The Utawarerumono series is one of those Japanese series that is well known in that territory but hasn’t had a chance to make an appearance in the west. First appearing back in 2002 on the PC simply titled as Utawarerumono, it got two other games in the form of a duology, which are the games that ATLUS is localizing for release in the west and the first of which is releasing this spring in the form of Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (the second game, Mask of Truth, is set for release later this fall). So since most western players won’t have experience with the original game, how does going into this second game essentially blind fare?
In truth, that ends up not being all that important in the long run. While hardcore fans who played the fan translated version of the original and know its events will already know its events and get the nods and callbacks here and there the game provides, the game does an excellent job bringing newcomers up to speed on the necessary lore and is mainly focused around the story events surrounding the plot of Mask of Deception and its follow-up Mask of Truth.
In Mask of Deception, you take on the role of an amnesiac man who is rescued by a charming young woman named Kuon. Since you have no memories, she decides to name you Haku and teaches you about the world and its inhabitants. As they travel to the country’s capital, they meet several characters and face numerous challenges. The first game is mainly meant as a setup for the events to follow in its sequel, but there’s more than enough twists to be had to make the play through the game worthwhile.
This is helped immensely by ATLUS’s excellent localization (at least in terms of the prose, as I’m not well versed in the series lore), which pares nicely against the emotionally charged Japanese audio voices. There’s no English dub in this game, but unlike some Japanese-only games I’ve played, there wasn’t any point at which I felt like I needed to turn off the voiceovers. This pared with the superb soundtrack is a real treat for the ears, indeed.
Graphically, things are a bit mixed depending on the aspect of the game. The still 2D artwork is crisp and clean and of high quality, but the 3D visuals which are utilized in the game’s battles (more on this later) and some key dialogue sequences are a bit dated as the game besides its PS4 appearance also appeared on the Vita (in all territories) and PS3 (only in Japan). That said, the 3D visuals do fit the game’s theme well, it’s just that overall you can tell especially on the PS4 that it’s a mixed-generation game.
Speaking of battles, while they do exist they aren’t all that frequent as the bulk of this game is focused on the visual novel aspects (it took at least 4-5 hours before I got into my first battle, as a point of reference) — there’s only 16 in total for the main campaign and 12 additional battles that unlock post-game. If you’ve played any traditional tactical/SRPG, you’ll have a good handle on the mechanics at play. They tend to relegate the win conditions to either defeating all of the opponents or a specific opponent on the field, and you start the match by assigning characters to specific spots and setting their equips like any traditional game of this ilk.
However, Mask of Deception, much like its namesake, does have a few tricks up its sleeve to provide some welcome twists on the formula. There’s a chain mechanic where depending on the attack a character uses, they can deal multiple hits on an opponent in a single turn via a timing-based mini-game. This becomes important as it not just continues on the chain by successfully keeping it going, but also makes the attack deal critical damage and eventually deal a finishing move if you’re good enough. But for those who don’t want to deal with this and prefer the visual novel aspects over gameplay, there is a auto-chain option for you.
There’s an elemental mechanic based around elements: fire, earth, light, water, wind, dark and neutral. Each character has their own affinity (except for Haku who is neutral), so it’s important to keep track of who’s what element as certain elements are favorable and also thus unfavorable against other elements. Another useful feature is the Zeal gauge, which fills up when you deal those critical attacks mentioned earlier. Once you fill up this gauge, it has the character enter an “overzeal” state where they gain an additional turn, remove any negative status ailments and gain access to their Final Strike skill.
In addition to the other accessibility/player-friendly features mentioned earlier, there’s some other features that should be mentioned briefly. Unlike most tactical RPGs where you have to wade through menus when moving around near enemies, the game detects when you’ve moved near an enemy and lists all of the possible abilities you can use right in front of you for ease-of-use.
You also have the ability to rewind time in case you made a mistake, up to 50 turns and you can preview the state of your party at any of those turns. The catch is that you can’t go back to the point you were before rewinding so you need to make sure you want to do so, but otherwise you’re not penalized for using this feature in any other way.
Since this is the first part of a two-part duology, its expected that most of the game will be focused on the world building and leaving some unanswered questions hanging for the upcoming sequel. Unlike some other JRPGs as of late, this game does tend to leave a bit more hanging than some may have preferred, but if you enjoyed this game you’ll almost assuredly enjoy the follow-up as it looks to be inline very closely in terms of scope.
While the graphics are a bit dated in the 3D department due to the cross-generation nature of the title, I really enjoyed my time with the title thanks to its involving narrative and excellent localizing by ATLUS. That said, if you prefer more gameplay over narrative or a more even mix, this may not be the game (or series) for you as much of the main storyline is focused in the visual novel aspects.Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception was reviewed using a digital code provided by ATLUS. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Excellent localization by ATLUS.|
|2D visuals are absolutely gorgeous.|
|Music and Japanese voiceovers are of exceptional quality.|
|3D visuals are a bit lacking due to the cross-generational nature of the game.|
|Some TRPG/SRPG fans may dislike the game's focus on the visual novel aspects over gameplay.|