“Oh, a new Indie Hell Zone post, I hope it isn’t another RPG,” is what you may be thinking. Alas, you’re wrong. I’m in the middle of my JRPG McSwordGuy character arc, I’m playing RPGs on everything I have and I will not stop. In fact, I specifically make it a point to play more indie RPGs because most people act like the only indie RPGs that exist are ones that can be superficially tied to Earthbound, so I do this in hopes of broadening people’s horizons.
By coincidence, the host of RPG Maker Cola gave me a gift code for a recently released game, A Ghostly Rose. Thank you Benny for supporting my hedonism and allowing me to force everyone to learn about more indie RPGs.
A Ghostly Rose is a game by zDS, a smaller RPG Maker creator who previously made Three Ghostly Roses. While it shares the same core as Three Ghostly Roses, A Ghostly Rose is changed up enough to essentially be a new game, so you should see this more as a reimagining than a remake.
In A Ghostly Rose, you are Edmund, an unfortunate soul trapped in the Web, a purgatory like state. He’s not alive, but he’s not quite dead either – yet. With the memory of his daughter Rose in his mind, Edmund goes out on a rampage across the Web in hopes of attaining the power to see her one last time to give himself closure.
While the visuals of the original Three Ghostly Roses is very much classic NES RPG stylings, zDS builds on it to make a more distinct style. While I’m mixed on some of the art, I do think it generally works with the game’s vibes. A lot of the game leans toward darker colors, which appropriately starts to lighten up toward the end, because until that point, man, being in the Web is a downer. Further matching it, I think the game’s soundtrack does a great job at matching the mood of the story with its general melancholic vibes.
But Edmund musn’t dwell on the melancholy, he’s got work to do. Edmund is a blunt guy that only has his fists – but that’s good enough to take on the more powerful spirits ensnared in the Web. Punch boxes to get money. Use that money to upgrade his punching skills in battle further. Punch a wall too, while you’re at it. No other party members? No problem. Punching and kicking is all he needs.
Turn-based RPGs with only a single character is something that I think is hard to pull off. Like, I actually recently got the remaster of Dragon Quest I on the Switch and it’s honestly not grabbing me. Unlike later installments, you only have the one guy to play as, and there isn’t much room for tactics beyond responding to what you need at that moment. This was probably the shit back then, but I don’t think it’s interesting to play today.
However, I think that A Ghostly Rose presents a good vision of what you could do with a solo-character RPG. Stylistically, Edmund approaches every encounter as a martial arts fight. Hell, he learns new skills by seeing a weapon a standard RPG hero would use and only uses it as inspiration for fighting techniques dedicated to debilitating enemies as he beats them down.
Edmund’s regular attack is weak, but it regenerates AP for him to use Artes. Artes target either the head, body or legs, and a good hit has the chance to injure that body part, which disables something and lets you deal extra damage when you strike that part again. It’s particularly important to strike the legs, because people with injured legs can’t act multiple times in a row, which is generally something you gotta shut down as the game gets tougher. Keep in mind, though, that Edmund’s limbs can also get debilitated too unless you have him take up fighting stances to counter that – and you can only have one stance up at a time, so you’d have to ask yourself what’s important to protect.
But it’s not enough to break an enemy’s limbs, oh no.
You gotta break their spirit.
Each enemy has a specific thing that carries them on, and if you destroy their hopes, they get broken, which drastically nerfs their fighting abilities. That one enemy that prides itself on its speed and quick moves? Give them a good Leg Sweep to keep them humble. Fighting that hostile plant that needs water to keep going? Kill the lady watering it to make it wilted and upset. It’s from here that you can use Edmund’s Blast skills – powerful skills that run on cooldowns – which are more effective against enemies that are broken as a finisher to put them out of their misery.
It’s a fighting system that feels good once you get into the flow of things. While the game gets harder, I think A Ghostly Rose does an adequate job at balancing it out by giving Edmund extra actions per turn, increasing his health, and giving him free revives as the game goes on. While you can improve the damage of skills through upgrading them, this is a game where making the most of what you have is more important than raw numbers.
If I had a criticism, it’s that head injuries don’t feel like much of a factor compared to the others. The health regeneration people get from a healthy head is barely anything compared to the amount of damage you’ll regularly receive, and it doesn’t feel worth targeting an enemy’s head unless it’s their breaking point.
I’m also somewhat mixed on the boss fights in the game, because besides taking up stances to protect yourself, they’re more of an affair of brute force than the strategy that carries you in standard gameplay. That said, the boss battles are cool. I actually love when the bosses pull out an attack animation that’s actually just an AMV of them kicking the shit out of Edmund. It gives an intensity that normal attack animations don’t bring.
As for its story, you’d get the initial impression that it’s a sad dad game, which is a video game story that I’ve seen people get tired of. Like I get it, they already made Nier Gestalt, the perfect version of one, we don’t need more. However, as I played through the game, I started to see how it treats the trope differently. Edmund acts violent and impulsive on his quest to see his daughter, which is kinda the norm for this type of story, but in his flashbacks and in his interactions with the friendlier beings of the Web, you get shades of a different, kinder man.
As it happens, Edmund’s dying regrets lie in his belief that he was a bad father, and it’s through that belief that he warps himself into a vengeful and angry person. These dying regrets also define the existence of the bosses of the Web, who morphed themselves and the bits of world around them to work around those regrets. The Hunter led a nothing life, so he established himself as a sigma-male killer to get the sense of power he never had in life. The Gardener was a woman that never got the retirement she wanted, so she holes herself up in a tower with the blooming garden she always wanted. The King was a failure in life and he does not accept his death, so he builds up a following of people to carve out a proper afterlife in the Web in defiance of the ever present robed watchers that view it all as a game. whilst being the cool guy he never got to be.
As for Edmund, he shouldn’t let himself be defined by those regrets – nor should he act like those regrets don’t exist, like the bosses. Instead, he has to look at the reality of how he lived.
The thing is, the bad interactions he had with Rose that haunts him were real – but it doesn’t necessarily outweigh the good ones he had and that they’re just as real as the rough times. In clinging to his regrets, he became a stereotypical vengeful father, but as he comes to accept his death, he comes to realize that he was just… flawed. His relationship with Rose is ultimately normal. There’s genuine love with some genuine frustrations, and ultimately, Edmund’s just a flawed man that sincerely tried his best and needs to come to peace with that.
Also he has a wife too, I guess, but she feels kind of a nonentity compared to Rose. I kinda feel the game’s weird about women besides Rose and the Gardener, but then again, most of the weirdness I felt was concentrated in The King’s arc, so it could be weird because he’s a weirdo. I dunno.
In terms of Dad Game, I actually do think A Ghostly Rose is pretty nice, and I think part of it is that because it’s an indie game, you do feel that it comes from a personal place and isn’t just something trying to appeal to the dads out there as a mass market product. I don’t know of the feelings that went into the original Three Ghostly Roses, but as the creator’s father passed between these games and the creator became a father himself during development, there’s fresh feelings sprinkled in here that gives it a sincerity that I appreciate.
A Ghostly Rose is pretty good, and honestly, I regret that I got this through a gift code because I’d have liked to buy a copy of this for myself to support the creator. It was a nice comfortable 8 hour playthrough, and that’s setting aside some side content I didn’t get into. If you want a short RPG experience that’s a mix of family drama and existential dread, I recommend checking this out.