When you make a list of great PlayStation 2 adventure games, one name which doesn’t often crop up is Glass Rose. Developed by a then-unknown studio called Cing, the game was released in 2004 by Capcom but never received a U.S. release, only translated from its original Japanese language for Europe. This murder mystery set largely in 1929 Japan probably still won’t make the “great” list even by those who play it, but it is undoubtedly a quirky cult offering that represents an intriguing break from traditional adventures. High-quality visuals and sound production enhance a truly extensive plot, but Glass Rose is a decidedly flawed experiment, and an acquired taste that demands sharp concentration.
Players takes the role of Takashi Kagetani, a rookie reporter who has been asked by his friend Emi to probe the deserted Cinema Mansion, site of an old unsolved murder. Emi’s grandfather was originally involved in investigating the case, and after finding his old notebook, she now wants to uncover the truth behind the grisly past. When they get to the mansion, however, Emi disappears before Takashi’s eyes. In a daze, he finds himself inexplicably transported seventy years into the past, yet still in the mansion – now looking as good as the day it was built and teeming with activity. With his friend nowhere to be found and more deaths to come, Takashi alone must investigate the tragedy that led to the downfall of this mansion, in the hopes that he can solve the mystery once and for all and return to his own time in the process.
Adding to the confusion of being sent hurtling back through time, you are presumed to be Kazuya, the prodigal son of the head of the household. This premise is handled in quite an obscure way, as you won’t really discover the reason for this mistaken identity until quite some time has passed. The main plot is a complex one and there is a significant backstory to go along with current events. The original murder involves four generations of the family, each connected to it in one way or another through a twisting storyline that – even now – I’m not sure I fully comprehend. I strongly suggest players try to complete the game with as few interruptions as possible. The first time I played through, I finished the game in a few days and the story made more sense than it did during a more fractured recent replay. It really is that intricate, and some of the details are only revealed by finding the optional “Denemon’s Notes”, so a large chunk of explanatory background can be missed entirely.
The large supporting cast is well-developed, but there are an awful lot of characters and you really need to pay attention to who is who, including during flashbacks. This includes the likes of Denemon, head of a silent film studio and the central character connecting the different branches of the family, and Hisako, his first wife who committed suicide after giving birth to twins, one of which carried a cursed birthmark. Denemon’s second wife, Yurie, gave birth to two more girls, Marie and Kanae, the latter becoming insanely jealous of her sister and trying to burn down the annex with her inside. And this is only scratching the surface, as the game approaches soap opera territory with the sheer number of characters and meandering narrative.
In Japan, the marketing push was centred around the main character being modelled and voiced by Masahiro Matsuoka, actor and drummer of the band Tokio. By all accounts he is represented on-screen very realistically, complete with spiky hair and denim jacket – which does jar somewhat when you realise the entire household mistakes you for someone living in the 1920s. Aside from Takashi, other character models are somewhat hit and miss; the butler, for example, is quite basic and uninspired. American actors were used for the English version of Glass Rose, and this is a fairly standard Japanese-to-English dub job. Voices might not be perfect, but they are serviceable.
The Cinema Mansion in its heyday was designed as an Art Nouveau masterpiece. There is a consistent style throughout, but each room is individually designed with a high level of ornamental detail. Every piece of furniture has obviously been researched in order to fit the overall theme, and the art is cohesive and convincing for the era. The mansion is very creepy, however, due to a clever combination of lighting and an atmospheric soundtrack. You’ll often feel isolated, as the non-player characters only tend to appear when something important is happening, so you feel cut off as you explore the shadowy hallways on your own. Background music only fits the period somewhat, but it does a good job of conveying the eerie, slightly mystical atmosphere. The music changes as you travel throughout the mansion, and the longer it takes for you to reach a certain checkpoint, the more strained and panicked it becomes.
This panic stems from the fact that each chapter has a time limit. The game is structured into different hours of the day, spread over a three-day time period. One in-game hour equates directly to a real hour of play time, but some chapters will take you only ten minutes to complete while others take almost the full hour. Once you achieve your tasks, the game will skip forward, so you won’t have to wait until the hour is up, but you must complete all of the set objectives (which aren’t always obvious) before the hour runs out. If you don’t finish in time, the game will reset, forcing you to replay the hour and costing some of your “mind points”. Mind points are like an in-game currency, which you must collect and store for use during conversations. When a character is withholding information, you can use these points to delve into their memory to gain insight into what really happened. Points are collected in several ways: by clicking on butterflies scattered throughout the game, by completing optional minigames such as Tangram – which is akin to a Japanese take on jigsaws – and by reaching the end of a chapter, when they get topped up.Continued on the next page...