, then the one word in the same phrase to continue. It boggles the mind how Cing thought any of this worked! So you're left there for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out what the next word could be, with these static silent characters (voice over work is pretty selective) inhumanly watch Takashi 'um' and ahh' in paused time, as the worst excuse for looped music plays loudly over your speakers.
The music is pretty awful. A three note loop that, as the game hour nears its end, gets progressively faster. It's like some kid learning scales on a guitar but in a half-arsed way. AND IT'S LIKE THIS FOR 8 TO 10 HOURS GAMEPLAY! Sure you get the odd change, but most of the soundtrack is based around two maybe three songs (one plodding, one suspenseful, one dramatic recap) that play faster as the hour draws to a close. You'd think they might have gotten a bargain deal with J-pop Ian D'Sa. Maybe his record company could have thrown in one of the many hits by...TOKIO?!
Anyway, as you travel around the same sixty-odd screens for the entirety of the game, you pick up heart fragments; little shining stars that overlay the beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds as subtly as the stiff polygon cast. You need these to get one of the better endings, but honestly, I got one ending (the best one) and never looked back. Also, you have a mind gauge. In certain conversations, Takashi D'Sa can use a special ring to activate psychic powers. He gets to see disturbing fragments of memories and clues for where to go next or open vital conversation branches to progress. It's a neat idea and just about one of the few moments where the game works.
The other moments that work? Well, now and again there's certain QTE events that keep up the suspense. You never actually know when they're coming and the game is all the more suprising for it. Unfortunately, there's only about 4 or 5 moments in the entire game where this happens. I know the game is point and click at heart, but they really needed more life or death situations to liven the morbid story up.
For all my disgrunted annoyance with this game, I have to say the story and setting is brilliant. It's a creepy tale of madness and regret. Despite the Quantum Leap bit, the story is typical Cing. You expect it to pull some kind of demon out of the bag, but it's kept grounded in realism. All the characters are thankfully fleshed out (despite the large cast of names to remember) and you're constantly interested in how they'll play their part in the proceedings; that's if they're not unexpectedly bumped off. There's also a major twist in the end that works well and makes sense depending on what ending you get. At Glass Rose's heart. it's a well thought out, old fashioned whodunnit. Also, its nice to see a game set in a 1920's time period. I'd love to see more games set in this era, since it's a great way of learning a part of Japan's history that gets overlooked in favour of samurai warriors. There's a few moments where the characters naturally talk about the encroaching Western influences that I found particularly interesting and informative too. Even though I was bored of the same actions again and again, I really needed to know what the big secret was. My only dissapointment came when a slow burning story was wrapped up in one cutscene. I don't think I even knew what the point of the Glass Rose puzzle was in the end, but at least I was satisfied with the overall plot.
Glass Rose was a failed project for both Capcom and Cing. Neither walked away with the results they wanted; Capcom never tried anything remotely offbeat again for several years and Cing wouldn't really get the critical success they deserved until they developed for Nintendo. Kudos for Capcom for giving it a go though. For all the talk of them rehashing games, you can't blame them for trying when nobody bought these experiments in the first place. I mean, people nag for this stuff all the time and when its finally at their doorstep, nobody wants to know. Maybe this was the evidence they needed to slap them out of their complacency. Hell, maybe this was Capcom's real plan after all, but the game is so obscure and forgotten now, even they don't remember the reasons anymore.