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Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (Review)

By: Zelyhon

Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth picks up just after the first game, Mask of Deception.  If you haven’t played Mask of Deception and you intend to (which I would highly recommend before jumping into this game for reasons I’ll elaborate on below), you will want to skip the next paragraph.

WHERE WE START

At the end of Mask of Deception, the Emperor of Yamato was assassinated, Anju, his daughter and heir, was almost killed as well.  Haku, our main character, assisted Oshtor and his group of friends in rescuing Anju despite being accused of the coup themselves.  During their escape, Oshtor, the leader of the group, died covering the escape of the others.  Before dying, he passed his magical mask off to Haku.  Deciding to make use of their nearly identical appearance, Haku takes the mask and assumes Oshtor’s identity for the sake of holding the empire together and protecting his friends.  However, in doing so, he drives Kuon, our female lead, away and back to her own homeland.  Haku now has to navigate assuming Oshtor’s identity while fooling his friends and Oshtor’s associates (many of whom are the same people), prepare for a brewing civil war to protect the new Empress Anju, and prepare to deal with outside threats that may take advantage of the chaos.

That’s a very rough outline of where the game picks up.  While there are recaps and portions given to fill in the background of what has happened, this game is very decidedly a “Part 2” of a series.  It really assumes that you have played Mask of Deception and are familiar with the characters, the political layout, the terminology, and some of the geography.  A glossary helps to bring in people who might not be as familiar with all the specifics, but expect to be somewhat lost if you have neither played the first game nor watched the anime.  As a whole, the initial portions do not necessarily hold up if you’re jumping into this cold.  Now, that’s not necessarily a strong downside.  There’s a lot of things that you can’t just jump in midway through and have the same emotional investment.  It’s just something to be aware of.

GAMEPLAY

The game itself is a mix of a turn-based tactics game where you control several units with different abilities to take out either all enemies or a specific objective and a visual novel.  The vast majority of the storytelling and the character-building is done through the visual novel portions.  They are fairly standard visual novel pieces, with detailed artwork of the characters in different poses and expressions all fully voiced in Japanese.  You also have the much larger, full artwork of certain things happening during those scenes.  Be aware that while this may not be an Eroge (erotic game i.e. pornographic visual novel), there are definitely risque moments.  The game barely gets 10 minutes in before someone goes to visit a bathhouse (which, given, is something that was previously established about the character, but still…).

Going into this game, you need to understand and expect the pace at which visual novels go at.  If you want to listen to the voice acting for each line, it is not a fast paced game.  If you want to read ahead and skip when you’ve finished that portion, it’s…still not terribly fast paced.  This isn’t unusual for a visual novel, but if you’re expecting thrill-a-moment, jump right into the action, that’s not what you’re looking at here.  Again, I believe this is related to being a second part of a series.  The game anticipates you already have emotional investment in the characters and doesn’t think it needs to pull some awesome new setpiece out to draw you in.  If you’re on the second game, you’re already in and are willing to take the time needed.

The tactics portions are fun.  You have various characters with different moves and different ranges for those moves.  Each move also has a timing to it, where you do something like press a button at a certain time or hold and release when a meter fills up to get a critical hit.  As you level up, those moves will grow and evolve as well, giving you a lot of different options to play with.  This is particularly true when you get to choose your team for each mission.  How many short range characters, how many longer range, how much support, etc.  Generally, you have a rather small number of characters you can bring with you, so you may have to experiment with a few different types of configurations to find out what works for you.  I found myself getting invested in the combat system and the various possibilities that were opened up by specific selections of characters.  Though there aren’t classes per se, you get a general feeling of where each character’s strengths lie.  The only real downsides are that it sometimes take a bit of poking around in menus to find some of the specifics even for the “basic” attacks and the tutorial/glossary section is not necessarily the most intuitive.  I would almost have separate out the two sections and have tutorial go a bit more in depth.  Again, though, this is a Part 2, so some level of understanding from the first game is anticipated.

STORY

The story is quite interesting to me.  I have not played the first game as much as watched my girlfriend play it, since she is such a fan of the series.  I have, however, watched the anime, which leaves off pretty much exactly where this game starts.  It’s been a bit of time, but I’m very eager to see where the story went from the initial start.  There are some good twists and a lot of moments both for comedy and for character growth, even in the small scenes that don’t directly tie into one of the tactics sections.  I definitely found myself drawn right back into this world and appreciating the story that I was told through the game.  As with many things, though, that story does depend on an initial investment in the story and the characters.  Without that, you will definitely feel lost.

VISUALS/AUDIO

The game is definitely beautiful.  The character artwork is very detailed and diverse.  Aside from obvious moments where characters are supposed to look alike, everyone has distinct art both on the battlefield and in the visual novel sections.  The character sprites in the tactics portions are detailed enough to be able to tell who each person is and never really leave you confused regarding who is where.  The animations for those character models are also quite expressive.  The attacks are unique to each main character and do an excellent job of still staying true to each character and their particular style.  I wouldn’t necessarily say they are the most top-tier photorealistic models ever, but that clearly wasn’t the focus of the game.  The menus take some digging to get used to, but once you get them down, they have all the information you need.  The music was fine.  I never really took note of it one way or the other, but I guess that means it just added to the atmosphere without standing out.  Similarly, the voice acting for the game is good, which is definitely something I expect from an Atlus game.  There is no English voice track.  I personally go back and forth depending on the property regarding whether I prefer subtitles or a dub, but I never felt like its lack hurt the game.  It does mean that there’s a lot of unsubtitled Japanese in battle, but most of those seem to be just general shouts and taunts.  Anything actually plot relevant is written out in English.

FINAL VERDICT

Scoring this game is a bit difficult.  I do like the game, but it is a game for a very specific audience.  You have to be okay with the pace that goes along with a visual novel, you have to like tactics type games, and you either need a previous understanding of the story or be willing to do a lot of the side materials in the game to figure out what is going on.  Fundamentally, a recommendation or not isn’t really meaningful for this game.  Before playing this game, the first is almost required reading.  By that point, you either know if you’re in or out.  If you’re in, nothing I say is likely to sway you.  If you’re out, you’re in the same situation.  For my part, I enjoyed seeing the continuation of a story I was already into and liked having the quite engaging gameplay on top of that.  If you’re unsure, pick up Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception first.  If you’re still interested at the end of that game, you’re going to continue on to this game without me telling you to.

Mithical Rating
Gameplay
Story
Graphics
Music/Voice Acting
Replayability
 

Note:  SEGA provided us with an advanced copy of this game in exchange for our unbiased review.

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