Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a game loosely similar to the anime Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen. I say loosely because though the anime, and the game share the same general plot, the game diverges a bit along the way in an effort to tell a more refined, compelling story. A task that I am happy to say it does quite well.
The game’s plot begins with a young man in a hospital gown who finds himself in the middle of nowhere with no memories of who he is, or how he got there. Before he can process his current situation properly he is attacked by a giant arthropod creature, and is forced to escape by running. Through a series of fortunate events he is eventually saved by a cute young lady with some sort of animal ears, and a tale, named Kuon. Kuon names him Haku, and takes on the responsibility of being his guardian. Though Kuon may be petite in stature, she like the other people that Haku meet in this world is a lot more capable than him with regards to stamina, strength, and other physical aspects. Haku is an apathetic character, but through the internal monologues, of which there are many, he is shown to be a lot more caring even though he does not express it as much to others. Kuon on the other hand is very capable, funny, and a pervert. Yup, she’s the pervert in this story, not the bloke.
As the story progresses the two meet other characters, who I must say were all compelling in their own right. Even the minor background characters were polished enough to sell the believability of the plot. This quality of storytelling is propelled by strong writing, and it’s even more spectacular audio. The audio in this game is its standout appealing factor. The timing of every sound bite is so well done that you’ll struggle to pull yourself away from the game, if and only if you are a fan of reading. If not I’ll let you know right now, that this game is just not for you. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a visual novel first, and a SRPG second. Which is why anyone planning on playing this game better be ready to do an inordinate amount of reading. As mentioned before the game does have SRPG aspects, but they are not the primary focus of the game, the story is. This is not to say that the SRPG sections suffer because of it, no. In fact the SRPG sections are quite well done, but they are separated by long segments of compelling visual novel goodness consisting of very descriptive text, spot on sound effects, and compelling Japanese voice acting. During these sections the player is able to save, check a backlog if they miss any text, change settings, skip sections (I do not advise doing this on your first play through), and check a large glossary of information.
Oh wait…. I think I’m forgetting something… hmm…
Ahhh yes… the anime.
Remember how I mentioned the anime before?
About it having some differences with the game?
Well let’s just say those differences are there because they are two very different types of mediums, which are usually consumed by mostly different types of people. For one, anime tends to be roughly about 20 to 30 minutes per episode, with about 12 episodes per season. This adds a certain kind of limitation to a story, in that the animators have to fit a lot of information in a limited amount of time, all the while keeping it enjoyable, and cohesive for the viewers. The anime succeeds in that department by not exploring as much aspects of the plot as the game, but by focusing more on the humor, and fan service aspects. As for the game well it plays by different rules. A game can be as long as it needs to be, or as long as the developers budget can afford. A visual novel is the type of game that tells a story in the same way a book does, by giving us a lot of perspective via use of text, images, and character portraits. The best games in this particular genre tend to be so well written that the player can visualize everything that the developers want them to as clear as if they were watching it happen right in front of them. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception achieves this astoundingly well. It paints a much more vivid image of the world by exploring situations in much more detailed ways than it’s anime counterpart. I wish I could praise the writing even more, but that would not serve the purpose of this review, would it?
So let’s talk about the other aspects of the game. The SRPG aspects. During the game, the characters will be presented with a multitude of different confrontations, which you will be required to complete in a strategic manner similar to games like Summon Night, and God Wars Future Past (chose to include both of those games because this is the month of the SRPGs).
The gameplay isn’t too complex, but it’s not mundane either. It has some unique features like the ability to rewind time, and some familiar ones, like being able to check enemies range and abilities. Characters move along a grid based system, where they are able to move during their turn to the areas highlighted in blue, then attack enemies on areas highlighted in red, or heal/buff allies on areas highlighted in green. Each individual character’s turn is decided by their speed or SPD attribute, so faster enemies attack before slower ones. The attack system uses timed inputs to chain attacks as well as issue critical damage, extra turns, and status ailments, but it’s not required. Players can avoid using this timed input system if they do not wish to do so. The battles are easy enough, especially if you have the To Heart 2: Dungeon Travelers DLC characters we got with the review copy of the game. This is also not the most complex SRPG battle system I’ve experienced. It’s simple enough that anyone should be able to easily get the hang of it, while being engaging enough to appease most SRPG fans. Some fans of SRPGs may find it too simplistic, and try to discredit the game because of that, but need I remind those of you with that kind of mindset that this game’s primary focus is its plot, and it does this via its visual novel aspects, which have been polished to perfection.
Graphically, the game looks good on both the PS Vita, and PS4. It uses a mixture of character portraits, images of the scenery, and other images during the visual novel sections. If you are familiar with visual novels, then this will feel very similar. As for the SRPG segments, they use a 3 dimensional environment with very detailed 3D models for each of the characters. By putting these two types of gameplay together we get a game that should be familiar, and visually appealing to fans of both genres that make up the game. Fans of the anime may notice some artistic differences, but I think visually the game gets the look of characters better than the anime, but not by much.
Usually when I do these reviews, I save the later sections of them for mentioning the aspects of the game that didn’t work, but this game has none of those. For me it was arguably perfect. The writing and audio creates such a great atmosphere that it gripped my attention, and kept it through out. Yes it may not be a game that all gamers may fancy, but what game is? At the end of the day, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a splendid visual novel experience married to a solid SRPG. If you’re a fan of Visual Novels, and have a PS Vita or PS4, then you owe it to yourself to get this game. It’s that good. SRPG fans, and fans of other games, will need to decide if all the reading of text is something that they are prepared to do, because that’s the only way to properly enjoy this game, well unless you understand Japanese.
The copy of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception used for this review was supplied to us by it’s Publisher Atlus USA.