Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception Review — A Solid Visual Novel Hybrid
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a good addition to the wide range of visual novels on PS4 and Vita. It's definitely worthy of adding to your collection if you're a fan of the genre.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is the first in a series of two games coming out this year through Atlus. The series first started back in 2002 with Utawarerumono. I was six at the time the original game came out so I wasn’t too familiar with it initially, nor did I know Mask of Deception was a sequel to that game. Players unfamiliar with the series need not worry though — Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is a strong jumping off point.
Mask of Deception is technically a sequel but it rarely ever confused me. The story is original enough where new players should be fine if this is their first time in this world. The story should definitely appeal to fans of anime and visual novels, but if you’re looking for a deep, strategy RPG, you’re not going to find it here.
The story opens up with our protagonist, Haku, waking up in a remote area, with no memory of how he got there or who he is. Haku also finds himself in a hut, discovered by a young woman named Kuon. She has cat ears and a tail, obviously… this is a visual novel after all. Because he is suffering from acute amnesia (more tropes!), Kuon gives you the name “Haku”: Haku is also the only human left in the game’s world, as most of the characters are various humanoid races who have formed different groups and cultures.
You’ll meet a fine cast of colorful characters throughout. They were relatively hit or miss with me in the earlier parts of the game, but their dialog and your relationships with them grow quite interesting as you progress into the later parts of Mask of Deception. Sometimes the story really drags and the combat sections are incredibly few and far between at the beginning, but it does pick up the pace as the story develops.
Unfortunately, there really is no payoff at the end of Utawarerumono. Mask of Deception ended with me asking myself a fair amount of questions that will obviously be revealed in Mask of Truth when it comes out later this year. If you’re okay with not having all of your questions answered, then you’ll be satisfied with the end result.
I played the game on normal difficulty settings, which unfortunately was still pretty easy for any seasoned gamer: I’d recommend higher difficulties if you’re looking for a brisk challenge. The strategy sections have players move units on a small grid-based board, similar to basically many other SRPGs you’ve probably played if you’re a fan of the genre.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception also has free battles that let you go back and replay all of the different combat sections encountered throughout the game. Mask of Deception has some unique combat mechanics that make these sections a little bit deeper, including a timer for when you attack. If you time your moves correctly you can deal more damage.
This timer also changes based on what attacks you use, so it doesn’t always feel the same for every single character. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception also has a rewind feature so that you may fix any mistake you may have made during these sections. This feature is a surprisingly forgiving one in a genre that typically takes pride in difficulty and perma-death. The one trade-off is that you cannot go back once you’ve rewinded your turns. I personally rarely ever had to use this mechanic on my normal run-through of the game, so I imagine it’d be better utilized on tougher difficulties.
Defeating enemies and completing combat scenarios grants your party experience and equipment that’ll let you change character stats for different situations. Your party will also learn new, more powerful moves as you level them all up. I did wish the customization was a little bit deeper in regards to character skills and progression. Unfortunately the combat isn’t much more than that, albeit still a fun endeavor; it’s just not nearly as memorable as other grid based SRPGs I’ve played in the past.
I cannot speak for the PS4 version of the game, but the visuals in the game’s 3D strategy sections looked really nice on my original Vita’s OLED screen. The 2D visual novel sections look beautiful, and even though I didn’t necessarily love all the character designs, the world just popped on the Vita’s tiny screen: original Vita owners are in for a colorful treat with Mask of Deception.
This game is a visual novel at its core. Character dialog is accompanied by beautiful backgrounds all throughout the game’s story. The character designs themselves are fine; no one design stuck out to me in particular, but the dialog between these characters is what’s most important and that’s where the game succeeds.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception‘s audio is exclusively done by Japanese voice actors, but it’s all the better because of this. I think the narrative could have potentially fallen flat had we gotten a sub-par English voiceover. Mask of Deception’s soundtrack also is a nice addition to the overall story and its art style, with a blend of oriental tunes that nails the accompanying tone the game and its world are going for.
As for the game’s translation, the localization team did a fine job translating the game to English. I was rarely ever confused by Mask of Deception’s storyline or the banter among the various characters.
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is definitely a game that’ll appeal more to fans of visual novels as opposed to SRPGs. The strategy sections are a nice break from the game’s mountains of dialog but they’re not too memorable outside of being a short break from the bulk of what you’ll be doing early on. The game is pretty long and does drag at the beginning, but fans of the visual novel genre should find a lot of what they’re looking for.