The winter of 2014 was a very quaint time. I listened to Damon Albarn’s ‘Everyday Robots’ everyday (fittingly), got back into Doctor Who for the zillionth time, and found myself obsessed with the amazing world of Yoshiro Kimura.
Some time earlier I’d watched the Game Grumps on youtube playing through a strange game called Chulip, which challenges the player to kiss everybody they meet, becoming skilled enough to confess their love to the girl of their dreams at the end. While on the surface a questionable concept, it has a heartfelt intention: in Japan, kissing, hugging, even just holding hands in public, is an incredibly taboo subject. The developers, Punchline, wanted to challenge their cultural norms while encouraging more open expressions of affection both in their country and the rest of the world. Between this, the cutesy graphics and the relaxing kazoo and acapella-led soundtrack, Chulip made for a lovingly unique game. Similarly unique was my region, specifically the PAL region, which was unique for not receiving a release of Chulip unlike NTSC regions.
Hence my time with Chulip was cut short by my unlucky geographic status. Meanwhile the Game Grumps had a breakup, leaving their playthrough of Chulip unfinished as my interest in the channel faded. Regardless, I got into another pair of youtubers, Two Best Friends, as they were playing through a strange game called Rule of Rose, which challenges the player to survive on an airship overrun by nightmarish manifestations and several sadistic orphan girls. Even scarier is the fact that it’s actually available in my region! My survival-horror senses were tingling, and I abandoned the Let’s Play immediately in favour of checking the game out for myself. So I looked it up on ebay and-
Hold on, what’s that at the bottom?
No, not the rather disturbing upside down mouth, I mean the logo to the right of ATLUS’, that looks an awful lot like the London Underground logo.
I certainly didn’t expect that.
Punchline made Rule of Rose. A game I could only call the polar opposite of Chulip. These were the only two games the company ever developed. I had to know more. This mysterious company has it’s roots in another bizarre developer, Love de Lic, and one man in particular: Yoshiro Kimura.
Between 2000 and 2002 Love de Lic disbanded and Kimura, a key member of that company, went on to found Punchline. Now at the helm of the madness, he was pivotal in the creation of the two aforementioned games. I was unaware of the magic of emulation at the time, so with Chulip immediately out of the question Rule of Rose rose to the top of my list. Unfortunately, while my region wasn’t an issue this time, my country was. As I mentioned, Rule of Rose involves a lot of nightmare creatures. And children. And significantly taboo themes of bullying and sexuality that had been next to non-existant in the industry beforehand.
Rule of Rose’s ‘controversial’ content was just the beginning of its troubles. While it got a delayed release over in the US, it wasn’t before sailing over to European shores that the hounds of the papers really started to tear the game apart with accusations of depicting rape, torture, and murder of children on-screen. All of which, as it turns out, were complete lies.
Sure, Rule of Rose is a horror game. It’s bound to feature elements of gore, violence, death and so on. But the extremes described by several European journalists (not to mention the European Commissioner for Justice at the time) are non-existent. The only human character to suffer any considerable amount of violence is the protagonist Jennifer who is 19, unlike the rest of the underage cast. After an official investigation, all the bogus claims were exposed for their bogosity, but the damage was done. Several more countries went through delays, but only in England was Rule of Rose’s release cancelled, permanently.
Cut to me in 2015, discovering that the game was now one of the rarest, most expensive horror games on the market. Forget Forbidden Siren and Kuon, Rule of Rose sells for hundreds of pounds and no less to this very day. But I couldn’t give up so early. I had seen more than enough to know that Rule of Rose was something pretty special. I browsed every online market on every form of currency in the continent (fun fact: Germany’s prices are an absolute joke: €50 for Haunting Ground? Really?) to little avail. What made my search even more hopeless was learning that Rule of Rose also had a physical soundtrack release. I needed to find that (I never did).
As I searched I got more involved with the small but comfy online community surrounding Rule of Rose. There were some pretty cool artists and musicians who loved the game as much as I did, with none of us actually owning the thing. I was convinced to perform Yutaka Minobe’s beautiful ‘A Love Suicide’ in one of my school concerts. I came across a fan account on Facebook which used the name of one of the characters from the game. They posted some in-depth trivia and theories (miraculously the page is still up, which I encourage you to check out), whilst being contacted by other Facebook accounts ‘Roleplaying’ as various Rule of Rose characters. I’ve never been into that stuff, but it was nice to know how many other enthusiastic fans of the game were out there. Eventually, I got lucky with a £50 copy from France, with a back cover I could just about read with the French I was taught at school. I say ‘lucky’, but it was still (and is still) the most expensive game I ever bought. But for all the enjoyment it brought me, the story, the music, the community, I don’t regret my purchase one bit.
Rule of Rose is by far the most cherished item on my shelf. The game was exactly as I’d hoped it would be and then some. As I think back to that winter of 2014, I hear the sound of Damon Albarn’s ‘Lonely Press Play’ and I think of Jennifer’s journey of horrific self discovery in that impossible airship.
After Rule of Rose, Punchline came to an unofficial close. But the story of Yoshiro Kimura was far from over…
Next time: We look at Kimura and other alumni of Love-de-Lic both before and after their time at Punchline.