Aquaplus' adult-oriented visual novel / strategy RPG hybrid has finally made its western debut. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is an intriguing game indeed but is it held back by its limited niche appeal?
Right off the bat, I must warn you that if you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy reading then you shouldn't play Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. That being said, even if you're a visual novel fan, you may be turned off by Utawarerumono's amount of text and its tendency to prattle on and on about the most insignificant details. You'll read conversations, inner-monologues, and lengthy descriptions about seemingly nothing. However, some people enjoy this descriptive approach to storytelling so if you're of that ilk then you'll likely love watching the plot ever so slowly unfold. As you do, you'll be delighted by how interesting the drama is and you may laugh at some of the humorous portions and might even be titillated by a few cheeky scenes (although if you are then you'll be better off spending your time searching for a significant other). All of this being said, the ending is basically "to be continued..." so don't expect to be satisfied when all is said and done.
Enough about the story, let's discuss the gameplay. Seeing as you don't make any substantial decisions or interactions during the visual novel portions, all you're left with is the odd battle in between the overly lengthy story scenes. These battles are typical of the grid-based strategy RPG genre in that you move characters around and attack enemies. One interesting aspect is how you can time attacks and defensive moves in order to maximize each character's potential. Unfortunately, that's all there is to it. Most battles task you with defeating certain foes yet some involve running away or triggering a trap for a boss. Considering the gameplay is so basic, these battles end up being an enjoyable change of pace yet don't quite feel as satisfying as the average SRPG on the market.
In other words, if you're a fan of strategy RPGs then you probably won't find much to sink your teeth into. This is also reflected in the character growth component. Besides levelling up and equipping scrolls in order to gain certain boosts and skills, all you do is spend bonus points to increase a few base stats for each character. In essence, you can fully optimize your party in a matter of seconds between battles which is far from satisfying. Heck, there isn't even incentive to stay alive as characters will earn experience points even after they bite the dust. You can also endlessly grind in the free battle option where you can replay previous battles as much as you like. As a result, there is a serious lack of challenge and complexity when it comes to developing your party.
On the plus side, the presentation is very solid. First of all, the art when it comes to both environments and characters is spot-on. The amount of detail is superb and characters are suitably expressive even though they're motionless. Although the voice acting is accomplished with a Japanese cast, each character is bursting with personality. Finally, the music always establishes the mood quite well. Overall, fans of Utawarerumono will be pleasantly surprised by the sights and sounds of Mask of Deception.
If you're a fan of Utawarerumono then Mask of Deception is definitely a worthwhile addition to the series. However, everyone else will likely find the protracted plot and simplistic battle system to be ultimately underwhelming and tedious.
- + Interesting story that has a decent amount of humour, cheekiness, and drama
- + Battles are simple yet enjoyable
- + Well-done character art and voice acting
- - Story is too drawn-out with minutiae and it has an unsatisfying ending
- - Battles are too basic for genre enthusiasts
- - Very uninvolving character growth