An emotionally charged narrative, Utawarerumono combines both a visual novel experience with a strategy role-playing game battle system. Available to both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita audience, Mask of Deception is quite the lengthy adventure, lasting almost 50 hours, which is much longer than I expected for a deep narrative title. From the opening sequence of using Japanese voiced dialogue and minimal visuals, I knew that I’ve stepped into a world of mystery and wonder. In fact, our protagonist finds himself alone in a snowy field facing down a massive creature in nothing but a hospital gown.
Through the use of some witty humor and a touch of serious notes, the narrative compels players forward, something that is a necessity in this type of game. Although combat does accentuate the chapters in the game, especially around key moments, you’ll be spending most of your time listening to various characters appear on screen and converse amongst each other. Our nameless protagonist finds himself without his memory, suffering from a form of amnesia, and our would-be rescuer Kuon finds it fit to call us Haku. After a few more dialogue sequences and one hilarious misunderstanding, the duo finds themselves under attack by a pack of wolves. I should mention that they also rode on top of ostriches to reach their destination, which is quite humorous in itself.
Breaking the fourth wall, Haku attempts to repeatedly attack the wolves, only to find that he is unable to do so, and must conform to the rules of the battle system. Typically, you are presented with a highlighted grid showcasing where you can move during your turn. Attempting to run outside of the blue squares will show how many turns it will take to do so. After moving, you can perform an action, such as attack. The range of your attack depends on the type of weapon equipped, so if you have a standard melee weapon, such as a sword, staff or fan, you must be in one of the four squares surrounding your foe (no diagonal attacks). Ranged and Magical attacks much a much wider range, allowing you to keep your casters at a safer distance. Upon attacking, you are presented with various timed mechanics tied to critical hits. As you level, you’ll gain multiple attack chances, allowing you to delve out more damage and special effects, such as causing poison upon critical hits. It’s a familiar feeling system if you are a veteran of the genre, but provides satisfying engagement and complements the visual novel focus of the game.
As you progress, you’ll come across choices in the narrative that adds additional lore to the world. If you are looking for an in-depth battle system and do not care about the game’s lore, or the anime it is based on, this is probably not the game for you. Although you can skip through all the dialogue, it does take a considerable amount of time to hold down a button and quickly scan through everything in the game leading up to the next engagement.
The game’s visuals are certainly a high point, at least during the cutscenes and the handful of animated sequences that I assume are taking straight from the anime. Visuals are crisp and colorful, but the engine used for the battle system is quite lacking. As a game that branches across handheld and console, it certainly looks better as a Vita title and quite subpar on the big screen.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception crosses genres, blending visual novels with a slick strategy role-playing game (SRPG) battle system. The game focuses more on the narrative side, so don’t expect anything too deep in the combat. There are some highlights to it, including customizing the stats for characters and staying engaged with critical hits, but for the most part, you should experience Mask of Deception for the story.
Note: Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was reviewed based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.