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The Winter Rose
Developer:Hatter’s Guild Productions
Publisher:Hatter’s Guild Productions
Release Date:2005
Article Posted:July 2006
System Requirements

Over the mountains but before the sea could once be found a forested land of beauty and enchantment. While human beings were few and far between, those that did live there did so in happiness and in harmony with their land and fellow creatures.

The death of this idyll was the coming of the ice dragon. From over the sea it flew, and from its jaws streamed a deadly black fire. Where normal flames might consume in heat, that which the black fire engulfed was frozen solid, held in icy grip as convenient food for the mighty dragon. What’s more, the midnight flames seemed even to draw the warmth from the very air, and an unnatural and enduring winter clutched tight the realm. The people of the land fought back, of course, and foreign lords came to slay the beast, but not one of them could stand before the terrible monster or survive its deadly breath; those that quested for its death found only theirs.

Those few who survived hid themselves away, and scratched a meager living from the frigid soil – but even they slowly dwindled, until it seemed to Rose’s elderly father that he and his daughter may well have been all of humankind that remained in the once-pleasant land. Now, lying in his bed, Rose’s father feels his strength all but spent and death creeping nearer. Yet he would have it that young Rose should not share his fate, and so tells her to seek her fortune outside of the ice dragon’s reach, to strive to find a way through the forest, perhaps, and thus, he hopes, to come to some other land. To this end he offers her his bow, and whatever else she would take, and suggests that she seek out the hermit who lived on the eastern cliffs and the Enchantress of the Isle for help in her quest. While Rose accepts the offer and the advice, she does not accept the quest. Instead, bold, adventurous and spirited, she determines to slay the dragon herself.

With that determination in mind, Rose sets out into the winter landscape. The dragon’s death will not come easily, however. To bring it about Rose will outwit a murderous forest gnome, help an abominable snowman, speak with a member of the “underground economy,” and much more. She will meet characters that range from cheerful through sage to grim, villainous and evil. With her bow and mind to aid her, she may yet have a chance of defeating the beast of cold that has beset her homeland...

The story of The Winter Rose has the feel of a fairy-tale to it. The game’s setting – a forest land with few people and magical creatures underscores this fairy-tale atmosphere, while the characters fit their setting, being written in broad, bold strokes, color making up for the lack of the depth that one might expect in other genres. Even the introduction given in the informative “readme” file, beginning with the words “over the mountains but before the sea” contributed for me to this atmosphere, having a similar effect for this story as do the time-honored words “in a land far, far away;” that of beginning to evoke a place that is at once familiar, magical, and unknowably distant – a place recognized from the stories of our youth and yet so very unlike the world in which we live. This is well-supported by the writing, which is decently-crafted, with a slightly archaic, story-book choice of words that contributes well to the fairy-tale setting.

Contributing too to this atmosphere are the graphics. The game is viewed in the classic static third-person perspective, as though one were watching the main character from an elevated distance. The backgrounds were hand painted by the creator of the game, then, as desired, enhanced or finished with computer-drawn artwork, according to the game creator’s website (which offers a brief “behind the scenes” look at the process that went into creating the artwork, which I found interesting). These backgrounds are in general very good, having a strongly artistic story-book feel, in places very slightly surreal – an aesthetic that I found to work excellently in the general atmosphere of the game.

The creatures and items encountered, as well as Rose herself, have a similar feel to them. All are rendered without shading, in simple, flat tones. Furthermore, the depictions of human beings, such as Rose, omit the details of their features, such as eyes and mouth (although close observation of Rose’s talking animation when she faces one side does show her mouth in some frames as her profile changes with the opening of her mouth) – only non-human creatures are shown with eyes (such as the Abominable Snowman or the Moiler Mole). However, while in another game this might have been a negative point, this minimalistic depiction works very well in this setting, I feel, again enhancing the story-book feel of the game. On the negative side, while most of the characters are well-drawn, a few are perhaps of lesser quality, a few items do seem a little crude, and some of the animations, while decent, are a little jerky due to having fewer frames than might perhaps have been preferable. Similarly, the depictions of items held in Rose’s inventory could, I feel, use improvement, although a few are nice.

The environment has been furnished with many areas and objects that Rose can examine, providing those interested in exploring the game’s world with plenty of things to look at, potentially enhancing the game’s immersivity – and showing an attention to detail that is most pleasing to encounter. It could have been all too easy to have simply allowed the player to examine areas and objects directly relevant to the game, and thus perhaps have created a more static, less involving world.

The music in The Winter Rose is drawn from classical stock, specifically Vivaldi. While not ubiquitous throughout, the music used is beautiful, and very appropriate to the atmosphere of the game. Despite the fact that only one piece plays during the majority of the game (being replaced by a more appropriate piece in the confrontation with the dragon), I found that I was not bored by the lack of variation at all – in fact, this choice of music is one element of The Winter Rose that I found to be unequivocally good.

Less pleasant, however, are the sound effects. While some are good, I found others to be a little annoying (the forest gnome’s laugh most gratingly so), especially because the difference in volume between the sound effects and music seems to be oddly large, meaning that setting one’s speaker volume to a level that allows the music to be enjoyed results in sound effects at a volume that might be found to be a little on the loud side (as was my opinion).

In terms of interface, The Winter Rose overall conforms to one of the most prevalent styles of adventure game interface. Rose is controlled entirely via the mouse, with single clicks of the left mouse button instructing her to walk to a location, use an item, talk to a person and so on. The manner of action indicated is determined firstly by the mouse cursor in use at the time, of which there are five: one each to instruct Rose to walk to a spot (indicated by a cursor depicting a boot), look at an object or place (an eye), interact with an object or place (a hand), talk to another character (a speech bubble containing the word “talk”), and shoot at a target with her bow (a bow and arrow). Each of these cursors is very nicely-drawn in simple black-outlined white, and the last-mentioned – the cursor that allows the player to instruct Rose to fire at an object or place with her bow – is a very nice addition. The desired cursor can be chosen in one of two ways: first, they can be selected by repeated clicks of the right mouse button, each one of which causes the cursor to cycle to the next available cursor, and second. They can be found via an icon bar that appears at the top of the screen when the cursor is moved into that region.

Talking to the characters met in The Winter Rose is a simple matter. Clicking on a character while the “talk” cursor is in effect has Rose speak to the indicated character. These conversations are generally short, and the player does not select what Rose says. Instead, when Rose has more than one thing to say to or ask of a character, simply initiating conversation again will have her move on to the next topic, generally returning to the first topic again once all topics have been exhausted, thus in these cases allowing the player to return to already-read conversations (which is especially useful when those conversations hold clues to puzzles elsewhere in the game).

Also available via the aforementioned icon bar is the inventory. When opened, this displays all of the potentially useful items that Rose has about her person. Here these items can be examined (providing a description on the item in question, and, in at least one case, producing new items from the one examined), as well as selected for use, either on other inventory items or in the game world.

When an inventory item is selected, the mouse cursor takes on the appearance of that item; it in effect becomes a sixth available mouse cursor (and becomes available via right-clicking, just as the standard cursors are). While this cursor is in use, left-clicking instructs Rose to attempt to use that item in the place or on the object indicated by the click.

For the most part items and areas of interest in the game world are fairly visible, although there are a few instances in which they are less obvious than might be desired – and at the least this game does not suffer from any true pixel-hunting tasks!

Rose will face a number of challenges, all of which are overcome with some application of inventory items. While one or two might be found to be a little tricky, these inventory puzzles are for the most part fair and good, some even quite clever, and most problems should be soluble with suitable application of thought and attention payed to the information provided by characters and Rose’s environment.

The world in which Rose finds her self can be a dangerous and treacherous one. Aside from the deadly dragon, for instance, the waters of the river and sea flow icy cold, and the forest is home to a malicious forest gnome, whose tricks can be decidedly fatal. Consequently, it is quite possible for Rose to die. If this happens, the player is presented with a death screen, showing an image of the means of Rose’s death, a brief quip, and buttons allowing the player to select from restoring a saved game, retrying the game from just before the danger, restarting the game, which returns the player to the main menu, or quitting the game.

Overall, I would say that The Winter Rose is a very good game. The graphics, while not always perfect, are nevertheless lovely (most especially the backgrounds), and the inclusion of snowflakes falling in the outdoors areas and Rose’s footprints in the snow behind her make for nice touches. The classical music is beautiful, sets a wonderful mood, and is very well chosen, which to my mind makes up for the less impressive sound effects. The overall effect is of an enchanting fantasy with the feel of a fairy-tale and gameplay that is fun and engaging. Despite this fairy-tale atmosphere, however, this is not a game that I would think too childish for adults; instead The Winter Rose is a game that I would expect both adults and children to enjoy – I know that I certainly did.

The Winter Rose is free to download, and although it takes place in a fairly limited area, is of decent length for a freeware game. At just over 8MB, it is also a game that I would not expect to pose a serious problem for those of us still restricted to modems.

The Winter Rose is a game that may be imperfect in some ways, but I do indeed recommend it to all of those who enjoy fantasy adventures, and especially to those with a taste for the fairy-tale.


PC System Requirements:
Windows® 95 and up (this game ran without trouble under Windows XP® on this reviewer’s system)
Screen resolution of 640x400 or 320x200
Windows®-compatible sound card
Keyboard, mouse, speakers