Kismet's Review of Sanguine Rose


This review isn't explicit but will discuss themes of violence, nonconsensual sex, and kink.
This novel is for adults only. Please approach with discretion and choose what's best for you.


Carmen's wicked smile

Images are from Sanguine Rose by Dusky Hallows


The Setup

Because I'm a long-time tabletop GM who runs games for mature audiences, when I first started getting into visual novels, my husband suggested I try Sanguine Rose. He told me it was a mature fantasy story but that was it (but he knows I don't like spoilers). That's how Sanguine Rose became my first adult VN.

Since I love noir and run noir games, I recognized what was going on pretty quick: Sanguine Rose is a claustrophobic fantasy noir story. The main character, Roman, is a noir protagonist: he once had a higher position in life, but he's been burned badly before and has scraping by ever since, doing jobs for those who can pay. He just got a team together to pull off a heist: kidnap High General Carmen Valentine - a femme fatale as wily as they come - and hold her until the client comes to collect. While the plan might have seemed too crazy to work, it did - but the real insanity has just begun.

Roman only knows one of his crewmates, his old buddy Glasha; they've worked and played together plenty of times before and generally look out for each other. Markus trades in information and the lovely half-orc Crow is their guide in the area, but they're mostly unknowns who have their own reasons for coming along. All they have to do now is lay low, hold Carmen until they get paid, and go on their way, right? Wrong. Because the world is as twisted as Carmen, and Roman didn't think twice before taking the deal. Roman isn't a bad guy or a completely stupid one, but he made a bad call, and now all of them are going to pay for it.

The Art

I enjoyed the art a lot, even though some pieces were rough around the edges. It isn't trying to be hyper-realistic and has hand-drawn charm. There are a lot of textures and details to the sprites. Some of it shows a spirit of fun; some of it is lovely; a few pieces might be disturbing to some viewers (see below) but didn't bother me. All of the art is Western-style, which I prefer, and each of the characters is distinctive. That said, it is explicit; you'll see sexual acts, penetration, and genitals; they won't just be described in text. One scene features shibari (Japanese rope bondage), an art I've long admired, and it made me want to see more shibari in erotic fantasy art. Violence is also shown, including bloody murder, so this isn't something you want to read/play in mixed company.

The Story & Characters

While the opening premise is rather simple, the story, setting, and characters aren't. The world they're in has history that matters and can learn a decent amount about it. The characters have different motivations and emotions that make sense when you learn what they've been up against. Even Carmen's twisted Machiavellian views make some sense when you see the society she inhabits. There are a good number of choices to make down some branches but not others, which seems to be why some reviewers complain about it being short - they got routed down shorter branches and thought that's all there was to the novel.

While there aren't infodumps, Sanguine Rose has a lot of branches, endings, and words. It's one of those wonderful gems that really blooms with replaying, but you're going to have to read and pay attention if you want to see it all. If you end up on a short track, you'll have to return to a previous choice and see if you can get on a longer course. (And there's a very good guide, if you want to get to everything without a lot of repetition.) If you're a fan of fantasy worlds, you'll probably appreciate the lore. I felt the pacing of scenes and choices was good, and I was never bored, but I also wasn't approaching it for simple titillation. As Tupac said, "Hate to sound sleazy, but tease me, I don't want it if it's that easy."

Roman, Glasha, Crow, and Markus

"It feels like she's forcing us to choose between two options, one bad and one that's worse." - Roman


I'll admit, I wasn't thrilled with my first play-through, but that's usually the case. I chose more stubborn options because I wanted to see how far I could get by sticking to my guns. Needless to say, things didn't end well or last long. I also wasn't used to a VN with a male protagonist, produced for a male audience, and I hadn't read adult stories in a while, so I also wasn't used to letting sex take over the narrative regularly. It bothered me that Carmen seemed like she was going to win every round, at least at first. These are common criticisms in a number of other reviews I've read.

But then I compared the tale and its characters to my tabletop gaming experiences. Carmen is clearly a high-level character and the others just...aren't. She reminded me of some NPCs in our games: intense, engaging, memorable ones who could also be frustrating and dangerous. I remembered how engrossing they could be and wondered if Carmen was that way.

I also remembered that it's a noir story and adjusted my expectations. Carmen is a straight-up femme fatale, down to the red dress, but instead of a fade-to-black like you'd get in old noir movies, you get to watch her work her sexual wiles. Roman may have some good left in him, but he's destined do questionable things, make mistakes, and get jerked around. He probably isn't going to win on his own terms - the deck is stacked heavily against that - but there are things about him that make you want to watch his struggles. You get sucked into his world. You want to learn about the people there, in all their messed-up glory.

And since all roads led to Roman, I figured I might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. That was a big reason why I was able to connect with the game, finally: I let myself enjoy Roman, not just from within his perspective but from outside. I appreciated the chances you get to switch perspectives to other characters and get to know more about them. There's even a scene without Roman in it, if you need a break from the beleaguered leader. There were a variety of endings, from disastrous to downright wholesome. I also enjoyed the epilogues available after certain endings, since they show more of how things change once the dust has settled.

When I went back to the game the next night, I didn't stop until I earned every achievement and saw every ending. (What can I say? I have a completionist streak.) And I had a great time.

Roman holding a sword over Carmen

In this dramatic standoff, Roman asks himself: "Is she getting off on this?" The answer is yes, Roman, she is.

The Mature Content

As per Steam, "This game is dark fantasy and contains depictions of frequent sexual interactions between humans and a variety of fantasy creatures such as orcs. The content in this game includes but is not limited to-

  • Minor Sexual Violence

  • Group Sex (several threesomes)

  • Prostitution

  • Exhibitionism/Voyeurism

  • Shibari/BDSM Elements

  • Murder

  • Use Of Drugs/Alcohol"

There are more than 15 sex scenes, and potential readers should know that a few of them aren't entirely consensual. Most of the time, direct force isn't shown, but one or two times, it's a brief factor. The entire situation is a power play without safeguards in a fantasy world inhabited by questionable people. It isn't meant to model safe, sane, consensual sexual conduct in the real world. I saw no reason to hold it to real-world standards, and if you can go with that, you can get more out of the conversations and twists. These encounters aren't framed as being traumatic; initial unwillingness turns to pleasure with time. If any of this bothers you, please avoid this VN.

Sanguine Rose is an adult fantasy that encourages you to try again and enjoy what comes. It isn't trying to serve every taste, but if you like fantasy, noir, and power play, you might appreciate the story.


Back to Top ^

Resources are free for personal use; please do not offer them for sale or claim them as your own work.

Please do not repost material elsewhere; link to this site instead. Thank you, and happy gaming!