I’m a strong and reasonably confident woman. I don’t need a romantic partner, but that doesn’t stop me wanting one sometimes. An increasing trend in many games, as well as movies, is that it’s ‘all or nothing’. It’s a trend I see within my own social circle too. To ‘admit’ you’d like to meet someone sounds like that’s all you’re interested in, when often that’s rarely the case. Life being all about balance means you can effectively juggle the two if that’s what you want.
Otome games, typically aimed at the female market, rarely manage to achieve this balance. Focused on following the story of a developing romantic relationship between a heterosexual female character and a male character, they all too often eschew the need for the person to have other things going in their life. There could be an argument that this is because most Otome games are quite brief and focused on just one concept, but Rose of Winter defies that expectation. It packs quite a lot into a brief tale.
Unlike most Otome games, Rose of Winter gives its main character the opportunity to pursue a career, as well as romance. It might lack some diversity, sticking to heterosexual relationships, but its protagonist Rosemary is a strong and capable young woman.
That’s noticeable right from the outset. Rosemary has left her family’s farm to seek out a better life for herself. That leads to her becoming a Knight in Shining Armor. Her mission in this case? To escort one of four princes through a dangerous mountain pass.
Notice how a typical storytelling device has been turned round a little? While so many stories would have a young man becoming a Knight, and escorting maidens to safety, Rose of Winter twists that idea around. Rosemary is far from a naive or vulnerable woman; she’s very capable, and doesn’t adhere to typical stereotypes.
At the beginning of the game, you’re given a choice of which prince to escort, leading you down a series of different paths and adventures. Each story is self-contained and fairly short in nature, but they all come with some important dilemmas.
The first time round, I pursued what was the more conventional path—Falkner, the Prince of the Fae. Traditionally good looking, dashing, and elegant, he seemed like the perfect Disney prince. Rose of Winter doesn’t stick too closely to such traditions though, which is why Falkner is also tiny—so small that he can fit onto Rosemary’s shoulder, which makes him a much more vulnerable figure. I soon found myself protecting him from various dangers and effectively spooning him in a cave. A far cry from the macho stereotype that princes tend to offer in any form of media!
And the first kiss? Sweet yet awkward given the significant size difference. This could have been an opening for some tasteless humor, but Rose of Winter carries it off with sensitivity.
Elsewhere, there’s the story of Prince Elgandir of the Southern Kingdom, which leads to a dalliance with his helper—a mysterious drifter called Crow. Through various conversation choices, discussions arise on how much authority should be respected. Along with that, Crow also turns out not to be who you think he is. Again, he’s a far cry from the princes of fairytales, being more of a cad than most.
It’s the likes of Tirune, and Kuya, that prove most vulnerable, however. Tirune is a weak human who can turn into a dragon. With the knowledge that he ate another person in a moment of rage, he shows tremendous vulnerability as a human being. At one point, Rosemary has to choose whether to protect him with a cloak or look after herself. There’s that stereotypical urge to say this is no Knight in Shining Armor moment, yet it is—for Rosemary.
The final story—Prince Kuya of Moonforest—is the most atypical of the bunch. Presented as a fearsome beast of a man, it soon transpires that Kuya is a fantasist who is thwarted by his older sister. It’s bordering on a cautionary tale of not believing everything you hear from a relative stranger, but yet again Rosemary fights back.
She’s never dissuaded from her goal as a Knight. Some choices might have her question if it’s what she wants, but you’re never pushed into solely giving everything up in favor of a man you hardly know. It’s in stark contrast to the romantic comedies we see on the silver screen, offering up no storyline other than the typical ‘boy meets girl. Girl was happy but drops everything in favor of boy’ concept. But it also reinforces the idea that one can be a strong and powerful woman, while still enjoying the company of a romantic partner.
The only significant addition I’d like to see to Rose of Winter is the introduction of same sex relationships. But as it stands, it’s an excellent start to a gradual thematic change for Otome games.