Checking the Score: Rule of Rose

Checking the Score is a feature about video game music, composers, musicians and tools of the trade.

It’s a ten year old PS2 game that all but a few have probably forgotten — and not many played — but Rule of Rose created a minor stir in 2006 for its themes of childhood violence (both perpetrated by and against children) and eroticism. Banned in several countries, it was released by Atlus in the United States and received a mixed reaction from critics and gamers. While the Silent Hill-influenced imagery was effective and disturbing and the story was creepy as hell, the moment to moment gameplay wasn’t great.

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What¬†was great — and remains so — was the soundtrack by composer¬†Yutaka Minobe, who had previously scored games like Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragoon Orta. Minobe’s score for Rule of Rose was one of the first to use only acoustic instruments and live musicians. Focusing on piano and string quartet, the score entirely eschews the synthesized, electronic orchestral instruments that were so dominant in Japanese games of the time. Also notable was that six tracks of the score were released on a promotional CD, a relatively rare spotlight on a game’s music. Interestingly, music also played a role in game play, as records could be collected during the game, much the way audio logs and diaries became common in later games such as BioShock.

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Listened to ten years later, the music has a timeless and melancholy beauty. Moving between serenity and tension, sadness and pain, the cues — mostly performed by the Murayama Trio — are relatively short, most with a playtime under three minutes. Sounding more like late 19th century chamber music than video game music, the score for Rule of Rose was one of the first to demonstrate that game music could be appreciated apart from the medium for which it was composed. Perhaps the most characteristics tracks are “A Love Suicide,” which is the game’s theme song and includes vocals –in English — sung by the composer’s wife, “Piano Etude 1” and “The Attic.”

Although the promotional CD is no longer in print or available on iTunes, it is widely available online, including YouTube and here.