Rose of Winter is one of the cutest games I’ve played. It’s a simple, short, no-frills otome visual novel, but with its lovely art style, fantastic writing, and absolutely frickin’ adorable characters, it filled me with a giddy joyfulness to a degree that’s rare, even within the realm of dating sims.
It tells the story of Rosemary, an aspiring knight who’s left the farm she grew up on in search of adventure, heroics, and maybe – just maybe – romance. It looks like her wish might come true when she finds herself in a tavern at the foot of the dangerous Mount Needles, with four dashing princes in need of a guide. There’s Falkner, the tiny, mustachioed prince of the Fae; the snotty child-prince Elgandir and his roguish caretaker, Crow; Tirune, the prince of dragons who’s confined to a humanoid form; and Kuya, the beast-prince of the isolated Moonforest kingdom.
These suitors represent the four main routes through Rose of Winter, each with a good ending and a sad ending, depending on the choices you make throughout. As I said, it’s a simple game, so there’s no “playing the field” or juggling competing affection values – you pick your prince at the start, and then the rest of the game is about the journey of Rosemary and your chosen man.
This is a structure that I don’t generally prefer when it comes to dating sims. I enjoy the “gaminess” of trying to match with the person of my dreams, and trying to figure out who that might even be, as I interact with them all. In Rose of Winter’s case, though, the choose-your-partner setup works really well, because each route is so different, and the two-person journey opens the door to some wonderfully intimate moments.
The princes themselves are wonderfully varied, and though they start out very archetypal, they see some great development even within the short space of a single playthrough. Falkner may be a pompous prince obsessed with his nobility, but he’s also a man who cares deeply for his kingdom and will do whatever he must to see it thrive. Tirune is cold and distant, but that’s because he’s carrying the burdens of thousands of years of dragons’ history. Crow is a charming, flirtatious scoundrel and Kuya is a fierce, aggressive warrior, but they’re both so much more than that – in ways I can’t share without spoiling some great moments.
Each route is genuinely interesting, in terms of both the mysteries that are unveiled and the relationship that develops between Rosemary and her chosen prince. Obviously, I have my favourite (Crow ???), but there’s not a single love interest in Rose of Winter that I dislike. There aren’t a lot of dating games that I can say that about. The men themselves are so interesting, and even the ones whom I don’t find particularly attractive myself become so through their interactions with Rosemary.
Which brings us to the real star of Rose of Winter: not the princes, but Rosemary herself. She’s so many things: smart, strong, goofy, cute, dorky, awkward, shy at times, forthcoming at others, sweet, sexy, naive, adventurous – the list goes on. The men all have their charms, but it’s the way that Rosemary reacts to them that makes the game so adorable. Her bashful reaction to being thrust against Kuya’s bare chest by a sudden storm; the careful way she shields Tirune from the cold; her imagining how sex between a human-sized human and a Fae-sized Fae would work – all these little, cute moments build up a picture of a woman who’s complex, layered, sympathetic, and lovable. Handsome and charming as they are, the men in this game would be nothing without Rosemary.
Though it’s not an explicit game at all, Rose of Winter does get very sexy at times. A lot of that is to do with writing that effortlessly spans all manner of different scenarios and styles, from that timeless, classic romance (“The brush of his stubble against my cheek. The way he gently sucks on my lower lip, pulling me closer into his kiss…”) to silly, sexy fun (“Since I got to touch your [chest], it’s only fair that you get to touch mine.”). Even when I didn’t find the men themselves particularly hot, each route managed to find that sexiness with the intimacy and sensuality shared between Rosemary and the prince.
The one thing that I would have loved to see is an image gallery. There are so many great stills throughout Rose of Winter, but there’s no way to revisit them other than playing a route again or being quick on the screenshot button. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but it’s a genre staple that would be nice to see here, especially given how nice the art is.
As a brief aside, Rose of Winter has been a huge inspiration to me as a budding game developer with a particular interest in visual novels and dating sims. It’s made with Fungus, a neat Unity visual novel toolkit that I’ve been messing around with myself, so it’s nice to see such a great example of a commercial Fungus game. It’s also a great example of how much can be achieved even within the confines of fairly simple dialogue trees. There’s so much depth in these four independent routes, each with just a few different branches and two endings.
It won’t be for everyone (what otome game is?), but anyone who enjoys a cute, fun romance story with surprisingly deep love interests and an adorable, tough, relatable heroine should look into Rose of Winter as soon as possible.
A press copy was supplied by Pillow Fight Games for this review.