Sanguine rose is a completed adult game available on Steam for players who use Windows.
The game is a story based visual novel that uses the Ren’py engine. The first game update was pre-alpha 0.1 in April of 2017 and development finished in May of 2019.
We play as Roman who is a mercenary. After a kidnapping job you have to deal with an uncertain situation. There’s something fishy about this job and you have to find out what it is, and your crew is not happy. Your prisoner’s army is looking for their General so time also not on our side. One thing is sure, High General Carmen Valentine will use all her tricks to escape.
We start in a tight, difficult situation and the odds are really against us.
Set in a medieval fantasy world, the story operates with few locations and characters but is based in a well written, detailed and original fantasy world where two armies fight against each other in a war. Players can dig into the details about characters’ different habits, their origins, or how they think about the religion or politics of the game’s world.
As I see it, this game as a psychological mind game. Pacing is slow and there’s a focus on how you can read people through conversations and then make important and hard decisions. The first blind playthrough is the most tense and exciting, of course I got a bad ending in my first try but after I used a walkthrough, I realized that I can only blame myself for it because I was careless about little details and intrigues. It’s easy to judge characters how you want to see them, but you have to focus on what they say and how they act in different situations. It’s important to know when and with whom to have conversations. It really does matter how you manage opinions of the others. If you waver and don’t pay attention to the different personalities and motivations of individuals, and the little signs, then your fate is not in your own hands anymore. I used a walkthrough to explore every route and it was like when a puzzle is completed and everything becomes perfectly clear. The whole plot and characters are understandable from different viewpoints and I did not find anything irrational or an unfair outcome. Although I have to add it is a challenge to focus on details of the text because this game is strongly text based. Usually if you like visual novels it’s no problem with reading, but in this case I felt the amount of text was more focused than in other visual novels, which was ok for me because I really got engaged with the world of the game, but I have to admit that walking through all routes led to a few deadlocks when patience was needed.
Roman, the protagonist, is the crew leader of mercenaries, and we can make choices from his perspective, except during five optional events, where we can see the perspectives of Markus, Glasha or Crow. These scenes are a bonus to the story and are there only for entertainment purposes, if you want to you can skip them. Some of the choices do not influence the story, only narrative and dialogues. This way you can personalize Roman’s personality to your taste as the protagonist. Roman can be a different person due to this. Glasha and Roman knew each other before the kidnapping job and we can say they are companion-in-arms. However Crow and Markus joined for the crew only for this mission. Different routes show different sides of the characters and they are well thought out and well written. Characters have depth, they have their own backstory, opinions, secrets and motivations for the future. Glasha and Crow are half orcs or, as is said in the game, Glasha is a little more than half but not pure blood. They have different personalities from each other but half orcs have common instincts, which are different from humans, and it was interesting to see how they can experience things in different ways.
Gaming experience can be greatly influenced by the fact that players may believe that Carmen is as cunning, influential and powerful as story describes.
Personally I believed it. I felt Carmen was tempting, manipulative and threatening at the same time. She uses her abilities in a mix and this way keeps the player in a constant state of uncertainty.
When we talk about a fantasy story then writing is maybe the most important aspect, in this case the way the narration worked was a great plus for me. The narration is mixed in with dialogue to describe situations and actions so that the player perceives how tense and exciting the scenes are. Writing is close to literary levels in Sanguine Rose, with phrases what make this fantasy world feel really atmospheric and authentic. As I said before I think this game is strongly text focused so to be entertained for many hours, the writing is a key element, and as I see it, the quality of this work is the best of the best.
Sounds in Sanguine Rose are simple atmospheric sounds which keeps the player more engaged; you can almost feel the fireplace or wind blowing, but music is much more focused than the sounds in this game. The game’s music, similar to writing, is top level if I have to judge. I liked it so much that I can imagine myself as listening to some of the music in my free time just as a chilly medieval theme. In the game it’s used perfectly to influence players’ feelings with moods like hope, tension, and peace, adapting to the story. Different tracks have different rhythm and tone for different situations. In the first two playthroughs I felt balance in the variety, but if you play through all the routes then maybe you will wish for a few more tracks, especially when a dialogue session is longer than others and same track repeats until you reach the next scene.
Hallows does the writing, programming and composing in the DuskyHallows developer team. All the visuals and art in Sanguine Rose is the work of Duski. Character design is unique for me, especially things like the different body types for half orc characters and well fitting appearance for their personalities. During dialogue, facial expressions and gestures of the characters change to reflect their moods, which is a much more interactive feature than if we only see static pictures. In a few routes, if things get escalated, the visual appearance of Sanguine Rose gets shockingly bloody. It’s subjective how bloody or how shocking it becomes, but it was a good kind of surprise for me. The toolbar for text is a nice medieval style work but if we see the whole picture I would say it differs from the rest of the image. Most of the time the artwork is extremely sharp, detailed and beautiful but sometimes looks like another art style, more rough and blurred like paintings. If I have to guess at a rate for that I would say 60% of the artwork is extremely sharp and 40% of the artwork is painting-like. The biggest problem with artwork is not those that are in the game, but more like the ones that are missing. When I said before this game is strongly text based, I was thinking mostly I about a repetitive phenomenon when you see a picture which describes a basic situation for the player and the text tells you much more about the action than what you see in the picture, so you have to use your own imagination until you reach the next picture. Players can feel this most strongly in Epilogue stories. You also have scenes when you only see a blurred background picture while the text tell you what you have to imagine. Personally I don’t have problem if there’s tools like this in visual novels but I did not like the balance of how often it was used in this game.
The sexual themes of Sanguine Rose are interesting. You can find classical and romantic sex, but most of the sex scenes are not following this direction. To be similar with main tone of the game most of the sex scenes are not vanilla. I could use sex play phrases like S&M or BDSM but honestly I don’t know much about these so I would rather say dominance, submission and desire are the focus. The character who is included in most of these acts is Carmen. She can really tease the player, so it makes it harder to make choices with her sexual influence on you. If you think all the characters can have sex with each other then you’re wrong. Different routes lead different outcomes but there are characters who are available only for another character. If you’re mostly curious about Crow and Carmen, then you will not be disappointed. There are only three animations in the game, and they are super quality work but you can only find them in a few routes. Most of the sex scene is with still images. The more text – fewer image problem is not so drastic in sex scenes, maybe because the artwork is really arousing anyway and all the sex action is very well written, so player will not end up thinking too much and just enjoy it.
In my first two blind playthroughs there was a feeling in me that choices in the first half of the game decide the fate of the protagonist and you can’t significantly change the actions in the finale. That is not exactly true. Key choices are a little different from average, in that there are strategic choices which lead the player to a route, and not every choice affects every route. There are 8 main endings and a few small variations for the main endings, so the game is replayable if you are a patient player. If you would like to reach scenes or endings that you missed before then you can enable the diamond system in the preferences menu, this function will help you find routes to see things you may have missed before. To reach all content, achievements, endings and epilogues, my playtime was 23 hours with Sanguine Rose. Playtime for an average player may be vary due to different length of routes, and I would say with a normal route playtime is approximately 7 hours.
Sanguine Rose is a fantastic game which will compensate amply for few weaknesses if the player is patient and attentive enough.
This is a great example of how to do a game with only few locations and characters, and despite that how to show a well written, story rich fantasy world which has an engaging atmosphere and mostly beautiful artwork. Choices have deep impact to the story and there quite a few routes and endings waiting for players to experience them.