Utawarerumono is a popular anime series in Japan that has also spanned a whole set of visual novels, majority of which were never localized. Mask of Deception is the first localized game from the Utawarerumono series that has been finally released in the West. It will be followed by Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth which will end the story, so naturally the story in this game is expected to end on a cliffhanger.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is part visual novel and part SRPG, it is a fantastic mixture of two different mechanics to present a memorable story and cast of characters. Despite this, the game is rather slow to start and might appear like a slog during its opening when the main character, Haku, suddenly finds himself amidst snow in a forest without proper clothes to warm himself. He appears to have amnesia, which is a trope that has been used countless times now in most JRPGs. It is a pretty uninspired and bland opening with minimal gameplay. It is essentially a long cutscene that gives us a sense of what to expect from this world, which is not only dangerous, but full of all sort of weird and crazy creatures.
The story picks up as Haku encounters a large insect who is about to kill him, only to be saved by another weird Slime-like creature that eats the large insect, saving the life of Haku. However unknown to him, before the Slime-like creature eats him, he is saved by a mysterious girl by the name of Kuon who takes him to her village. Haku appears to have no memory or recollection of what happened to him and has to go on a journey along with the girl, who strangely appears to sport a tail even though she is a human in her appearance. As I said, the opening will take a good chunk of your time to set up properly before introducing the combat, which admittedly is a really fun aspect of the game.
Majority of the game will take place in a Visual Novel section where you have choice to progress through the story. Don’t expect to play the game like an RPG because it is strictly Visual Novel in term of exploration and interaction, however when it comes to the combat, the game shift to the top-down view with team members being placed on a grid along with the enemies. There aren’t any multiple choices for the story so it doesn’t matter how you will approach each scenario in the game. While you can manually pick a location to go for the next story event and they can be in any order, the conclusion is always the same so it is strictly linear in nature.
The combat in the game integrates a turn-based system with a strategy RPG style grid. You can see the turns taken by your party member along with the enemies so you will have an idea on when they will attack your party. You can move along a limited set of grid for each of the character and attack the enemy depending on your location. The combat is then enhanced with the use of critical hits that require a timed button press as soon as you are about to attack the enemy. These are called chains and you can opt to either make them auto or manually input each of them, which means you can execute a chain of attacks without critical hits if you feel like it. The amount of hits executed in an attack depend on the type of attack and some character can learn new abilities as they level up, increasing their options to attack the enemy multiple times.
The combat portion of the game begins with the ability to select the party members that will take part in the battle. You can also select party members that have a specific elemental advantage because the game relies on six elements: fire, water, earth, wind, light and dark. These elements can be exploited to take down enemies easily. In case you have messed up during a battle, the game provides the ability to rewind to a specific section in battle so if you are stuck in battle, you can use this option to go back to a specific turn. There is no game over during the combat so if you die, you will have the ability to either replay the battle or go back to a specific turn and attempt it again.
While the story that is presented here is exciting to witness, there are plenty of moments when the pacing of the story makes it hard to sit through the multiple conversations. Thankfully the game doesn’t shy away from attempting humor so it is not all dull and serious in term of the story. There are plenty of laughs to be had here and it is an adventure that can easily take you 40 to 50 hours to complete, so it is not short on content either.
One aspect that I enjoyed of the combat was how the developers tried to change the objectives of each mission so you don’t have to simply attack and kill enemies. Some of the battles will require you to approach them either offensively or defensively, which helps in keeping them less repetitive. I enjoyed my time with Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and after ending it, I am looking forward to the upcoming Mask of Truth to see how the story turns out.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a grand tale that will enchant the hearts and minds of players as it takes them on an incredible journey.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a fantastic visual novel that integrates some great ideas with its turn-based strategy combat. While the game's story is highly enjoyable, the pacing of the game is terrible at times, leading to some dull moments that dampen the overall experience.