RosePortal Games has quite the hit on its hands with the stunning Whisper of a Rose: Gold. As a devout follower of the ways of the staunchly traditional role-playing game of old (yes, including Japanese RPGs) I found it to be a magical departure from the modern mechanics of beauty before substance and million-hit-points before character development world we've somehow found ourselves in with newer titles, and one that managed to transport me back to the innocent days of after-school grinding rather than yawning over news of the next "big" game. And for that, I pronounce it a smashing success. It's not perfect, but it's compelling, familiar, and depressing all at once. It's been a while since a game has evoked such emotion from me, and so I must praise it.
For the uninitiated, Whisper of a Rose may seem like just another mere casual PC title meant to draw in the PlayFirst or PopCap crowd with only a skimpy RPG layering and colorful puzzle gems lining up the rest of the in-game adventure. This is not so. It's an exhaustively detailed and picturesque adventure that presents itself as uplifting and mythical but surprises and enthralls with its unexpected departure into the darker recesses of a tortured, bullied, and oppressed teenage girl.
In the year 2024, only the poorest members of society are relegated to living in the suburbs. Protagonist Melrose is one of those unfortunate souls; a teenage student eking out a living for herself amongst hatred, bullying, and oppression by her peers and even her parents. Her somewhat obvious hobbies include daydreaming about a fairy tale world of superpowered princesses fighting for the just and the people they save. If she can't be the savior she wants to be in real life, it's only natural she flees to her dreams to become a different person.
Upon hearing of the latest technological advance known only as the iDream, Melrose makes a desperate attempt to escape from her parents and vicious bullies to steal a prototype of this special item from the local museum. You see, the iDream has the power to grant humans the ability to step into their imaginations and live within. It's a flighty plot device, to be sure, but it provides the escape that this depressed and horribly mistreated young girl needs in order to have some kind of semblance of a happy life... or so she thought. Inside the iDream's fabricated reality it's a much darker place than what even she is used to. Whisper of a Rose tells the tale of Melrose's adventures within and her growth as a person both in and outside the dream world. And this sort of magical realism really drew me in and didn't let me go.
If you don't stay for the touching plot, you'll want to hang around for the surprisingly polished gameplay. This is a typical RPG, through and through, but it's done quite well for what one would assume is just another casual PC romp. This is a living, breathing world rife with puzzles for the solving, monsters to be vanquished, and loot for the taking. It's no pushover, either. Even the first puzzle you'll encounter is surprisingly difficult and can take various tries to complete. The grind is no better, and it most certainly is a required one. You will not be able to take any shortcuts here. Even throughout your first few battles, which are typical turn-based action, it's a painfully long and slow grind. During the first few segments of the game I wondered if perhaps I had missed a key segment that would allow my incredibly weak Melrose to do more than one to three hits of damage to enemies who could easily deal triple the amount. This motif carries on throughout the game, so it's got the challenging part down.
You'll be doing all of the typical quests and missions you've seen in the past. Nothing new here. Fetch this, find this item, move this statue. There is an interesting crafting system in place that you might find reminiscent of titles that feature similar mechanics, such as Star Ocean: The Last Hope, but that's as far as the revolutionary "new" ideas go. It's all water under the bridge by now, but as you play throughout this magical tale you begin to find yourself so genuinely attached to Melrose's plight that these dalliances become less of standard gameplay than necessary elements to succeed. One more quest before you retire for the night, turns into another... then another... and another. While there are significantly large expanses to explore and beautifully detailed areas complete with hand-drawn images and illustrations, you will soon find, however, that backtracking becomes a serious problem. Especially since you'll find yourself fighting relentless, somewhat drawn-out battles at certain points where you'd much prefer the plot to get on with it already. Still, it more than assuaged my hankering for a meaty portion of old-fashioned battling.
Navigation is clean and the interface can be read easily, which is more than I can say for most modern titles on consoles, even on properly-sized TVs, so I appreciated the large, clean fonts and the open areas within to organize my items and settings. A hauntingly gorgeous soundtrack coupled with lovingly created sprites, environments, and ridiculously detailed dungeons play quite nicely together. It smacks of the work of a zealous RPG Maker devout, just to give you an idea of what to expect. It's very much like the quintessential "by a fan, for a fan" type, and this mindset bleeds through anywhere it can find appropriate. And it may well could be replicated by a dedicated user, but the quality of what's presented here cannot be denied. It's quite endearing.
The ride to the end to discover Melrose's fate is a long and tumultuous one and can become ridiculously difficult should you attempt to coast through it or take it lightly, but it's most certainly an enjoyable journey that PC RPG fans would do well to embark on. My only minimal dissatisfactory gripes would be that the menus, while clearly legible, could be gussied up a bit should the creator attempt another title, as it is now it does give off the aura of being "fan-made," which can and will (for some reason I cannot fathom) turn gamers off. You'll love what you find here, especially if you're a traditional RPG purist. Don't let the casual air or the price tag fool you, and grab Whisper of a Rose: Gold for a haunting and raw adventure that might hit home with anyone who has ever felt abused, taken advantage of, or like a diamond in the rough.