Review: Rosenkreuzstilette

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Rosenkreuzstilette is a Japanese indie title that was originally released back in 2007 on the 31st of December. That means that this game is almost a decade now that it has been officially localized. Back in 2007, there were nowhere near as many Mega Man clones on the market as there are now. Granted, Megamari already did the “Mega Man with anime girls” but the difference is that Rosenkreuzstilette doesn’t just ramp up the difficulty to absurd degrees and call it a day. Rosenkreuzstilette posses a hard but fair challenge and is actually really fun to play.

Before I explain why though, there are a few technical issues with the game that occurred as a result of being ported to Steam. The most jarring is that, when using a controller, movement is mapped to the analog stick and not the D-pad. Given that Rosenkreuzstilette is a reflex heavy action game, using the analog stick will feel unnatural and will make actions like sliding more difficult. What is even worse is that the original release of this game had the arrow keys mapped to the control stick, and that this is only in the Steam version. According to a thread on the game’s Steam page, the developers are working on it, but considering that it has been three months since it was released, I don’t have much confidence it will be fixed any time soon.

The second problem is that the game had a habit of glitching up when I tried to switch to full screen via the window icon.  The screenshot below is what the screen looked like when this bug occurred. It froze on the current in-game screen and pushed the current screen into the corner instead of stretching. What makes this worse is that after exciting out of the game, the game audio continues to play and when I press any buttons that the game uses, the sound effects play as if the game is still turned on. As a result, I end up needing to reset my computer several times.  I technically did experience the latter part in a few other Steam games, but I have not had it occur anywhere near as frequently as in this game.

If one is responding to this observation with “well then just use the in-game menu to change the screen size,” then that is where another problem comes in. For some baffling reason, this game’s developer thought that this Mega Man clone was not similar enough to Mega Man and did not include a save function. Instead, we have the same password system that the NES Mega Man games used. This is a long outdated system that had no place in a game released in 2017 OR 2007. No one was asking for this game to use a password system, and no one would have said Rosenkreuzstilette was not a proper Mega Man successor if it didn’t use a password system.  Not even Mega Man 9 and not even the Mega Man Anniversary Collection rerelease retained the password system.

“Oh but it’s not a big deal, you can just use screen caps and you won‘t have to write it down” one may say in this game’s defense. The problem with that defense is that you cannot look at screenshots while in full screen mode, and no one is going to want to play a game like this on a shrunken down screen.  This is where the issue with using the in-game menu to change the window comes in; you can only do it from the main menu. The options menu is not available during gameplay, so you cannot do things like change the volume or exit full screen. If you are playing in window mode, you can enter full screen mode by clicking the icon, but you risk the game glitching up if you do that. Thankfully, you can fix this by exiting to the main menu and switching back to window mode in the options menu and trying again. So the only options are to either A: write down the password like in the old days, B: keep trying to enter full screen using the above process until it works, or C: play the entire game in window mode. Naturally, none of these are appealing options.

One last gripe I have had with the game’s interface comes from when you try to customize the keyboard control layout. It works in the “press the button on the keyboard to represent this action” process. This means that you can’t cancel this action if you made a mistake or selected the option by accident, and you will just end up mapping backspace to a random action, which in turn results to you needing to use the new messed up control scheme to reselect the option.

So, now that I got all of that out of the way, it’s about time I finally talk about the game itself. Despite being a Mega Man clone, Rosenkreuzstilette has a surprisingly involved story that is far more compelling than the cartoonish plot of the Mega Man series. Our main character is Spiritia Rosenberg, a member of a special military branch of magic users (otherwise known as magi) that is known as Rosenkreuzstilette (Rose Cross Stilettos), or RKS for short. This branch was formed as the result of the Holy Empire being defeated lead by a powerful mage know as Rosenkreuz and his eight disciples, who lead a rebellion against them for freedom from persecution.

Things were going well for a while until RKS commander Graf Michael Zeppelin (or Sepperin in the fan translation) ordered a strike against the empire. Spiritia missed the announcement so she was not in on the strike when it occurred, so now she is torn between whether to support her fellow magi or loyalty to the empire. Of course, it is not much of a spoiler to say that she ends up fighting each of her friends despite never taking a stand with the empire simply so they can serve as this game’s equivalent to robot masters. The story and characters are surprisingly well thought out for a game in a genre that typically has story as an afterthought. In fact, this is a game that could have used a bit more story and character development given how much personality ever character is given in the brief moments you see them.

The graphics use a small chibi artstyle that is similar to the NES Mega Man games, but they thankfully did not go in the “use authenticity as an excuse to use overly simplistic and pixilated graphics and instead at least look like a modern title. They are also very well animated and drawn and it helps make this game feel like more than a Mega Man re-skin; the same can also be said for the sound effects. The music, however, had a remarkable amount of effort put into it; almost to the point where I would consider it overkill even for a game influenced by a series known for its music.

Rosenkreuzstilette has close to 50 unique songs, according to the first playlist that comes up on Youtube, and this is coming from a game that is roughly the same length as the classic Mega Man titles. For comparison, Mega Man 2 had about 14 songs that aren’t 10 second loops or jingles. I was actually surprised to find this because I did not even know what they could have been used for. It turns out that most of these songs only play at one point in the game, and for a short period of time. For example, all eight RKS members have a unique song in the cutscene that plays before fighting them, one that often last longer than the cutscenes themselves. Additionally, three of the Fortress stage bosses have unique music that plays in the cutscene before them, every fortress stage has unique music, and a lot of the bosses have unique music as well.

This is not even a case of quantity over quality either; all of the music is great. It shows that there was a serious amount of effort put into this area when the amount of names in the section for music in the ending credits reaches double digits. It nicely combines elements of both Baroque and rock music that sounds like a cross of the music from the Mega Man X titles and the Castlevania series. The music is soft when it needs to be, ominous and atmospheric when it needs to be, and it kicks ass when it needs to.

Gameplay wise, Rosenkreuzstilette is very similar to Mega Man, almost too similar. At a lot of points in this game felt like it was turning into a game of “guess the reference.” For example, every weapon ability is lifted directly from one of the NES Mega Man games as opposed to any new weapons, every stage has an aesthetic that is taken from a Mega Man game, just about every gameplay mechanic is take from a Mega Man game, and there were even some screens that were identical to the classic Mega Man games. As fun as Rosenkrezstilette was, it would likely have been better if it did not rely so heavily on referencing other games and tried to be more of its own thing.

While the mechanics and level designs are not winning any points for originality, they are still very well designed and fun to play. I have heard plenty of people claim that this game is easier than the NES Mega Man games, but I found it harder than I remember Mega Man one through six being, although it has been a long time since I played them so I would not know for sure.  Hell, it feels like the game specifically made certain mechanics from the originals harder. For instance,  the lasers on Freudia’s stage are a lot harder to dodge than the ones on Quick man’s stage,  and the Die geplante Zukunft cannot be used as much as the time stopper so you will need to actually learn those laser patterns. Additionally, the game’s equivalent of the yellow devil will be fought partially with upside down gravity.

Thankfully, Rosenkreuzstilette remembers to keep the levels relatively short if it insists on retaining the lives system, so that way it doesn’t take too long to regain lost progress. This is especially noteworthy when one considers that this was a major issue with both Mega Man 8 and Mighty No.9. Also unlike the aforementioned games, Rosenkreuzstilette rarely felt unfair with its challenge. Even in the exponentially more difficult playthrough as Grolla, the challenge is still fair as long as you can adapt to the new play style and controls.

The strength of Rosenkreuzstilette is mostly in its presentation. The graphics and sound are especially noteworthy, and the story is definitely interesting. All of those are reason enough to check out this game, but it would be nice if the gameplay itself were a bit more unique. Yes it is fun, but so are the originals, so are Mega Man 9 & 10, and so are a lot of other Mega Man inspired games.  There is, of course, a rather tragic irony in that Rosenkreuzstilette a lot of competition from Mega Man clones these days, but when put against the successor to the franchise that inspired it, there is no competition.  Rosenkreuzstilette is leaps and bounds better than Mighty No.9  or Mega Man 8 for that matter. $10.00 is more than a fair price for this game, but I am hesitant to recommend the Steam version simply due to the bugs and the lack of D pad support. As a result, I am taking a point off of what the final score would be otherwise, leaving this game with a 7/10. Hopefully these issues get fixed in the future.

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