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A Quick Look At: Sanguine Rose Alpha Demo

…Am I being corrupted?

It’s a little disconcerting that I even have to ask that question: seeing how long I went without covering adult material on VNs Now. Perhaps the worst fate really is to fall silently after all…if I start praising terrible ecchi VNs just because of boobs, double-tap me in the skull and ask questions later. It’s a far better fate.

In any case, I always said if, IF I came across a decent adult visual novel that I would give it a fair shake here and so far, I’ve come across two. The first was Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome brought to us by MangaGamer which was hilarious. You can check out the full playthrough of that demo on our YouTube channel here. The second I just found out about, but despite its overt sexuality I can’t help but like it. That demo is Sanguine Rose by Dusky Hollows.

Sanguine Rose does a lot right to get someone like me on board. The art style is a throwback to the phot-realistic art of nineties gaming which, as you know, I’m a sucker for. There is a strong backstory and lore to the game that explains the overarching world and current events leading up to the start of the game. The lore and backstory aren’t just tacked on to give the game a weak pretense of being something other than masturbation fodder, and does a terrific job of establishing the main antagonist of the game: Carmen Valentine. And, Dusky Hollows seems to be reading from the same playbook that has led to the wild success of Summertime Saga (which I covered here) and involving those that contribute to their patreon campaign with the development of the game.

However, those are just the surface details. If you really want to get into what makes this visual novel work so well is the core of its premise. You play as the leader of a band of mercenaries tasked with kidnapping Carmen Valentine; who happens to be general of an army trying to reestablish a continental empire. However, after you (Roman) successfully capture Carmen, you and your mercenary crew are left in the lurch: forced to hide out in a local city and keeping as low a profile as possible until you can hand Carmen off and collect your pay.

This is where Carmen’s biggest threat comes to play, along with the game’s erotic roots. She is, without a doubt, smarter than Roman and his crew…the fact that they abducted her in her freakin’ lingerie might have something to do with that. Regardless of her attire, her unabashed hedonism mixed with her cunning is what makes her dangerous and that is what makes her so fascinating as a character. Her actions are simultaneously sensual and malicious. She doesn’t seem to hate any of them, but at the same time has no problem using and presumably killing them if the urge arises. She is, in many ways, an apex predator in the most ideal scenario and all four of her potential victims are trapped in close confines for at least a few days with only each other…and her…for company. This allows for both the story to make sense and, frankly, for the porn to make sense.

I’ve talked about creating a natural logic for narratives to build on and this is a textbook case of how well it works when executed properly. You have a manipulative heathen in close confines with people of relatively loose morals and the biggest weapons in her arsenal are her mind and sexuality. Boom: done. Even without the inclusion of Carmen, it’s a recipe that could easily lead to a hormonal overload and the demo shows that it logically doesn’t take too much for the mercenaries to let their guard down. It’s not a question of whether they can control themselves: they can’t. And the setup is, ironically, brilliant from the developers because, once you strip away the dark fantasy element, Sanguine Rose in the same narrative bloodline as the original Alien film.

A bunch of common workers on a dangerous assignment unaware of the threat lurking within close quarters of them. It provides a bit a darkness to the proceedings as you don’t know when Carmen’s games will turn against Roman and the others. It gives the sexual scenes in the demo, featuring Carmen manipulating Roman and a half-orc girl named Crow respectively, an edge that a lot of erotic games don’t possess: a real feeling of dread as these idiots are pulled deeper into a hedonistic wasteland, which will leave them open to being destroyed by Carmen.

It’s a high stakes game with what feels like an inevitable end. That’s a shame too because the characters here are well-written from what we get. All of them fall into familiar fantasy archetypes, but all of them are given enough dialogue to make them distinct personalities against the raging fire that is Carmen. Everyone is given enough time to breathe and show their normality. Again, this track backs to Alien; bringing the audience closer to them and finding what makes us common – making their situation both more alluring and dangerous. The one I probably had the most sympathy for is Crow who is, even in this crew, in way over her head and is led in her route of the demo to Carmen like a lamb to slaughter. However, it wouldn’t be survival horror-inspired if one innocent character didn’t have to face the monster alone, now would it?

Roman’s personality is probably the most interesting as our ability to pick his direction is limited into the larger themes of sexual domination and submission (we keep running into that damn theme whenever sex interacts with visual novels, don’t we?). If I had one true gripe, is that I wish he had more dialogue options with the other characters and especially with Carmen. All their fates may well already be sealed, but giving us another option than the watch it all burn down would help invest us more in his character. With this careful balance between lust and death being struck in the demo, I want a chance to help Roman and his crew survive and fighting for that instead of just automatically submitting to both Carmen and Roman’s hormones would do the entire game a lot of good, in my humble opinion.

Another thing that is keeping me on the fence for the moment is the fact that we haven’t gotten a true taste of what the full game will have to offer just yet. So far, the only public release has been alpha builds of the demo, and that has mainly been to showcase the sexual stuff and basic premise. I can understand where the developers may have gotten the idea that this was the best thing to lead with. However, I’d argue that the best thing Sanguine Rose has going for it now is its atmosphere, lore and characters: not necessarily the erotic elements by themselves. That’s what makes it unique and that, if anything, will be what separates it from the tidal wave of erotic VNs that want to stand out.

Of course, this is ME talking about something sexual so take that worth a grain of salt.

Ultimately, a full demo will hopefully bring together all the elements that makes Sanguine Rose work and use that near survival thriller (if that’s even a thing) edge, plus its eroticism, to make a name of itself. What we have so far though is more than enough to warrant your interest at least until we see more from it. It’s certainly worth me keeping my eye on and hopefully this game will be the first of its kind to get something out of me that raw bile and mockery. For now, check out the alpha demo on Newgrounds and see what you think. You can also find more information about the project on Dusky Hollows’ developmental blog here. JP3: OUT.