The world of Masquerada is a tumultuous one: following years of turmoil and strife, a stunning act of rebellion plunges the country of Ombre into civil war. Against this backdrop you play Cicero Gavar, a citizen who has worked his way up from the harsh streets of the lower classes to the reputable rank of “Inspettore”, and brother to Cyrus Gavar; the traitor who helped to spark the flame of revolution. After years of exile due to his familial involvement with the Traitor, Cicero has been invited back to the capital to assist with a particularly dangerous case that threatens to tear down Ombre from within. With the burden of your brother’s actions ever on your back, you set out to uncover the mysteries lurking within the shadows of the capital.
Masquerada: Songs and Shadow does many things well, but first and foremost it excels in world-building and storytelling. I would be remiss not to mention the robust encyclopedia of names, faces, and places that the game introduces to you. This can certainly be overwhelming – and it’s not for everyone. That being said, if you take the time to sink your teeth into the rich history of Ombre and the rich characters that populate it, you will no doubt be enthralled by the drama that awaits.
Further drawing you in is the fantastic voice acting work throughout Masquerada. Matt Mercer takes the lead as the capable, yet tormented, Cicero Gavar. His smooth, polished performance helps lend both refinement and uncertainty to our protagonist. Felicia Day, Jennifer Hale and Dave Fennoy add their complementary performances to breathe life into the already vibrant characters you see on screen.
In addition to a vibrant, story-driven world, Masquerada features a strategy-centric combat system that incorporates the utilization of “Mascherines” – masks imbued with elemental power that grant its wearer improved strength, speed, and access to a selection of special attacks. Early on in the game you get to choose which of the major elements you wish to be: fire, earth, water, or air. Each possesses their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and as the game progresses you can really feel these distinctions in combat.
Where Masquerada departs from traditional RPGs is that it doesn’t really have any stat-balancing or leveling up mechanics that you’re used to seeing in other RPGs. The dynamism of your character largely lies with the element you chose, and the subsequent skills that you unlock. You don’t elect to favor strength over speed, or melee over magical damage. This can be disappointing for some, but I found the variety of the elemental skills kept me plenty busy when tinkering with my party.
You see, Cicero doesn’t go on this adventure alone. Far from it. Throughout the journey you are accompanied by other officials and soldiers from within Ombre, each with their own motivations, and each with their own mascherine.
Mixing up the party and elements involved helps keep the combat fresh, and as you discover more about the various elements and how they play off of one another, you can begin to dive into the nitty-gritty when it comes to strategic combat. Early on it feels like a lot of running up to enemies and pressing R2 as you get a feel for your various abilities and learn them little by little. Within a few hours you will no doubt be commanding your unit with confidence!
With the recent introduction of a robust New Game+ mechanism, Masquerada has further helped its replay value by unlocking all of the major elements for Cicero the 2nd time around. There are also unique histories and characters you can uncover, further fleshing out the world.
In short, Masquerada may sometimes get a bad rap for featuring a lot of reading and talking and not enough action. There is definitely some validity to be had in that argument. However, it also does very well in creating a lush and inviting world for players to get lost in. With fantastic voiceover work by Matt Mercer and others, it largely succeeds at creating a narrative that challenges your morals and beliefs. Pick it up and give it a shot – you won’t regret it!